January 24, 2004

Campaign Ads - Reviews on the Way

In one of his previous posts, Graham Young said that I would review some of the election ads for the forthcoming Queensland election.

I’ve been eager to do something since the campaign started however I’ve had a number of problems. Firstly my new laptop died 1 ½ days after I got it and has only just come back from repairs. Second, I’m not a great watcher of commercial TV (unless the cricket is on) and instead over the years have relied heavily upon the major parties web-sites to download and watch the ads.

Unfortunately on this front all the major parties have not made it easy for me.

First, the ALP has only just started putting their ads onto their campaign web-site and despite suggesting I could watch them using Windows media player they only offer them in a Quicktime format. So now I’ll have to download Quicktime. Hopefully I can review the ads in the next couple of days.

Second the Coalition ads aren’t even up on either Liberals web-site or the Nationals web-site. I’ve fired off an email so hopefully I’ll be able to get something soon.

However I was able to download one ad from Lawrence Springborg’s web-site earlier this morning. To his credit I can watch this using either Media Player or Quicktime. I’ll sit down late this afternoon and do something up and post tomorrow.

Just a final point before I sign off. Whilst I get the feeling that there seems to a bit of anti-American sentiment in the electorate the major parties really should take a leaf out of American political handbook and use the internet as a medium to get their messages across. This doesn’t mean just having a web-site with photos of candidates and media releases but should include putting their ads, television radio and newspaper up on the internet as soon as they are released. Perhaps next campaign?

Posted by Michael at 11:03 PM | Comments (6)

January 23, 2004

Three reasons the Coalition can’t win the protest vote

One of Paul Keating’s most potent arguments against the GST was “If you don’t understand it, don’t vote for it”. You could reformulate this phrase as “If you don’t know what they stand for, don’t vote for them,” and apply it to political parties, and it would be the golden rule of politics. Incoherence has sunk more political parties than policies the voters didn’t like.

When John Moore was Liberal Party President he enforced a rule – while an election campaign is on at one level of government, all other levels of government should stay out of the way. It’s a good rule, because even a sharp message which voters like can get lost in the background hubbub of other issues. It is not one the Liberal Party is following this state election.

This is the “triple witching year” of Queensland politics with three elections all falling due, so it is asking a lot of politicians at two other levels of government to “keep the noise down” while the state team battles it out. Still, if they want to win, that’s what they need to do. With only three seats in the state parliament, and only one member recontesting, the Liberal Party has even more cause to observe the rule than most. But they’re not.

Yesterday Liberal Lord Mayoral Candidate Campbell Newman announced that white goods and electronic equipment would be added to Brisbane’s recycling programme. It scored the bottom of the inside front cover. The recycling piece is presumably a follow-up to revelations last week that council rubbish trucks were throwing recyclables in with general rubbish. Both should have been major pieces, but were never going to be with a state election campaign happening at the same time. Not only that, but they had potential to blur whatever message Springborg and Quinn were trying to get across on the days they were released.

Someone also needs to talk to Federal Transport Minister Ian Campbell. As noted in my previous post there are some possibilities for greater swings outside Brisbane than inside, but he is in the process of snuffing out some swings in both places.

A week ago he announced that he would be giving money to the State Government to study an alternative route for a road between Ipswich and Brisbane. This route happens to go through the state electorate of Moggill. This is one of the two seats that the Liberals just managed to retain last election (our pendulum has it on a 1% margin) and where the member is retiring. The Liberal Candidate, Bruce Flegg has been campaigning against this alternate route, with huge turnouts at public meetings.

The route is supported by the Liberal Member for Blair whose constituents would presumably all like to use the road, but none of whom have to worry about it being built through their backyard as they mostly live west, not east, of Ipswich. Michael Johnson, Liberal Member for Ryan doesn’t appear to have a position. Campbell has unnecessarily inflamed the situation. Even if he had decided this was in the national interest he could have waited another few weeks before announcing it. The ALP is opposed to the route and can be expected to use the federal announcement to make things difficult for Flegg who is by no means certain to win the seat.

