Election post-mortem
Russell Degnan

In the lead up to the election campaign Mark Latham was given the sort of run by the media that an opposition leader could only dream of. The Howard government looked (and is) tired and short on new ideas. What reforms they wanted to press were stalled in the Senate. Labor was setting the political agenda. All they had to do to win was convince the Australian public to vote for them.

And they didn't. In fact, it was a complete failure. A worse than dismal electoral result. Reform is back on the agenda; the Liberals now have the opportunity to reverse the last four years of defensive policy making and drive the agenda +.

It is said that positive campaigns work and negative campaigns don't. But anyone can highlight a weakness. You also need to show why it is your strength. If the campaign messages are anything to go by, it isn't clear that Labor even know John Howard's weakness:

  • Peter Costello will take over The biggest message and the least effective. If this is a negative for the government, how is it a positive for Labor?
  • John Howard will abolish Medicare Noone will believe this. Noone expects Howard to do anything differently to before. And Medicare still exists after eight years of Howard in power.
  • Howard is a liar People don't expect politicians to be truthful. As well as this plays out amongst their own supporters, it isn't a positive for Labor because most people think Latham is a liar as well

It has been suggested since then that Latham should have attacked Howard on the economy. But if you are naive enough to believe the government is responsible for the economy why would you believe Howard is wrecking it after 14 years of growth?

The big Liberal gains were in the outer suburbs. People who should relate to Latham and didn't.

To understand these places is to remember their age: 25-45. They barely remember the time before economic rationalisation, they see no problem with private education, health, etc., yet they are sensitive to environmental issues (like public transport), they see federal and state governments as both providing services and are willing to attack federal Labor for state problems, they have young families so education is important (especially private), they like lower taxes, don't remember having tarrifs, and are mortgaged to the hilt so interest rates matter.

The Liberals saw the last point and went with it. They are an age group that only remembers high interest rates because their parents suffered through them. They also remember Labor was in power. It may be an untruth, but it is an effective one.

Meanwhile, Labor shot themselves in the foot. Of the policies that got the most attention neither went down with this demographic. Medicare Gold will be remembered for helping people over 75. That is no good for people whose parents are only in their mid 60s. But private education may have been the real killer. A headline of "Labor takes money from private schools" doesn't play well in places where almost everybody wants their child to go private. Regardless of the actual policy, voters are rationally ignorant and plenty saw it as a rise in school fees. *

If Labor wants to win those seats they need to recognise the change in the political landscape that they personally wrought in the 1980s. They need to attack Howard's weaknesses instead of trying to play him at his own game. And they need to match those weaknesses against their strengths.

Howard did. Latham didn't.

+ With luck Howard meight even ignore all those spending promises he made. C'mon John, you lied about Iraq, why not $14 billion dollars?

* The guy who delivered a pizza to my house on Saturday night for instance

Sterner Matters 11th October, 2004 13:47:00   [#] 


Public transport is not a vote winner...
Most of your analysis is probably correct, though one wonders about just how private a private education funded mostly by taxpayers is, and I suspect that fewer of them actually have private health insurance than you believe. However, I remain completely unconvinced by your touching belief in the power of environmental issues to sway swinging voters in the outer suburbs.

All I can see is a bunch of wackers completely in love with their bloody great Landcruiser Prado's and freeways from Caroline Springs to Pakenham.

Anyway, let's just wait until the big mortgage crunch arrives with the next recession and see how in love they are with their private schools and private health.
Rob Merkel  11th October, 2004 23:22:28  

I disagree
There is a general push for public transport in a lot of outer suburbs - see the previous post on Knox for instance. Not that it is necessarily an environment issue; mostly they seem to want it because everyone else has it. The Green vote - at least at council level - is strong in some of those suburbs though. Even if it doesn't sway votes, you need to be seen to be in favour of it, and it will can make a difference on local issues.

As I said on your site. On most issues they support the status quo. I don't think they have private health insurance either. Rationally why would you? But that doesn't mean they don't support it. Similarly, although they want to send their children to private schools, they also favour public education. I'm sure, if asked, they'd all say that Telstra should be 50% owned as well.
Russ  12th October, 2004 10:13:25