Friday, October 19, 2007

Good News for the Sleeping Giant

According to the latest Nielsen poll, John Howard has begun closing the gap on Labor, recovering by 2 percentage points in both the two-party preferred (to 46%) and the primary vote (to 42%).

Hardly surprising. This is the first week of the actual election campaign, in which one would expect the Government to gain some ground, as the question "who would you vote for?" gets ever less hypothetical, the attack ads begin, and people remember their mortgages. More specifically, Peter Hartcher points out that the poll comes on the heels of three major Howard announcements: his sudden Aboriginal reconciliation discovery, calling the election, and the tax cuts. These, says Hartcher, have helped Howard cut through to a previously deaf electorate. In fact, Hartcher argues that the Coalition will be disappointed not to have achieved more of a spike, particularly given the profligacy of the tax cuts.

I'm not so sure. As Crikey pointed out on Monday, economic news generally takes a while to sink in. So it was with the budget delivery in May; so we can expect for the tax cuts. It's not that people don't care, exactly, it's more that they need a little while to figure out what they're going to spend their shiny new election dollars on this time around.

As you may have gathered, I'm not convinced by the polls' assurances that the vast majority of Australians will not be swayed by the tax cuts. For starters, the vast majority is not the issue: it won't take many switching back to the Coalition to keep them in office, particularly if the uniform swing isn't replicated in the marginal seats. As such, that mercenary 8% could make all the difference in the world. (Although it's a longstanding hypothesis of mine that you can get 10% of a polling sample to say absolutely anything, no matter how outlandish, so you never know).

But much more importantly: of course people say they aren't going to be swayed by the tax cuts. Admitting that you can be bought off for, say, $20 a week is embarrassingly cheap, especially when the oft-posited alternative is spending on hospitals or schools. But that doesn't mean people can't be bought off. It just means they won't admit it to a pollster. (And rightly so, the tight-arsed bastards.)

On a tangentially related note, I believe we have found proof of the need for more civics education:

Another of Mr Howard's key assertions was that Labor in power federally as well as in every state and territory would remove the checks and balances between the Commonwealth and the states.

On this, 42 per cent agreed and 40 per cent disagreed while 18 per cent did not know.

The Nielsen poll director, John Stirton, said the 18 per cent who did not know suggested Mr Howard's argument was hard to understand.

Really? Because I always thought the idea of voting in different governments Federally and at State level was dear to Australian hearts, not necessarily because everyone has a well-developed sense of the complexities of Australian federalism, but more because people think something along the lines of: "This'll show 'em." I don't think I've ever met anyone who doesn't understand that voting philosophy.


diego luego said...

You are dead right about civics education.

Even highly educated people that I encounter have little idea about the way Australia is governed.

"With $35 billion to spare why did they need to put up bus fares?"
(-25 year old male with at least 5 years university education.)

Don't even bother to ask them about the Constitution, or the difference between an act and a regulation, or the separation of powers.

"I don't know what Unions a for, but they must be bad, because I keep hearing that." (-24 year old female receptionist)

"I'm not going to vote for Howard, I'm going to vote for that other guy."(-same receptionist)

No doubt she will be disappointed when she can't find Howard's (or that other guy's) name on the ballot paper.

Lucy said...

I'm sort of collecting these stories. The Chaser guys in their 2004 election coverage did this segment "This Person Votes" where they would interview someone abd extract their terrifyingly stupid rationale for voting the way they did. I wish I could find it on YouTube.

My friend sent me an email complaining about his (again, highly educated) colleague: "She's just announced that she is gunning for Johnny to win the election because 'Rudd has dishonest, weaselly eyes', and John is 'just. like an honest old man'". And Tom reported that he saw a guy on TV saying he was going to vote Labor because his AWA gave him a payrise. That pretty much summed it up for me: not only is it a shallow reason to vote, but Labor are the ones trying to repeal WorkChoices. So it really shouldn't surprise us whenever we hear that people find preferential voting complicated.