Campbell also announced yesterday a commitment to a super highway which will connect Gympie to Geelong. This has enraged North Queenslanders who quite understandably want a decent highway from Gympie to Cairns. In the last three years the highway between Townsville and Cairns has been closed 19 times. 9 years ago when I was driving around the north, a series of thunderstorms meant that the Ross Highway into Townsville from Brisbane was axle deep on my Landcruiser, so it was too deep for many cars to traverse.

Labor figures in the north have predictably pounced on the issue. Isolation breeds a certain amount of paranoia, which Campbell should understand coming from Western Australia. He should have been aware of the potential for this issue to blow-up, particularly in an election.

The last bit of hubbub again comes from the Moggill/Ryan area, and this one is the least excusable of the lot. Pullenvale Councillor Margaret de Wit was quoted in her local paper as saying that the Ryan electorate needed more funding for child care and aged care and that local government needed more funds because it was being asked to take over more and more functions. This enraged the Ryan FEC Executive who voted to refer her to the Disciplinary Committee. (For an account of the committee's operation you might want to click on this post. de Wit is in good company because I’ve been referred there as well.) They’ll probably be sending their Moggill candidate off in due course, because he’s campaigning on much the same issues. Maybe the Liberals have turned into a real conservative party. At any rate it appears to be off-limits to campaign for improvements or change of any sort.

It’s this sort of nonsense that leads respondents in our focus groups to see the Coalition as not even being worthy of using as a tool to send a message to Peter Beattie. That’s one reason there isn’t much movement in the polls. It’s also another reason that the Liberals will have trouble in their second major engagement this year – winning Brisbane City Hall. If you don't know what they stand for, it's very likely they stand for confusion, and no-one votes for that.

Posted by Graham at 04:30 PM | Comments (3)

A tale of two polls

We finally have proper analysis of our own poll. Newspoll has also obliged by coughing up their latest poll at approximately the same time. At this stage I should put in the standard disclaimer – our poll does not pretend to give quantitative results. If it did I wouldn’t be drawing attention to Newspoll, let alone relying on it. However it is intriguing that Newspoll has Peter Beattie on 57.5% of the vote after preferences, while our poll has him on 59.7%. As Newspoll keeps accurate records over time, they can tell us that this represents a swing of 2.5% against Beattie since the last election. We, on the other hand, don’t even know whether we got our result by accident or not, let alone whether it means any sort of move one way or the other.

But we can do something much more important than they can – we can make predictions about what is likely to happen in the future. In the pollster’s version of the uncertainty principle they can only tell you very precisely what happened between the 16th and the 20th of January (the dates when they surveyed respondents). It is here that the coincidence between their figures and our analysis is significant. While qualitative polling can be very enlightening, to be certain that it is right you need to confirm it with quantitative polling, and the Newspoll does tend to confirm our analysis.

What it shows is that there is very little movement in primary support for Peter Beattie – he retains an extraordinarily high vote. It also shows that One Nation (down from 8.7% to 2%) has virtually vanished, but that the Greens (2.5% up to 4%) have increased. Others (11.4% down to 8%) have also decreased. There is quite a divide between city and country. In Brisbane, Beattie’s primary vote is 58% while outside Brisbane it is only 44%. This 44% is actually only a small 2% improvement on his result last time which is dwarfed by the surge in the Coalition vote from 31.2 to 41.

I cannot tell from the report what the two party preferred vote is dissected by region but I have a suspicion that the swing against Beattie is stronger outside the capital than inside. Certainly the Coalition vote has grown most strongly in the regions, but in a sense this is a transference of a vote they already had with the increase in the Coalition vote almost the same as the decrease in the One Nation vote. Not quite the same - 2% less in fact. As Beattie’s vote also increased by a couple of percent and we know that approximately a third of One Nation votes preferenced Labor last election he would also have benefitted from some of the collapse of One Nation.

