February 07, 2004

Campaign pre-wrap - No clouds on Sunshine Pete's horizon

This article by me was published in yesterday's Australian. It will have to serve as my campaign pre-wrap. It predicts no major change. By "major change" I mean somewhere greater than ten seats net changing hands. On our pendulum that would require a uniform swing of around 2.5%, but swings are never uniform. Seats like Burdekin could change hands while seats like Noosa stay put. We'll both know tomorrow whether I know what I'm talking about.

IN July 1995, after six years in government, Queensland premier Wayne Goss all but lost the state election despite being Australia's most popular politician. Eight months later, as a result of the Mundingburra by-election, he was out of office.

His downfall was the result of a deliberate Opposition strategy. It was based on a public acknowledgement that the conservative parties could not win the election, voters' expectations that Labor would romp in, and a fairly direct call to send Goss a message. Subsequently, Rob Borbidge "accidentally" became premier.

As he faces Queenslanders for the third time tomorrow, Premier Peter Beattie fears he could fall victim to yet another protest vote. He can rest easy, because the circumstances are entirely different.

In 1995, Australia was just emerging from the "recession we had to have". Voters were unhappy with the economy and prepared to kick governments. In 2004, we are still in one of the longest phases of economic expansion. Beattie's only areas of risk are in the regions where turmoil in sugar, dairy and fishing industries, and the drought have unsettled voters.

In 1995, Paul Keating was in the Lodge, having stolen the previous election with his "LAW" tax cuts. Electors were waiting on their front verandas for him "with a baseball bat". They hit Goss first. This year John Howard is Prime Minister. He is blamed for problems in the health system, the No1 issue in this campaign, and in rural areas for the National Competition Policy. Howard is a plus for Beattie.

Then there are the players. Voters are not particularly happy with Beattie. They see "Cheshire Pete" as self-satisfied and smug, manipulative, using smoke and mirrors to cover for the fact that after six years he hasn't done much. They also don't like his team. They don't know enough about Opposition Leader Lawrence Springborg. He is young and has only been in the job 12 months. This equals inexperienced.

In the 1998 and 2001 elections, there was a strong protest vote that spectacularly went to One Nation. This time voters are dismissive of One Nation. Federal Queensland MP Bob Katter is supporting a string of anti-Beattie independents in the "sugar seats", the area most susceptible to a protest vote. Some of them may do well, but most will not win. Because of Beattie's "Just Vote 1" strategy, they will be starved of the preferences they need. The Coalition's task is huge this time. It needs to win 30 seats with a swing of 10 per cent to form government. There are only 15 Coalition members altogether, less than the size of Beattie's cabinet. This is a resource problem. In 1995, although the swing needed to win was in the vicinity of 7.5 per cent, it involved only nine extra seats. The Coalition could concentrate resources on 15 or so target seats. This year, it would need to target about 40.

Campaign teams, discipline and financing are other factors that have changed. The 1995 effort was research and poll-driven by the Liberal Party, not the Nationals. It was centralised and got its key messages out as early and as often as possible. Funds were allocated strategically, with the bulk being held back for the last two weeks of television. This time Coalition candidates are doing their own thing without resources and research. As a result the message is confused, if it is being delivered at all. The TV ads all but stopped last week. It looks to voters as if Beattie is the only one trying to win.

The strategy also depends on your opponent co-operating. If they act arrogant and uncaring, run messages that exude self-satisfaction and predict they will win with an even larger margin than last time, then voters are more inclined to kick them. Goss did all of these things, and Beattie virtually none.

I think the protest phenomenon is also a thing of the past. Electors understand it, partly because Beattie has inoculated them by explaining it. In the process, their cynicism is reinforced. It also depends on a lot of negative advertising. Voters are less susceptible to that now. They're also sceptical about promises.

This is the real problem for the Coalition - there is virtually nothing it could say or do to win a vote. When it offers a solution, voters say: "Right issue, but you're the wrong people to fix it." If they criticise, it is: "Where are your policies?" While they may want to protest, voters don't see the Opposition as an acceptable vehicle. They don't see any big difference between Labor and Liberal. If they have used a protest vote in the past, they have seen no real change for it.

A protest vote campaign is one of the few available to an Opposition when electors are happy with the government. Even if the Queensland Coalition had got its message right, it isn't there for it in 2004. Voters have given up trying to make a difference. Times aren't what they used to be.

