August 31, 2006

Sir Joh's Ghost

The Australian highlighted a Newspoll on its front page yesterday which showed Team Beattie potentially winning with a larger majority than in 2004. That’s unlikely, as the swing back to Labor is not going to be uniform, and the optional preferential voting system makes 2PP projections unreliable. But there is no doubt in my mind that Labor will take seats off the Libs (and just possibly a couple off the Nats), though its poor position on the Sunshine Coast makes Liberal deputy Mark McCardle safer than he looks on paper and may also see some Labor seats fall to the Libs.

As I’ve previously argued in Crikey, Flegg’s blonde campaign is not the Libs’ only problem. Their baseline vote going into the election is already about as low as it can go – particularly in Brisbane, where Labor won 34 of 35 seats last time around (Redcliffe and Chatsworth were lost at by-elections in 2005). So in the second of our focus groups for The National Forum, Graham Young and I polled a sample of strong Liberal voters. We were interested to see how they’d perceived the campaign and whether any were shifting to Labor.

All the participants were strongly critical of Beattie, and their policy views strongly anti-Labor. But a number had considered shifting their vote. Joseph, a 35-year-old self-employed former public servant, had the line of the night: "They provide no viable alternative to Team Beattie. I heard the comment today that Flegg has been going around the state 'drumming up apathy'."

Other participants were quick to agree. David, in his 60s and living on the Sunshine Coast, observed: "I support the code but the players are a worry at the moment". While participants felt that Flegg would be a good Health Minister, they were also worried that the Libs appeared to have become a single issue party, hardly campaigning on other issues.

When push came to shove, all were going to stick with the Liberal devil they did know, though their distaste at Bob Quinn’s knifing was evident. But interestingly, the coalition agreement might be a factor inclining some Liberals towards a Labor, FF or Independent vote. There was much hostility to the Nats from our sample, and those who had no Liberal candidate to vote for (in some coastal and outer Brisbane seats) were voting Nat with a peg on their noses. Springborg was damned with faint praise, and the legacy of the Moonlight State corruption had certainly not been forgotten. Sir Joh has left a problematic legacy to Queensland conservatives, and not just through continued coalition disunity.

Note: This post is part of the series of Crikey Queensland election commentary and is cross-posted at Larvatus Prodeo.

Posted by Mark_Bahnisch at 06:05 PM | Comments (1)

August 30, 2006

It's the vision thing

Gerard Henderson is only the latest pundit to make what is by now a trite observation – state oppositions seem incapable of challenging the Labor stranglehold.

Online focus group research on the Queensland campaign conducted by Graham Young and me for The National Forum last week and again last night provides a clue as to why. The puzzle is more complicated than the usual story about poor candidates and fundraising disadvantage.

Coalition state governments in the 90s weren’t afraid to be economic and social reformers. Greiner and then Kennett set a cracking pace. Not only was the pace much too fast for voters’ speed limits, but the liberal economic agenda and particularly privatisation were deeply unpopular. By the time the gloss wore off, voters punished Coalition administrations for placing ideology over services. The final nail in the Liberal coffin was the 2002 SA election. The Libs were punished for electricity privatisation, and supply failures in searing southern summers.

Last night we asked voters in our focus group about electricity supply and privatisation. Neither have been on the campaign agenda. But the Coalition should have made electricity an issue. Beattie’s troubled third term began with supply failures in Brisbane, and some of our participants suspect that one reason for going early this time around was to avoid the grid creaking under the weight of thousands of air conditioners in what’s set to be a stinker of a Queensland summer. The Coalition could easily have tied this theme in both with the unpopularity of an early election and with their general message on infrastructure.

Joh Bjelke-Petersen, after all, famously proclaimed after his post electricity strike win in 1986 that the lights would stay on in Queensland for three years.

So why didn’t they? Part of the reason is probably incompetence. But another big part of the reason is that conservative oppositions remain reform wary. They’re scared of uttering the p word which voters hate. So elections at state level become contests about competence and leadership. That’s hard enough to win on from opposition, but the challenged Queensland conservatives have dug their own grave with Flegg’s blonde fortnight.

Similarly, voters in our focus groups found it hard to identify differences in vision between either party. One self described conservative commented that the Nats’ policies were too close to Labor. State oppositions are unable to articulate much ideological difference with Labor governments, and after a long spell out of power, find it difficult to play the competence card. Meanwhile their federal friends have thrown another sleeper out there with the timing of the T3 sale, which will remind Queenslanders in the bush just how much they hate privatisation (and that Barnaby voted for it).

If there are to be any conservative governments in any state from this election cycle, the Coalition at state level will have to come up with an appealing difference in vision from Labor. If Queensland is anything to go by, they will struggle.

