August 27, 2006

Beattie gives coalition a haircut

A slightly edited version of this article was published in today's Sunday Mail.

Why does hair feature so much in Queensland elections? First there was Pauline, the incendiary red-head from Ipswich, torching the political landscape. Now we have the blonde Doctor Flegg being stalked for style tips on the campaign trail by journalists. Controversy and couture briefly worked for Pauline. They’re not working for Flegg and Springborg.

According to polling undertaken by John Black and me, earlier this year Beattie could have lost. His “smart state” voters, middle-class Queenslanders in metropolitan areas who often vote for John Howard, were flirting with the Coalition. In fact, they went further, handing them three by-election wins. Those voters have now come home, and while it’s not exactly happy families, they’ve stopped thinking about divorce.

In March, most voters believed the state was heading in the wrong direction. That’s now dropped by 10 percent because Labor supporters have changed their minds. Most voters believe there hasn’t been enough planning. Coalition voters blame the government. Labor voters say that no-one would have planned.

None of the parties talk about it, but voters blame the population explosion in the south-east for our problems. And because no-one can stop people coming across the border, it neutralizes the water and health issues.

Another issue raised by voters, but so far invisible in this campaign is Industrial Relations. It’s a federal issue but it taints the state coalition by association. It also makes voters reach for their checks and balances. Electing Labor governments in Queensland insures against John Howard and his federal Libs.

Federal state relations also play a part in neutralising health. Some voters blame Canberra for the problems in hospitals, believing that there are enough funds at a federal level to fix everything.

For other voters, money isn’t the issue – it’s how efficiently the system is run. Research in other elections has consistently shown that voters are cynical of big-spending election campaigns. The coalition could have been more effective if, instead of promising new hospitals, it promised better administration and more doctors and nurses. Voters in our focus group had some graphic examples of waste in the hospital system. They also like the idea of preventative medicine.

Bruce Flegg was supposed to win the health debate for the opposition because a doctor should have credibility on the issue. This hasn’t worked.

So how do voters view the leaders?

In our polling Beattie’s approval has picked-up – he’s a sure pair of hands. Springborg’s has dived – he’s a “whinger”. Less predictably, according to our polling, Flegg is actually doing much better than Quinn was. That doesn’t change any votes. The contest is seen as Beattie versus Springborg, and while Pete is slippery, tricky and dishonest voters think he’s more fun than Lawrence. They’ve no faith in the ability of either to fix things, but given a choice would rather have the rogue they like hanging around in their TV sets.

With two weeks to go, it looks like Beattie is going to give the opposition yet another haircut. In Queensland, when it comes to political style – he’s the blonde that counts.

Posted by Graham at August 27, 2006 09:45 PM
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