Posted by Graham at 04:45 PM | Comments (2)

The Schnauser and the Labrador - the "Great" debate

Queensland’s “Great Debate” was more the “Great talking past each other”. A panel of 4 journalists asked the leaders individual questions. It was a little like coming to see Agassi play Phillipoussos and finding that they are not really playing each other, but are actually in two adjacent practice courts rallying against their training partners. So there was no real engagement, but there was a winner – Beattie.

My judgement on this is partly dues to what was said, but also to a large extent based on how they presented. Is it fair to do this? In an earlier post I described one possible ALP tactic as the Doberman and Schnauser .It was on display yesterday, but I think at a subconscious rather than tactical or strategic level, although I think calling Peter Beattie a “Doberman” was too harsh. Let’s call it the “Labrador and Schnauser” tactic. Either way, there was only one “alpha male” standing at the podium yesterday, and it wasn’t Lawrence Springborg.

This crystallized for me something which our focus groups have been saying right from the beginning. Yes, I could accept that they thought Springborg was too young and inexperienced, but because I get most of my news from the papers and often don’t see the TV broadcasts I missed some of the nuances. He’s playing completely out of his league, and that was apparent looking at both he and Beattie standing there.

Beattie was lucky with the lighting, it was adjusted so it shone on his head bouncing off his face and bronze hair in an almost halo effect. Springborg being taller took the light on his chest and his head disappeared into the dusk of the Convention center (and it was so dusky most of us were having trouble reading name tags). Yet it was more than that. One of our focus group participants said that she often saw Springborg as she walked home from QUT and “it’s O.K. to smile Lawrence…” I now saw what she meant. He was grim in an indication that he wasn’t comfortable being there, not that he was lacking a sense of humour. Beattie in contrast was his usual beaming self.

While the rules of the debate weren’t set up to encourage engagement, at one stage compare Chris O’Brien invited Beattie and Springborg to interject on each other. In another indication of lack of confidence Springborg did. He intermittently called out barely audible comments through the side of his mouth rather than grabbing some point and taking it to center stage.

In politics and life the largest part of success isn’t being intelligent or persuasive, good-looking or tall, even though those are generally ingredients in the mix, it is having others and yourself accept that you have a right to be successful. Springborg knew he shouldn’t have been there on the stage. He was beaten, whipped, and about to be put out for the night.

Perhaps this body language is a result of knowing that the Coalition campaign was under-prepared. This was painfully obvious in what was said in the presentations of each. Beattie talked about positive policies and then he listed the headline bullet point ones. 1500 nurses, cardiac units etc. Springborg talked about running a positive campaign and boasted of releasing 101 policies during the campaign, but didn’t name one specific promise. Whoever was preparing him all through the campaign should have made sure that he knew what the list of Coalition headline promises were and kept repeating them, but either they didn’t or he is a bad student.

Beattie also hit a mark when he criticized the Opposition for their “Re-Pete” ads for criticizing him personally. My gauge for that is that I was sitting at the same table as One Nation Leader Bill Flynn and his wife. When Beattie made this riposte it was one of the few times Maggie Flynn clapped, and I think the One Nation voter would be a good yard stick on this issue. (Why were Bill and Maggie sitting at table 26 with the “B-List” invitees one table away from the kitchen? I guess that is the story of One Nation this election.)

Then in Lawrence’s summing up he confused us all. He started on the refrain of “restoring the balance” – that was familiar territory – but then he said it meant “balancing the books”. And then it was balancing a whole range of other things. Presumably the Coalition’s research was showing that people liked the phrase but they didn’t really know what it meant. We told them that three weeks a go. Trying to redefine it at the last moment is a sign of rank amateurism.

On the way in to the debate we had a talkative taxi driver. I know all his voting intentions and why. When it comes to State he’s voting for Beattie, hopes he wins, but hopes other people vote against him so that he wins with a much smaller majority. After yesterday’s performance I am confirmed in my view – our taxi driver’s only going to get one wish out of two.

Posted by Graham at 08:14 AM

February 05, 2004

You said it first week

Campaign

Alex summed the state of the campaign “The parties seem to be talking past each other.” While there was some support for a positive campaign Joan thought that “Springborg hasn't got the gloves on yet or sure he's in the right ring”. And almost everyone thought Labor was going to win.