Note This post is part of the series of Crikey Queensland election commentary and is cross-posted at Larvatus Prodeo.

Posted by Mark_Bahnisch at 07:51 PM

Queensland election second week

These are my notes for this morning's discussion with Madonna King on ABC Radio Brisbane's Morning Program. They have also been posted at http://whatthepeoplewant.net/.

  1. Flegg has fallen in a hole but it doesn’t seem to have affected the Liberal Party vote. One reason for this is that despite two weeks of disasters he is doing no worse than Bob Quinn. In March Quinn was 11% favourable, 54% unfavourable. When Flegg took over he was 16% favourable, 44% unfavourable. Now he is 11% favourable, 53% unfavourable!
  2. Another reason for this. Focus group last night of Liberal voters. They are prepared to give him time. Blame Beattie for calling the election early. Liberal vote is at bedrock – not too many voters left to lose.
  3. In the same period Beattie has improved his standing while Springborg has also gone backwards like Flegg.
  4. Beattie is seen by our swingers as being the least incompetent. That is vis-à-vis the Opposition as well as his own team.
  5. Springborg is seen as being young, immature, negative, whinging, inexperienced and incapable, ruling over a rabble – his own party and the coalition.
  6. Flegg is unknown to many. To those who do know something he comes across as smug, relying on his professional qualifications for standing, inexperienced and only playing one tune. There is also concern about him knifing Quinn, and about those like Caltabiano, who might knife him.
  7. The National Party vote has decreased in our samples. This is where the increase in Beattie’s vote is mostly coming from. Not sure whether this is because they have become disheartened and are not filling the surveys in, whether with the election closer they realise they only have a Liberal running in their seat, or whether it is the blue-collar conservative vote going back to Beattie. No doubt John would have a theory about his “smart-state voters”. I suspect these are the Howard Liberals deciding to stay with Beattie.


Beattie verbatims:

“His statements - we got it wrong but we will fix it. If there was a viable alternative I would vote for it.” Liberal going Labor, 51-60, male, 4305

“The apparently incompetent ministers he has around him who keep stuffing up & making him carry the can.” Liberal going Labor, 41-50, male, 4011

“That things that are in the pipeline, previously anounced are taking so long to get started eg The gate way duplication,our local ambulance anounced over a year ago and not a sod of dirt turned on site.” Liberal going Labor, 41-50, male 4152

“Beattie has been in power for nearly 10 years and had caused all the problems Qld faces, and now claims he has the answers. If he has the answers, how did it get so bad in the first place?” Labor going Liberal, 31-40. male, 4012

Springborg verbatims:

“Even worse than Labor” Swinger going Labor, 41-50, male, 4110

“He leads a rabble in Parliament one or two it seems are always tossed out each sitting for one infringment or another. If they act like hoons in opposition what would they be like as government. As well the shadow of the old corrupt national party is always hovering - whether fair or not for me it is scary.” Swinger going Labor, 61+, male, 4272

“He's a young man, who's trying to preach and sound like an old feral dog. It doesn't appeal to me at all, and his voice is so boring to listen to, or hear.” Greens going Labor, 61+, male, 4068.

“The lack of cohesion between the coalition. If they can't get on together now, how could they possible rule together.” Labor going Liberal, 41-50, Female, 4225.

Flegg verbatims:

“Total unknown. Calls himself Doctor in the hope that people will feel more confident about him and that it will give him more creedence in the Hospital issues” Liberal going Labor, 51-60, female, 4074

“An elitist unknown who has no political experience.” Swinger going Labor, 61+, Male, 4170

“flegg comes across as arrogant and smug. he would not get my vote if he was the only candidate on the ballot. when he sat next to that working class chap trying to eat his lunch i felt like throwing something at the tv (this happened at a shopping center last week).” Swinger going Labor, 41-50, male, 4151.

“I really know nothing about him. All I've heard is that he's made a few blunders in the early days of the election, but I think the same media factors come into play as with Springborg.” Labor going National, 18-30, female, 4151.

“They provide no viable alternative to Team Beattie. I heard the comment today that Flegg has been going around the state 'drumming up apathy'.” – Focus group participant, Labor going Liberal, 31-40, male, 4012.

For the tables you will need to download the full document from here

Posted by Graham at 02:01 PM | Comments (9)

August 29, 2006

Preferences

Much of Labor’s electoral success outside Brisbane from 1998 was built on the back of exploiting conservative disunity through Queensland’s optional preferential voting system. With One Nation and other right wing parties and independents splitting the conservative vote, the Labor message of "Just Vote One" turned many regional and rural seats into effective first past the post contests. The fact that this strategy reinforced the theme of conservatives as a squabbling rabble was an added extra.