Whatever the case, this is very much a status quo result. Reference to the David Fraser pendulum shows that 10 seats are vulnerable with a 2.5% swing. However, one has to be careful because 3 of these are held by Independents or One Nation. For technical reasons to do with consistency, the pendulum shows these on the Labor side of the pendulum, but they are not held by the Labor party. One of them, Nicklin , is not a likely Coalition win, Gympie and Tablelands will also both be difficult, leading to the conclusion that this will lead to the Coalition picking up maybe 7 seats, of which the Liberal party will only win 2. Beattie would still have a huge 29 seat majority.

This is a result which confirms what we are finding through our qualitative research. Beattie has a good favourable/unfavourable rating (48% to 32%), but there is a large degree of cynicism about what he says and promises, and concern about his team. One participant commented that his concerns about Beattie were “Media Tart, great spin doctor, [s]moke and mirrors, not trustworthy…” There is little evidence of widespread community concern about specific issues such as the Families Department or the Ambulance Levy. Most voters nominate Health as the most important issue, followed by the Environment, Economy, Accountability and Education. However, concerns about the style of government collectively rate more highly than any other issue than Health.

This does not mean voters are moving to embrace the Opposition. Even Coalition voters do not think they are ready for office, believe that Springborg is still learning, don’t know what the Opposition stands for, have doubts about relations between the Liberal and National Parties (as well as Liberal Party infighting), are concerned about possible links with One Nation and still harbour bad memories from as long ago as the Bjelke-Petersen era.

As a result the protest vote appears to be going to the Greens, with around half Greens voters being former ALP voters. This protest vote does not appear to be particularly large at this stage and this is reflected in the size of the Greens vote. After their performance in recent by-elections and the NSW election they would have been hoping for a better result. 4% is unlikely to see them win any seats, even the seats of Mt Coot-tha, South Brisbane, Sandgate and Townsville where they think they will do well.

One note of caution. These figures are not truly representative of Queensland. As a result of the Newspoll figures, and also our knowledge of issues specific to particular areas, we will be paying attention to rural and regional voters in the next couple of weeks to try and determine whether there is a protest vote there, and whether it is returning to the National Party from One Nation, where it rested for a while.

It is in Peter Beattie’s interest to do less well outside Brisbane. An election result which delivered say 10 seats to the Nationals, including some taken from Independents, and only 2 or 3 to the Liberals would continue to institutionalize the friction between the Coalition partners.

Posted by Graham at 03:02 PM

January 21, 2004

Bet your shirt on recycling

Today’s Courier Mail featured a photo of Lawrence Springborg ironing a shirt wearing nothing apart from a towel.

The Opposition appears to be trying to put the message across that the National Party Leader is younger and more virile than Peter Beattie. Just about every day we have been subjected to staged photos of both of them out for their morning constitutionals, with Springborg consistently wearing less clothing than the Premier, but never before less than running shorts and singlet.

Our focus groups don’t show Beattie’s age or vigour as being campaign issues and I am at a loss to explain why the Opposition campaign is so fixated on aerobic exertion.

Perhaps it is a case of imitation being the sincerest form of flattery. Prime Minister Howard likes the early morning power walk and used it to good advantage against Kim Beazley. Bill Clinton and dog Buddy frequently featured with security guards, the whole entourage jogging around the block while trying to ignore the MacDonalds across the road. Earlier exponents of the jog include S.A. Premier John Bannon, and of course Queensland’s own Wayne Goss.

Whether they keep running with the athletic shot or not, the Coalition is robbing their other messages of airtime. This afternoon ABC Talkback is asking viewers whether Springborg should have taken his shirt off. Should he suddenly drop the jock shots, they’ll presumably notice and talk about that.

There is nothing wrong with recycling other people’s campaign techniques, as long as it is appropriate in your context.

Talking of recycling, the Coalition is campaigning under the slogan “Restoring the Balance”. They may have to pay the ABC royalties for this one as it is the title of a programme on JJJ which takes the mickey out of John Howard and the Liberal Party. It is presented by “Stirling Addison” who at University was the “[w]inner of the CJ Asquith prize for inter-collegiate oration representing St Andrews College, for speech "Melanie Howard- a life of virtue".” And "Tom Thomlinson", who “[e]njoys simple rural pursuits such as herding cattle in brand new Boeing MD-71 Notar helicopter.” Of course, the Coalition knew about the radio programme…didn’t they???