Protest Vote

It’s there to some extent, but it’s going Green. Mary (normally Liberal) “No my mind is open - but the Opposition parties are not showing any strength or govt capability”.

To Beattie saying he might lose:

Mary (Lib) “No doubt he'll say sorry for misleading everyone. On all TV channels. All media outlets” She thinks he’ll win.

Springborg says he will win:

Joan (ALP to Grn) “Veeerrry uneasy. I feel we are still getting over the damage Borbidge did.” Mary (Lib) “Sorry, it makes me think he's trying too hard and has left reality behind”.

View that Greens will do well and that PHON is finished. Pauline has done them no favours:

Alex (Lab) "Without Pauline they are the deadest of ducks."

Beattie

Peter (Lab to Lib) “He has been good for Queensland. Let down by a sorry Team”
Mary (Lib) “Reminds me of watching reality TV. Qld could has so much going for it could be run by prov. drover's dog. Unimpressed.”
Geraldine (Labor to Grn) “Labor in Qld has become Beattie I no longer have any sense of what Qld Labor is about.”
Peter (Lab to Lib) “Like Nero! Rushing to say he will put out the fire he lit!”

Springborg

Marilyn (Lib to Grn) “Trying a bit too hard, I've seen him in the street on the way home from QUT and he always looks cross.”
Skenes (Ind) “Nice bloke, trying hard. Hopefully will provide a decent Opposion Leader, firstly.”
Mary (Lib to Lab) “He needs to recognise that Govt isn't a job but a vocation and impress the electorate so.”

Issues


  • Health
  • Mary (Lib to Lab) knew most “Both are tryuing to address waiting list issues and the Emergency bed issues - one is broad basing and the other is so far localising and relatring to federal limitations and shrinking funding”

    Possible weakness for Beattie - why hasn’t he fixed the problems?


  • Tree clearing
  • Marilyn (Lib to Grn) “Been there done that! Haven't seen any concrete benefits yet and a total ban is as bad a balck and white solution to anything else - the environent is grey greeen, not black or white”

    Springborg’s remark that it was a “'grubby' grab for Greens preferences by Labor” bit. Widespread agreement.

    Hesitations

  • Beattie
  • Marilyn (Lib to Grn) “His treating me like an idiot” responsibility accountability”

  • Springborg
  • Mary “His overarching knowledge of the issues - the differences between the colatition parties - the lack of insight and iinnovation so far in their approach”

    Slogans

    Restore the balance generally acceptable. “Realistic” “A stronger Opposition would be a good thing” (ALP voter)

    Keep Queensland moving – niggling doubts about direction. Wishy Washy (Lab)

    Arguments

    All respondents tended to believe that Beattie doesn’t need to be returned because he has a job to finish, but they see Springborg’s new coalition as just hype.

    Summary

    Beattie wins, but by default.

    Posted by Graham at 10:15 PM | Comments (3)

    Science confirms and expands our research findings

    Most analysis of qualitative research is impressionistic – skilled interviewers interpret what they see and hear and report on it. As a result the interviewer’s knowledge and background can often influence the report. Until recently it had to be this way. Because qualitative research gives subjects the widest possible range of responses, they are impossible to quantify conventionally. Leximancer, a software tool developed by the Key Centre for Human Factors and Applied Cognitive Psychology at the University of Queensland changes that. This analysis of the first two weeks of our focus groups has been compiled using Leximancer.

    Leximancer is a computer analysis of text which reconfigures a conversation as a map or scatter graph, assigning significance to a range of concepts within that conversation over an X-Y axis. The graph not only shows which concepts in the conversation cluster together, and which stand apart, but also indicates the strength of their relationships.

    The conceptual map is dynamic: that is, the analyst can move variables using sliders and gain a richer insight into the text.

    It charts those patterns of significance over a range of 100, and allows the reader to play with a number of sliding scales. The scales may open the map at the 6th percentile, 10th and so on: anything up to the 100th. The higher the percentile, the more central and significant the concepts. That is a set of concepts in the 10th percentile are more central and significant, than the concepts within the 50th percentile. However, the 50th would indicate a broader scope of issues.