Because Queensland uses optional preferential, calculations of the vote based on a notional 2PP are misleading. Unfortunately the polling firms who have been surveying opinion have used very confused methodologies to measure preferences. In many seats it will be far more important whether voters direct preferences than to whom.

Surprisingly for an election in which voters are tiring of Beattie but the Opposition presents an unacceptable alternative, minor parties have struggled to attract either support or coverage for their campaigns. So both the Greens and Family First have made much of their preference announcements.

Bizarrely, the Coalition failed to respond to a request from FF for a meeting in August to discuss preferences. Labor courted them. FF are preferencing the ALP in five seats, the Coalition in seven and Independent Dolly Pratt in Nanango. In other seats where they are running, they are running a “Just Vote One” strategy. FF will do more damage to the Coalition than Labor, as their preferences may aid the ALP in key seats, but are allocated to the Libs and Nats in largely safe Labor and Coalition seats. But realistically, the allocations are largely moot. The “Just Vote One” culture is now so entrenched in Queensland that the effect of a significant FF vote will be to dilute conservative strength.

Bizarrely, though in keeping with a campaign so far devoid of much political logic, the Nats will be contributing to their own electoral demise by discouraging the allocation of preferences.

While Greens voters are the most likely of any to preference, the Greens will not be able to repeat the leverage they gained over Labor in 1995 when their preference decisions contributed to Goss’s defeat. The Nats, desperate for funding, have signalled open slather for development, while water is an environmental issue that plays Labor’s way except in seats affected by controversial proposed new dams.

Like most other factors in this campaign, the combination of the voting system and minor parties’ inability to control their preferences will work in the ALP’s favour.

Note: This story was published in Crikey today and is cross posted at Larvatus Prodeo.

Posted by Mark_Bahnisch at 04:21 PM

August 28, 2006

The weekend polls

Yesterday the Queensland campaign passed its halfway mark – 13 out of 26 days over and done with. And the impact of the second week of the campaign can be discerned from the weekend polls.

I suggested last week that the most likely result, had an election been held on the previous weekend, would have been a small loss of seats by Labor. The commentariat have now caught up with the fact that Team Beattie’s vote is holding up close to 2004 levels half way through the campaign.

In the Galaxy poll, the Nats have gained three points to reach 18%, but the Libs have slumped by four points to 22%. The ALP, meanwhile, is sitting on a 47% primary. Labor has gained 5% since the election was called.

The key to interpreting the poll is the regionalised nature of the campaign. The Libs are coming off a very low base in terms of both seats and margins. While some gains on the Sunshine Coast appear likely, the Libs will struggle to win a single Labor marginal seat in Brisbane, and will most likely lose Santoro factional warlord Michael Catalbiano’s seat of Chatsworth. With the exception of Surfers Paradise, none of the seats the Libs currently hold can be described as safe seats. Such has been Beattie’s electoral dominance since 2001 that four of the Lib’s seven seats are held by margins less than 3.2%. A poll conducted for the Gold Coast Bulletin late last week now shows Robina (8.8%) and Currumbin (3.2%) in danger of falling to Labor.

Robina is the old seat of dumped Liberal leader Bob Quinn. William Bowe’s analysis at his blog The Poll Bludger demonstrates that Bruce Flegg has assumed a higher profile in this campaign than Quinn had in 2004. The problem is that it’s been an appallingly negative and gaffe-prone profile. It’s no wonder that Lawrence Springborg, standing beside his Liberal colleague, failed explicitly to endorse his leadership. The Borg’s circumlocutions would have done Sir Joh proud.

The problem the Nats have is that the Libs are uncompetitive where the seats need to be won. And they can’t afford a single misstep, let alone a fortnight of them, because their margins are so perilous. The irony of this campaign might be that the Libs will again do so poorly that it will be very difficult for the Coalition to be in a winning position in 2009. Odds are that neither Flegg nor Springborg will be leading their parties for long after the election. The motto of this campaign is that the poor souls who step up to the plate should be allowed to lead through until the next election. Voters are very unforgiving of last minute leadership switches. Bruce Flegg, it is clear, is no Bob Hawke.

Note: Only 13 more sleeps til Queensland votes, and this post republished from Crikey will be followed up with a post on the impact of minor parties and preferences tomorrow. The post is cross-posted at Larvatus Prodeo.

Posted by Mark_Bahnisch at 11:34 PM | Comments (1)

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 09:45 PM
Writers
Graham Young
John Black
Mark Bahnisch
Michael Lee
Resources