February 03, 2004

Swings, roundabouts and over the falls

The seats of Moggill and Indooroopilly between them represent the better half of the Federal electorate of Ryan . Once the jewel in the Liberal crown in Queensland even under the controversial stewardship of incumbent Michael Johnson it still returned 58.62% to the Liberal Party at the last election.

While contiguous they are not demographically identical, but if the CM polling is accurate they tell a very interesting tale about the Liberal Party campaign in this election. It is one worth examining at this stage. On Saturday night the architects of the Liberal Party campaign will be looking for scapegoats and will be trying to put Bob Quinn at the top of the race. They will point to his low approval figures as the reason for their poor result. This may be one factor, but it is the woeful Headquarters campaign that will be most responsible.

The CM has Indooroopilly swinging around 4% to the government, while Moggill is going in the other direction by 10%. That is a 14% difference between the two. Is the electorate really that volatile?

In Indooroopilly the Liberal Party candidate is Allan Pidgeon , a long-serving party member who after a stint in stockbroking currently works as a researcher for Federal MP Gary Hardgrave. He is President of the Australian Flag Association and has big money antecedents as the family building company was once one of the largest in Queensland. Pidgeon is associated with Santo Santoro and the ruling Liberal Party faction.

The Liberal Party candidate in Moggill is Dr Bruce Flegg a GP who has built a number of hugely successful practices and has party leadership potential. He has run for the Liberal Party previously and also has a long party association. Flegg is associated with Bob Tucker, former Liberal Party State President, and at the moment, anything but the ruling faction.

Right away there are some obvious candidate differences. Flegg is first generation success, while Pidgeon is third generation. Flegg also had to fight the party hierarchy to keep his preselection after the result was challenged. Flegg is in your face, Pidgeon is reticent. The Queensland Liberal Party needs to understand that, especially at the moment, candidates do count. Preselections can’t be a reward for long service or friendship, they have to recognize ability and results.

Then there are the campaign differences. Pidgeon appears to be taking the Headquarters campaign material while Flegg is running his own race, advised by Tucker associates. Flegg has flooded the area with material, Pidgeon’s profile is low. In any campaign two things matter. A candidate has to meet minimum expectations and hard name ID, this is largely a function of volume. They then have to deliver a message that will move votes. The Liberal/Coalition central campaign is not delivering a message that works.

Proof of this comes from the Courier polling on the question of whether it is important to “Restore the balance”, a key Coalition message. 51% of voters in Indooroopilly agree that this is important in deciding their vote, while in Moggill it is 54%. They are both statistically as receptive as the other to the key message, but voting intentions are diverging markedly. Obviously something else is moving the vote.

In Indooroopilly the Liberal Party is trying to win the seat back from Labor, so they don’t have the benefit of incumbency. Incumbency isn’t everything. Flegg is not the sitting member either, and the current Liberal member David Watson has a very low approval rating – only 26% approve while 20% disapprove. This has got to count as an equalizing factor as the Watson factor is one Flegg has to overcome. More significant is the quality of the Labor candidates. Ronan Lee in Indooroopilly, while one of the youngest Members of Parliament, has developed quickly in three years, and has been running a vigorous centrally resourced campaign. Lisa Rayner in Moggill doesn’t have the same experience and hasn’t had the same level of support.

The question of demographic change is also likely to be raised. It is true that Indooroopilly has been undergoing urban renewal and that its age profile is younger than Moggill’s . But while that makes the seat naturally more Labor, it doesn’t explain the magnitude of the apparent swing.

The Courier poll and the likelihood that it will be reflected in the actual results on Saturday raises plenty of issues for the Liberal Party. If they resolve them by finger-pointing at Quinn, then they’ll be heading over the falls again in three years’ time.

Posted by Graham at February 3, 2004 05:19 PM

"P" told us to look to Mt Ommaney for some surprising results. I just checked what was happening there and it looks like the Liberal Party received somewhere around a 1.3% swing to them on a two-party preferred basis, a bit less than the average.

Posted by: Graham Young at February 10, 2004 04:12 PM

It would seem to me that some of the polling done contains a serious flaw. When asked the party people will be voting for, this question should be in the context of the candidates in that respondent's electorate.