    There were some significant variations between the first and second weeks. In the first week at the 6th percentile the most central concepts which arose out of the discussion on the first night were Peter Beattie’s name and the Labor Party being strongly associated with voting preferences and key issues. This suggests that voting, issues and Beattie are strongly linked as central concepts in the discussion. However, much of the discussion seemed to be treating Beattie with a measure of ‘presidential’ style: that is, as the leader of Labor he, rather than his ministers, appeared to be gaining all the attention and responsibility for what the government had achieved so far, and what it was likely to achieve in the future.

    Springborg also featured strongly as a central concept. His inclusion occurred on the 11th percentile. Although there was no sense in which government would be attributed to him or his party, he was generally admired as a ‘young hopeful’. He was significant for what he might achieve the next time round – in three years time. Respondents in the focus groups generally said they would ‘hesitate strongly’ before voting for him.

    Whereas Beattie was considered a consummate politician, Springborg was considered to be a ‘thinking’ one.

    Generally the issues were widely scattered and did not appear to cluster round particular parties or politicians. That is, the environment (tree clearing), and health (medicare) in particular. They were important issues in themselves, not because of particular party policies. That accords with our other observations that while these issues were important to particular groups of voters they are not actually vote movers.

    In the second week attention was moving away from Beattie. Within the first ten percentiles of the Conceptual Map this time there was less mention of specific political parties. The central propositions were VOTE, LABOR and ELECTION.with Beattie coming well down the ladder on central significance factors – entering the conceptual map at the 13th percentile. Interestingly, and in contrast to the first groups, there was no strong association between these central concepts and Peter Beattie. The group seemed to be suggesting a Labor victory was inevitable, with Beattie towards the end of the first week featuring less strongly.

    The Greens were the next political group to attain significance after Labor. However, they did not enter the map until the 24th percentile.

    The National Party achieved no significance until the 50th percentile. National’s leader, Springborg, did not enter the map’s significance until the 70th percentile – scarcely rating in relative terms. This underlines our impressionistic interpretation that the Coalition has not reached minimum expectations, even in their role as Opposition. Opinion polls at this stage were showing increasing favourability for Springborg, and this was echoed in our count of responses to this question on our questionnaire. The Leximancer analysis suggests that while Springborg was climbing in favourability he was actually declining in significance.

    The Leximancer analysis also supports our reading of the protest vote potential. It lies more with the Greens and Independents than it does with the Coalition, but while voters are not happy, there is little propensity for them to protest.

    Posted by at 09:37 PM

    February 04, 2004

    Rogue Liberal Candidate puts a ceiling on Coalition vote

    First let me put my conflict of interest forward. I was in a small way responsible for Pauline Hanson becoming the member for Oxley. I voted for her in her preselection. There is a mitigating story there which I’m sure you don’t want to hear, but I would contend that everyone is entitled each election to one Pauline Hanson. But only one. The Coalition campaign has been plagued by not one, but three.

    That’s not exactly correct. “Pauline Hanson” ought to be the generic name for a candidate who is disendorsed after nominations close and who therefore appears on the ballot paper with their former party’s name. The National Party got in early enough in Maryborough. They disendorsed their candidate at the last moment which meant he would not automatically remain on the ballot paper.

    The National Party didn’t get their timing right with Dan van Blarcom whose Nazi Party past led to him being disendorsed. He will appear on the ballot paper and he will have National Party next to his name, and who knows what the result might be. There is a lot of anger in the seat of Whitsunday which was briefly held by One Nation.

    Another who fails the Hanson test is the Liberal Party candidate for Ashgrove, Terry Mendies. Liberal Leader Bob Quinn unwisely stepped in to defend him. I’m not sure why as Mendies is no friend of his and is obvious trouble. Mendies fails the test because, although he should be disendorsed, he won’t be.

    Mendies is one of the main movers in Michael Johnson’s campaign team, and Treasurer of the Ryan FEC of the Liberal Party. As such he would have been a significant player in the attempt to have Bruce Flegg, one of the few stars the Liberal Party has been able to find this election, disendorsed as the candidate for Moggill.

    Tonight Channel 10 News showed interviews with three disgruntled customers of his failed roof repair business – including the “little old lady” who in one interview probably did more damage to Mr Mendies than the Opposition has done to Peter Beattie in the four week campaign.

    The Building Services Authority – the “ASIC of the state building industry” – is also pursuing Mr Mendies through the courts for money it alleges it is owed as a result of the failure of one of his repair companies.