Posted by Graham at 03:54 PM | Comments (2)

January 20, 2004

What's with the positive campaigns?

Compare and contrast, that’s the rhythm of all political campaigns. All campaigns that is, bar this one. In this campaign so far, both sides seem to be going out of their way to ignore each other. Earlier today I was looking for quotes from Springborg criticizing Beattie’s tree clearing policy. It took me quite a while searching Google News to find this one. Then I realized that I had hardly heard any criticism of Beattie from the Nationals at all this election, and vice-versa.

Madonna King follows this thread in this op-ed in today’s Courier Mail when she says the Coalition “[c]ampaign needs [a] trip to emergency”. King picks up on the fact that Health is regarded by the largest percentage of CM poll respondents as the most important issue in the election but that the Opposition does not appear to be dramatizing the Government’s failure in this area. She also points to a number of other areas where they have failed to capitalise on government mistakes and mishaps like Merri Rose and the Families Department fiasco. She sees this failure as standard incompetence, but could it be something else?

Instead of the Opposition following her prescription, today’s front page news story was Springborg promising to support a referendum for 4 year terms, something that I have yet to see any voter spontaneously nominate as an issue that will decide their vote.

So far I haven't seen an Opposition ad running on TV, but this evening I saw another from the Beattie stable which is relentlessly positive, cheerful and energetic in a very vague way about the need for Beattie to finish the job in health.

When I learnt how to campaign I met many people who said they were sick and tired of politicians criticizing each other, but who then went and voted for the most negative campaign. I learnt my lesson. Not that negative campaigning has to be abrupt. In 1989 Wayne Goss ran a very “positive” campaign – just about every pamphlet had Wayne Goss’s 5 positive policies for change on it (never 4 and never 6, another lesson there I suppose). Inevitably Goss had run out of good ideas after 3, so points 4 and 5 went along the lines of “fix the neglect of “X” by the Liberals…” or words to that effect. Cleaning out some boxes recently I discovered 1977 speaker’s notes for the Federal election that year which employed a similar rhetorical device.

Then there is the “implied” negative, where you produce a policy to fix a problem where the real message is not what you will do, but what your opponent has failed to do. Humour is another way of softening the blow of a negative campaign. In 1995 we extensively used Mac Vines cartoons to illustrate our points on DL size cards dropped in letterboxes in target seats.

This evening I realized that so far what distinguishes this Queensland campaign from any other I have seen is that there is little negative campaigning, and as a result neither side is engaging with the other. The Greens aren’t engaging either when the staple of their campaigns has to be negative because no-one expects them to ever be in a position to deliver on promises.

In a way I shouldn’t be surprised. Springborg has made much of his promise to run a positive campaign without any personal abuse and has promised to release over 100 policies in the course of it. This seems like madness to me, but perhaps it isn’t. We completed the first of our focus groups this evening (a report will go up in a couple of days when we have completed a second). All of the participants seemed to appreciate
Springborg’s positive approach, whilst they were at the same time quite negative themselves about the government.

At this stage I’m going to stick with analyzing election strategies from the tried position, but I’ll hold the possibility of changing my mind open if we keep getting the same responses from later focus groups. Not that I think Beattie can or will lose this election, but a better than 5% swing to the Coalition would suggest their campaign had more than average success. Certainly the responses to our qualitative survey suggest that there is fertile ground for a campaign which is critical of Beattie. But then, while Beattie holds a commanding lead there is no need for him to break cover with the first negative ad or critical comment.

Perhaps when the polls fail to move sufficiently in the Opposition’s direction we’ll see some forensically penetrating advertisements. But then again, maybe not. I've always characterised politics in terms of blood sport, but with Beattie and Sprinborg apparently determinedly addicted to their morning exercise they may see it more as a running race, and in running you can cross the finishing line first without once addressing your opponent.

Posted by Graham at 11:25 PM | Comments (1)

January 19, 2004

Three weeks to go and Beattie clears the fleet on the way to the Heads.