Take the SundayMail/TNS poll. 1% are giving their 1st preference to the Dems and 8% are giving the Dems their second preference. Many of these poll respondents will be surprised on Saturday to find that they will not be able to vote for the Dems in their electorate as there is only ONE Dem candidate standing statewide.

Similarly, not all hoping to vote ON or Grn will be able to do so. In my electorate of Greenslopes, a Lib, Lab, Grn and Ind candidate are standing. No Nat or ON.

If the candidates are not listed in the questionaire, the polls will always overpredict the minor party vote.

Its interesting to note that the post-mortems for the Libs have already started! But with such poor ability to attract quality candidates, the coalition only deserves to be going from bad to worse. A better opposition would have had ample opportunity to land a few blows on the Govt. Bottom line: the Coalition are still not ready.

Posted by: MMH at February 6, 2004 02:12 PM

In hindsight it appears that the decision taken by the party under the advice of Quinn to reform the coalition was a huge mistake.

The disparate responses across the state to the coalition campaign show that the nationals have gained traction in the regions while we have stagnated in the south east.

A casual read of your focus group transcripts and david's polling indicates, if anything, that voters are disatisfied with labor and prepared to vote elsewhere. However they are going to the greens and indis.

I'm sure the wash up will provide much finger pointing and wringing of hands however let me make a couple of observations before the poll and subsequent in-depth analysis.

Reentering the coalition was a mistake. It meant that the party had to drop its policies that Quinn had succesfully gained traction on and found a resaonance in the electorate. Notably daylight savings, trading hours and land clearing.

The relatively recent emergence of high exhaustion in OPV has led to a defacto FPTP system. We've all heard the phrase but have we actually stopped thinking about seats in terms of the 2PP result? It may very well be that we (and that includes everyone from the leader to the secretariat, to the state director to the organisation) have been focussing on entirely the wrong seats. A seat like Indooripilly may very well have 55% of people who prefer liberal to labor, and vote accordingly at the federal election, but do they "like" to vote liberal. Would they prefer to vote green, or democrat and not express any further preference. This is something I don't think any conservative strategist has seriously considered. It may be that some of the more traditionally unlikely seats are actually better territory under FPTP than otherwise. Our problem is that we haven't focussed on them because we're still fixated with seats that on paper under a nominal full distribution of preferences should be liberal.

Despite the need to appear hand in hand with the nats and ensure that there is an element of "working together", the liberal travelling campaign has spent far too much time outside the South East. This has been rectified over the last week but surely it hasn't helped our candidates in the se corner.

Any number of campaigns could have used the added impetus of the state leader at particular electorate announcements but he hasn't been available. On the other hand it appears that the campaigns in the north are proceeding well. So hopefully Quinn's initial focus in the north may deliver us some gains.

What happens on saturday night will, I think, have lasting repercussions on the queensland party. If we fail to win any additional seats then everyone has questions to answer. The organisation for why the coalition deal wasn't questioned more; the state leader for why he was so keen to rejoin the coaltion despite the traction he was making; the candidates, who are predominately associated with the tucker faction, for why more wasn't done earlier; and the membership more generally for failing to get behind the campaign.

In addition to your comments regarding Indooripilly and Moggill let me add in the other Ryan seat, Mt Ommaney. This campaign has been run with vigour, enthusiasm and excitement. All reports I have heard indicate that there may very well be a good result in that electorate.

Posted by: P at February 4, 2004 04:36 PM

I don't see how the Party can possibly hope to pin the blame on Quinn. Whilst he is responsible for his parliamentary performance, the responsibilities of campaigning and fundraising rest with the party machinery.

They knew what the task was from the outset. I like the Re-Pete ads because I know many voters who are tired (in fact you could say worn down) by the amount of spin they must endure from Beattie.

I know this will weigh in many people's minds as to whether they can tolerate another term of putting up with blunder after blunder from the Labor govt - "I'm sorry and I can fix this". Sure there are a lot of faithful voters but there are a lot of undecided swingers.

To many, Peter Beattie is just a bitter taste in the mouth now and this is the result of his constant bombardment of the media with photo shoots and prolific media releases - he is so in your face now.

I honestly cannot suggest there will be a massive backlash but I can suggest that the expiry date on Beattie's extravagant modus operandi is just around the corner.

Posted by: R at February 3, 2004 06:19 PM
Graham Young
John Black
Mark Bahnisch
Michael Lee