    Mendies – who did not hesitate to try and milk his weekend dustup with a couple of youths for all its dubious worth through the media earlier in the week – was nowhere to be seen when the television cameras arrived at his residence, leaving it to his wife to tell them (from behind a security door) he was not available.

    Liberal Leader Bob Quinn, turned in only a marginally better performance, saying he did not know Mendies that well, and it would be up to the people of Ashgrove to decide. Bob, I wish you all the best. Cut this guy loose. He is an obvious example of why the Liberal Party is failing this election, and that failure will destroy all the work and personal capital that you have put into the Liberal Party.

    If Quinn won’t act, it is up to President Michael Caltabiano to do so. The signs are that the Sicilian faction is about to try to hang the results of this election on Quinn. According to their argument this election would not have been so disastrous for the Liberals if Quinn had not "insisted" on forming a Coalition with the National Party. They are also saying that because most of the candidates are his, then their failure is his failure.

    Mendies is not a Quinn candidate, he is a Johnson candidate and as a result of the alliance that runs the Liberal Party, part of the Sicilian faction. If he stays as a candidate that is the only reason. Quinn is misguidedly trying damage control presumably knowing that he would be thwarted by the organization if he tried to have Mendies disendorsed.

    Ashgrove was never a possibility for the Liberal Party. The only question now is how low the vote will get, and how many other genuinely possible wins it will take with it?

    Posted by Graham at 11:10 PM | Comments (2)

    Liberals and Coalition a problem for Nats in Brisbane, Vote 1 a problem in bush

    There are two parallel elections running this time. The southeast corner dictates the winner in any contest, just through weight of population. Brisbane and the southeast give every indication of still being on holiday waiting for breakfast to be brought to them in bed. Everything is calm and relaxed. In rural and regional Queensland where the election will not be won or lost passions are running high with angry public meetings basically demanding that Peter Beattie be brought in as the main course.

    To some extent this is a story of two economies. There is a strong correlation between jobs and business being lost and governments changing. There has been a drought, so beef is not as profitable as it could be, even though prices are up, because many do not have any stock. Ditto for grain. In the coastal areas the sugar and dairy industries are hurting because the prices for both their commodities are down. They are both facing restructuring. Restructuring also affects commercial fishermen as they wonder how many of them will still be in the industry as the government closes fisheries to preserve stocks. On top of this a dollar which is up close to 50% on its lows is making exports more expensive and imports cheaper, squeezing producers in two markets simultaneously.

    Last week when we talked to rural and regional voters there was lots of discontent, lots of issues and lots of emotion. This week when we talked to Brisbane voters, partly in an effort to get a handle on just how badly the Liberal Party was traveling in what should be its heartland, it was “pretty much steady as she goes. No one seems to argue about why we need a change”.

    It is impossible to beat a government where no-one is upset about anything. In this last week voters have really turned off Peter Beattie – “I just don't trust Pete the Cheshire Cat anymore” – but they haven’t turned on to Lawrence Springborg. He is still regarded as young and inexperienced and voters are starting to identify him as a little manipulative. The famous topless ironing shot brought this rejoinder from a young woman: “yuk! put it back on. Like his wife doesn't do that normally for him, that's insulting to women to think we would be fooled by the SNAG image”. Caught between country boy and metrosexual he’s become just a little bit tricky dick.

    Bad as it is for Springborg he is held back by his deputy, Bob Quinn. One respondent wanted to know whether he had ever been an undertaker. There is a feeling that he got lumped with the job because he was the last man standing (with apologies to Joan Sheldon). One respondent wanted to know whether it wouldn’t have been “maybe better to do a Campbell Newman type of thing…” meaning that they should bring in an outsider. Good news for Newman in that his hard name ID is obviously up (especially as this was a Labor voter speaking), but not for the Liberal Party.

    Respondents thought that Brisbane had different needs from the Bush, that Beattie had neglected it since the election was called, but that even if the Liberals understood Brisbane’s needs they would get over-ruled by the National Party in any coalition. At least one respondent thought that the National Party would be better off without the Libs. Last year Quinn was running on a number of issues that offered points of differentiation from the National Party.