Sailing races are a lot like politics. Not only are they boring to most, but it is often impossible from a distance and without lots of experience and arcane knowledge to say exactly what is going on. And most of us only watch one once a year when the yachts round Sydney Harbour heads on the way to Hobart. The most confusing part of a sailing race is the start when the boats mill around jockeying for position trying to be first across the line when the cannon fires.

In this election the cannon didn’t really fire until this last weekend. What commentators and voters thought was the first week of the election was actually the skirmishing for position. Whether or not the government had an inkling that it was coming the Merri Rose issue had the effect of bleeding both campaigns of good air for their arguments, but had the worst effect on the challenger. The Coalition needs to take votes from Labor, so anything which interferes with both their abilities to get the message out actually works in Labor’s favour.

The Merri Rose bad air cleared by Saturday morning with the Courier Mail front page reporting the results of a poll with the headline “Coalition cuts into ALP lead”. Beattie has been trying to convince electors that he could lose the election. He needs all the headlines like this that he can get.

The poll also reported that Health (32%) is the main issue of the election followed by education (14%) and Financial Accountability (10%). (Child protection came in at 9%, an incredibly low figure when that is the issue the Premier claims the election is about). This is further good news for Beattie. The poll didn’t ask which side is best to handle health, but if it had I am pretty sure that voters wouldn’t nominate the Coalition, partly as a flow on from the Federal bulk-billing issue. If the Coalition fights on an issue where Beattie has failures, but where he is still regarded as the best to deal with it, then they still can’t win, even if they have the best policy.

Sunday’s news was dominated by health announcements from both sides. The Opposition didn’t do well. For them a policy announcement is an opportunity to show that they have substance. They performed more than adequately here. But for it to be a winner they have to turn it into an argument about something where they can win the argument. They can’t win the health argument, and don’t need to, but they do need to win the argument that they are best placed to make Beattie take things more seriously.

When we asked voters in our first survey what it was that made them hesitate about voting for Peter Beattie a large proportion of them nominated things related to a perception that he is arrogant and manipulative. “Media Tart, great spin doctor, [s]moke and mirrors, not trustworthy” was one succinct comment. A Health policy isn’t an end in itself, it is an opportunity to demonstrate that Springborg can wipe the smile from Beattie’s face and make him listen. To do this Springborg needs to get a little scar tissue.

At the moment Springborg is unknown by the electorate and seen as weak and colourless. As one Liberal supporter said “He appears unworldly or unsophisticated and the potential for infighting between the libs and nats. I also don't really like the strength of the Nats power particularly in relation to environmental issues where they have a bit too much of a farmers view”. When Springborg talks about the size of his cabinet in government, as he did on Saturday, voters like this think he is having a lend of himself. They are looking for him to prove that up to the job, not assume that he will win it.

They are also the target of the wedge that Peter Beattie bowled down yesterday (can you bowl a wedge?). Friction between the Nats and the Libs, and the shadow of One Nation are still issues in assessing whether the Coalition is worth voting for or as even an effective way of sending Beattie a message. The Liberal Party and the National Party have different policies on tree clearing. This is a matter of principle, and also because they are appealing to different constituencies. Beattie’s announcement of a halt to tree clearing is aimed at splitting the Coalition open, alienating the Liberal Party from the urban voters they need to target, or both. It is not primarily a pitch for the green vote.

If the Coalition does not have an answer which allows them to reconcile their conflicting policy positions while at the same time each retains dignity, then Beattie has a tool to keep the Liberals out of urban seats. The theme that the Liberal Party has never stood up to the National Party “never has and never will” has been a potent one in Queensland elections since 1989.

Labor screened its first set of advertisements yesterday evening. Hopefully Michael Lee will front with a review of it soon. They were positive and featured a very slick and animated Peter Beattie. Catch the ads while you can. Beattie has set some traps for the Opposition. Expect some negative ads to run the good ship coalition down from the windward tack forcing it to go around and start the race over again. So far Beattie’s got the right of way, and all the clean air to himself.

Posted by Graham at 10:07 AM
Graham Young
John Black
Mark Bahnisch
Michael Lee