September 07, 2006

Going for the sympathy vote

I heard Michael Catalbiano interviewed on ABC radio today. He was distancing himself none too subtly from Flegg, admitting that leadership had been a problem. Catalbiano spent most of his time stressing two themes - the need to cut Beattie's majority in the interests of democracy, and his own performance as a "strong local member". He conceded "Beattie will be returned". Tim Nicholls, another former Brisbane Councillor, and the candidate for the very marginal Labor seat of Clayfield, spoke in very similar terms on the 7.30 Report last night. In the meantime, Labor has been leaking polling showing its vote going backwards. There's no doubt going to be a small swing back but The Poll Bludger is probably right to be sceptical of the selectivity and implications of this polling.

The problem for the Coalition is that this card is being played probably too late in the day. I discussed the opposition's performance in my column for Crikey today, which is reproduced below. Graham and I also had some press in The Australian this morning. I should have made it clearer when talking on the phone to the journo that my first quote was more my opinion than a direct read from the focus group, but it's an opinion I'm happy to defend. I think that the Coalition are paying the price not just for a terrible campaign, but also for their performance over the past term. Springborg was quite right to push amalgamation, and the Libs totally wrong to dump Quinn. But importantly also, it seems like the hard yards of policy formulation just haven't been done, and the Springborg led Opposition has played into all the stereotypes voters have of being carping, critical and purely negative. Whoever's left standing are going to have to lift their game a lot in the next term to even be in contention, particularly if the Government renews itself and Beattie retires.

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As we get to the business end of the Queensland election campaign, Graham Young and I took a slightly different tack on some of the questions for our third online focus group for The National Forum. This time we were interested in seeing how the sample participants responded to the campaign, and particularly how they viewed the performance of the opposition.

It’s likely that the pitch from the Coalition in the last few days will be that they should be strengthened in Parliament in order to perform better as an opposition. In effect this is a concession of defeat, but it’s not a bad tactic in the absence of any discernible momentum for a protest vote. The idea is that because Beattie has succeeded in making them the issue, they’ll leverage that focus onto process issues and suggest another huge majority is unhealthy for the State’s democracy.

The risk of course is that this tactic will only reinforce what has become the central frustration of many voters – those who would like to vote against Beattie can’t bring themselves to mark their ballots for the Coalition in case they get elected.

Many of our sample agreed strongly that the State needed a better opposition, but quite a few were sceptical of whether the Coalition could provide one. “Dump the lot and start again” was the suggestion from one Sunshine Coast 50 year old male voter, while another male voter aged 80 from Brisbane wanted a “different cast”.

Participants were specifically questioned about whether the Coalition deserved to be punished for their campaign. Some felt an election loss and the media focus on bungles were punishment enough, but some believed that the Coalition would be punished, with the “Beattie killed my brother” ad singled out by one participant. Interestingly, at this stage, voters in our sample had made up their minds, hadn’t been swayed much by the campaign launches, and were unlikely to change their votes.

The best the Coalition can hope for this late in the game is a small correction back in their favour. But given the odds against them in terms of seats held, this may not translate to very much. Beattie will most likely be returned with a slightly reduced majority, not the increase some commentators are now tipping. But it will still be a big majority and the Coalition’s challenge will be to do effective policy and communications work over the next term.

Cross-posted at Larvatus Prodeo.

Posted by Mark_Bahnisch at September 7, 2006 09:03 PM
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