    These are the responses I got to them. When I suggested that the Liberals opposed tree clearing: “that's news to me. but it is only important what the Nationals think as they are in the majority”; “since when…?”; “interesting - I did not know that”. The Libs are the only party to support daylight saving, but it doesn’t excite voters: “i think it is a dead issue”; “I would be in favour of that. But I don't know how it would be for those poor souls up North”.

    Another Brisbane issue is the electricity blackouts. Madonna King suggested in this morning’s Courier Mail (no link available sorry) that the Liberal Party ought to be running hard on the issue. Our group last night suggests not. They were seen as an “Act of God” by one respondent. Another who believed it was the government’s fault thought that the Coalition had been just as bad and that “they would only dig a hole on their own plundering of seqeb” if they raised it. There was a sense that it would be opportunism because they hadn’t been running on the issue all along.

    This underlines the major problem for the Coalition. They can’t win on issues because they don’t have the basic credibility to start with. It’s a combination of the youth and inexperience of the leader and the deadweight of the Liberals.

    Another feature of this election is that the protest vote is no longer a potent option for the major parties. Any mention of the possibility of losing or winning is met with derision. In my post yesterday I suggested that the Coalition might need to run the “save us from ourselves” line, but when I even started to test it last night by putting the proposition that Beattie might gain seats I was howled down and told it was just trickery.

    In fact, if the polls and what focus groups are saying are correct, it might well be close to the mark. Certainly in Brisbane with a low unemployment rate, rising house prices and incomes there is no mood for change. Outside Brisbane there is a mood to punish, but there is no sign that it is actually translating into votes for the Coalition, in which case Beattie’s Vote 1 strategy (a strategy foolishly copied by the Coalition) will see him retain most seats as the anger is dissipated between competing anti-Beattie candidates and he collects a diminished first-past-the-post first place.

    Posted by Graham at 06:15 PM

    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 05:19 PM | Comments (4)

    Beattie romps and stomps it in with an aggravated assault

    For 35 minutes last night I sweated and pounded away on the treadmill in my local gym. They have two televisions tuned to commercial TV, and you can only hear the sound if you wear a Walkman with FM reception. I don’t, so for all televisual intents and purposes I was deaf. Even with this hearing impairment and the demands of physical exertion I couldn’t miss the Labor message.

    Channel 7 must have run the positive Beattie ads with the admonition to “Keep Queensland Moving” 5 times. Channel 10 was a little more risqué. I saw the positive ads a couple of times, but I also saw a negative ad twice attacking the Coalition on Health. Both of them had enough bold print splashed across the screen that I didn’t need sound to know what they were saying.

    This second ad was interesting for a number of reasons. It shows how Labor’s campaign is segmenting the market. Nine MSN’s TV Guide promises viewers of The HotHouse “Construction, confrontation and elimination…”. The political instincts of reality show fans are presumably those of the colliseum. Don’t like them? SMS an inverted thumb! My Wife and Kids obviously has a more caring and sharing demographic. Keep Queensland Moving goes out of its way to be inoffensive (Have you noticed that in the scene where Beattie uses a laptop it is an Apple? Even the geeks are cared and catered for.)

    Another thing I noted is that it picks up on some of the themes that have recently come through in our focus group research. When Beattie opened the campaign he said, amongst other things, that this election was a way of sending John Howard a message on Health. When we tried this on our participants they didn’t agree. They thought Health was the most important issue in voting, but it really didn’t appear to be changing votes.

    Another theme which has started to come through is that there is anger at John Howard and the federal government. This came out particularly in last week’s rural and regional focus group and probably has something to do with the intersection of National Competition Policy and rural issues in dairying and sugar. These people also thought that both Labor and Coalition were too much “Brisbane” parties.

    Labor’s health ad rolls a number of these themes together. It asks for a vote on the basis that the National Party has caved in to Canberra on health and that Queensland needs someone who will stick up for Queensland. Labor has moved the question subtly away from sending Canberra a message to sending the state coalition a message using Health as the vehicle. It taps into anger at Howard as well as the Banana-Bender's hostile and parochial attitude to “Mexicans”. I think it will work, possibly better in rural areas than down here in Brisbane.

