An unpresidential election

It’s become a cliche to observe that Australian elections have shifted to a ‘presidential model’, in which the central element is a popularity contest between the incumbent PM and the Opposition leader. This has been accompanied by the minimisation of policy differences, as both sides seek the middle ground, and by the adoption of a ‘small target strategy’, particularly by the Opposition (governments have a record from which they can’t easily hide). This election is different, though you might not know it from the media coverage which demands, and receives, photo-ops of the leaders going from one place to another, wearing clothes they wouldn’t normally dream of, and handing out goodies. What are the differences this time?

First, neither leader is all that popular. For the Liberals, this doesn’t make much difference, since Morrison is about the best they’ve got in that respect. By contrast, Labor is running as a party rather than Team Shorten, even leaving him off some advertising material

The converse of this is that local candidates and local issues matter more than usual. There are a string of seats presenting problems for both parties. On the ALP side, there’s Herbert, held by 37 votes last time, and the epicentre of the Adani dispute, and Lindsay, where the sitting member, also narrowly elected in 2016, was pushed out over harassment allegations. Surprisingly enough, a seat-specific Newspoll showed both still at 50-50.

The LNP have many more problems of this kind. There are several seats where sitting members (mostly women) have been pushed out or quit in disgust, hardline rightwingers (notably Abbott, Dutton and Hunt) facing independent challengers and a strong push from Getup, members who seem to have put their personal lives ahead of doing their jobs (Christensen) water issues facing the Nationals in NSW, and Barnaby Joyce, who ticks nearly all of the boxes above.

I’m not sure how much of this is reflected in polling. In cases where the independent has a better chance of winning than Labor, the “two-party preferred” measure is irrelevant in any case.

Finally, as in 2016, and unlike any other election since 1993, the opposition party is offering a clear change rather than a small target. As it turns out, the noise of an election campaign means that this has made little difference. The rhetoric is shrill, but so it was when the parties were, in fact, virtually identical.

The main effect is that, if Labor is elected, it won’t need to spring any surprises on the electorate. It will also have a “mandate” for its policies for what that’s worth. That’s not much, in my opinion. At most, it gives centrist senators a justification for cutting a deal with the government to pass its policies.


13 thoughts on “An unpresidential election

  1. “The main effect is that, if Labor is elected”

    This is looking less likely by the day. If Shorten blows this, then the labour movement will turn on him with the fury of a thousand suns. Fairly or not he will be pilloried as the most egregious villain since Billy Hughes.

    Labor might just reach the finish line before being overtaken but the $3.50 you can get on the Coalition looks very enticing. If Labor does lose then they won’t go into an election promising to increase taxes on anybody ever again. And if Labor does get there it will be only just, and the chances of them getting their program through the Senate will be minimal because the balance of power senators will interpret the result as the electorate wanted the LNP out but they didn’t want Labor’s program, which might actually be the truth.

    We shall see.

  2. JQ in Mandate: “The solution was found in the notion of the ‘Mandate of Heaven’. The idea was that the requirement of obedience was conditional on the Emperor’s possession of the mandate of heaven. Once this was lost, rebellion was justified.”

    Replace ‘Heaven’ with “though you might not know it from the media coverage which demands,” – ol’ rupes /sons / news corpse demands – unfortunately. 

    And JQ, maybe put a link in body of comment in Mandate. The link will be obvious then, not hidden in your comment header. I like the 2019 > 2002 2019 links. Depth of your philosophy showing.

    Smith9, if you answer all these “correctly” …
    … “Here’s a quiz: is the Private Health Insurance Rebate a tax break (and counted in the budget as a contribution toward lower taxes and smaller government) or is it a spending measure (and counted in the budget as boosting the size of government)? What about the Family Tax Benefit? Or the film industry tax rebate or the seniors And Pensioners Tax Offset or the Low Income Tax Offset or the existing Child Care Rebate?”… (Via the Conversation “Election tip: 23.9% is a meaningless figure, ignore the tax-to-GDP ratio”)
    … then I’ll agree with “If Labor does lose then they won’t go into an election promising to increase taxes on anybody ever again.”.

    Nottrampis… JQ: “As it turns out, the noise of an election campaign means that this has made little difference.”. Pollbludger says; …”but it’s nonetheless worth noting that the Newspoll method gives the Coalition 51.4%, suggesting the headline figure was likely rounded in their favour.” Pollbludger was speaking of including the noisy elephant, “spent their entitlements on campaingn”, Palmer’s UAP … so we are all correct … or … marginally correct … or wrong.

    We will all be correct /ed soon.

  3. @nottrampis

    That is correct. Labor has been sliding in the polls, slowly but consistently, since Morrison became Prime Minister. No one has noticed because everybody thought the outcome was done and dusted and the non-right echo chambers dismissed Morrison as a fool who fell into the PM’s job. Labor has now fallen behind the LNP coalition on the primary vote for the first time since Malcolm Turnbull was PM. This is a bad sign for them. The rise of Clive Palmer at One Nation’s expense is another bad sign, since the LNP can enter into a pseudo-coalition with Palmer without the grief of doing so with Hanson and Palmer preferences are more likely to go the LNP than ON preferences. This could make the difference in a seat here or a seat there, especially in Queensland. If Labor was well in front this would be of no consequence but in a close election it could be of great consequence.

    Since I last posted the coalition has firmed to $3.20. If you want to put a bet on while there’s still some value in the market you had better hurry.

  4. “If Labor does lose then they won’t go into an election promising to increase taxes on anybody ever again.”

    If “ever again” also = very long time – yeah I agree.

    Bad timing with their NG changes and debatable policy with the franking credit changes don’t help.

  5. Smithy,
    you sound as silly as Fran Kelly. Sorry.
    When Morrison took over you had to expect a large poll gain to the ALP. He was their third leader in 6 years!

    As I said since the election has been called the polls have not moved. Just like last election. If Mo rison was good or Shorten was a bad as many say they would move.
    They have not.

    I could say more and have at my place.

  6. nottrampis

    Essential comes out tomorrow, I think. If it is 52-48 I will concede the argument (for now).

  7. This is looking less likely by the day. If Shorten blows this, then the labour movement will turn on him with the fury of a thousand suns. Fairly or not he will be pilloried as the most egregious villain since Billy Hughes.

    Surely not? No matter what the election result, I can’t figure Shorten as displacing BA Santamaria from the position of the labour movement’s most egregious villain since Billy Hughes.

  8. J-D

    Fair point, though my recollection is that Santa never held any positions in the Labor Party or a union. His certainly influenced the labour movement, but from the outside.

  9. Billy Hughes had the A LP the natural party of government and then made it the natural party of opposition when he caused the slpit. No-one will ever match that man.

  10. Well essential is out and it is 51-49. Now I’m having to try and think about what it will be like if the LNP get back in. I still haven’t fully understood how to correctly use the idea of opportunity cost; is it okay to wonder what the opportunity cost would be?

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