    During the same 35 minute period I didn’t see one Coalition ad. That raises another question. Why is Beattie trying so hard? Yesterday’s Courier Mail carried some polling .It showed the two-party preferred Labor vote increasing to 57 percent in Indooroopilly, 67 percent in Noosa and 55 percent in Keppel. If these results were repeated all over the state it would mean that the Coalition would be further away from government than they are now and could even lose seats. There is certainly no risk of Beattie losing government. Yet he is still pounding his opposition with well-targetted advertisements, and they have already taken so much financial injury that they cannot even afford to respond.

    It is the political equivalent of aggravated assault and it does carry a risk. By kicking so hard he may conjure up a sympathy (rather than protest) vote for the Opposition. Of course it wouldn’t be enough for them to win office, but it might help them to claw back in a few seats, particularly if they could switch their message from “Restoring the Balance” to “Avoiding the Massacre”. I don’t think the electorate is that contemptuous of the Opposition that they would be impervious to an appeal to “save us from ourselves”. It is worth the Opposition trying that line. Now they are playing “catch-up” politics. The lines they are using aren’t working, so it’s time they took a risk.

    Posted by Graham at 01:32 PM | Comments (6)

    February 01, 2004

    Are those negative ads working?

    Today’s Sunday Mail has Beattie’s approval rating dropping, but Labor still winning in a landslide. That mirrors the result in our own research . I decided that our sample was particularly unrepresentative when it showed Beattie with a –3% favourability ratio. I still think that is the case, but the move in our sample is in line with what The Sunday Mail has picked up.

    Does this mean the Coalition’s negative advertising has worked, despite my criticism of it as dumb? Not really. Beattie’s approval rating has dropped, but it hasn’t been a benefit to the Opposition. According to The Sunday Mail Beattie is still on 58% of the two party preferred vote which is only a 2% swing away from his position at the last election.

    Our research shows that while voters are not happy with Peter Beattie they are not switching across to the Opposition but going for third party candidates and Independents. I had face-to-face confirmation of that trend this morning when I almost literally bumped into an old school mate. He told me that he couldn’t vote Labor and he couldn’t vote Coalition and that as we had an Independent running in our electorate he’d be voting for him. This friend is an urban professional who normally votes Labor and did toy with the idea of voting for me when I ran as a Liberal Candidate in 1992, but ultimately didn’t. His mother tends to vote Liberal, but probably came there via the DLP route, as a lot of Irish Catholics did. He is the quintessential citizen that the Liberal Party needs to win over to do well in Brisbane. Our seat of Greenslopes, which has a high concentration of Catholics and renovated houses, is one that was crucial to the Coalition win in 1995.

    I saw another of the Coalition’s “Re-Pete” ads this evening. It showed a whole pyramid of TVs being junked, the message being that if you don’t want any more repeats you have to vote Coalition. This is off message because of the personal attack. It is also off message because it is telling voters to fix the problem by voting the government out. If the Coalition is serious about winning a protest vote then the message has to be not to vote the government out, but to discipline the government by voting against it, an entirely different message.

    The Sunday Mail also blamed Springborg’s beefcake photo for problems he was experiencing with the female vote aged between 18 and 40. Yes, well we already knew about that from the focus groups. The negative comments were all from women in the 31 to 40 age group, once again demonstrating the benefits of the sort of research that we are conducting.

    Other remarks from the Sunday Mail pollster were well off the mark. According to the pollster the protest vote was over-rated because only 2 out of 10 voters would consider lodging a protest vote. Does anyone in that operation do even simple mathematics? That’s 20% and Beattie has a margin of 16%. If they did their polling properly, then most of that 20% would have indicated a leaning and be counted in the vote. As an 8% swing away from Beattie’s poll figure would unseat him then there are enough people in the potential protest vote figure to make the difference.

    I don’t believe that the protest vote will make the difference for reasons that have nothing to do with the potential size of it, but a 20% potential protest vote is huge. With a different Opposition Leader and a different pitch it could really have made a huge difference to this election result.

    The Sunday Mail also let Beattie could away with a whopper.

    “Mr Beattie said Labor would not sit back over the next six days and assume it would win. ‘A lot of people will Vote 1, which means it will be a closer contest,’ he said.”

    That makes it sound as though Voting 1 is something Beattie doesn’t approve of. In fact it is a part of the government’s strategy and they have been spending money broadcasting advertisements to get voters to do just that. It's that sort of smarminess that is doing the damage to Beattie's approval rating but still returning an extraordinarily good result in the polls.

    Posted by Graham at 11:03 PM
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