Monthly Archives: August 2013

Thoughts on the election campaign so far

These are ads from the ALP’s campaign so far. None of them are good (I feel like I’m going to get stabbed after watching the first one).

In a previous post, I mentioned that the structural base votes of the two major political parties are somewhere around the region of 38% for the ALP and 43% for the Coalition. For the ALP to win elections, they need to make inroads into the Coalition’s vote. The Coalition can afford to target their base when the ALP doesn’t offer an alternative because they have a larger base to work with.

All of the ads above are doing is targeting the ALP base and not in a way that is electorally appealing or effective in my view.

The major issue for voters over the last term of government has been the widespread disillusionment with politics and the perceived lack of direction from their elected representatives and it has been specifically focused at the top job: the Prime Minister. This then plays into the emotions of voters and inevitably gets linked to major issues like the economy, job security and people’s day to day lives.

Kevin Rudd initially addressed this issue when he regained the ALP leadership by talking about ending the negative politics from both sides and addressing the public’s disillusionment with the national debate. It wasn’t the negative politics in and of itself that was the issue but the framing of the national debate Kevin Rudd was using to attack his political opponents (from all sides).

Since the campaign began, Rudd has contradicted this message by firstly trying to make a conspiracy out of the Coalition’s plans for the NBN by insinuating the editorial attacks from Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers against the government were due to a conflict of interest in regards to Foxtel and trying to link Tony Abbott to sexual harassment after Abbott said one of his candidate’s had “sex appeal” (Tony Abbott has spent the last three years politically inoculating himself from these sorts of attacks). He would have been better off to leave both of these incidents alone.

What these sorts of things inevitably lead to is getting dragged into the malaise that has dominated the national debate over the previous three to four years.

The Coalition’s campaign slogan is “Hope, Reward, Opportunity.” When I hear these words I don’t feel any hope, reward or opportunity, I feel fear, doubt and uncertainty. I genuinely want to know what their plans are for the nation’s future, yet I don’t feel that they have had any serious pressure put on them by the ALP so far in this campaign. Many ALP supporters will blame the media for being partisan. Story’s like this one in the Australian Financial Review today contradict that view.

In the absence of any pressure or competition at the electoral centre from the ALP at an emotional level on issues such as job security, cost of living pressures, economic management (specifically as it relates to ideological agendas in uncertain times) and the nature of politics in it’s present form (where Rudd’s electoral popularity stems from) the Coalition’s campaign wins by default.

And all this time, I’ve been smoking not so harmless tobacco!!!

While the so called “political class” keeps talking about issues that have either been neutralised in terms of their negative electoral impact or up for speculation, the government is shifting the agenda to something people actually care about in their lives: health.

The way the government has gone about doing this is by increasing the tobacco excise by 60% ($5.3 Billion) over the next four years.

If we look at Essential Media Communications polling from  July 23 2013, we can see how important voters consider health as an election issue.

Q.  Which are the three most important issues in deciding how you would vote at a Federal election?

 

Total

23 Jul 13

Total

17 Jun 13

11 Feb 13

19 Nov 12

30 Jul 12

5 Dec 11

6 June 11

25 Jan 10

Management of the economy

45%

47%

62%

66%

64%

62%

61%

63%

Ensuring a quality education for all children

25%

25%

29%

35%

26%

22%

26%

23%

Ensuring the quality of Australia’s health system

42%

45%

52%

57%

47%

47%

49%

48%

Protecting the environment

12%

13%

14%

14%

11%

13%

15%

16%

A fair industrial relations system

10%

10%

12%

8%

12%

11%

8%

na

Political leadership

21%

22%

14%

15%

25%

18%

17%

23%

Addressing climate change

11%

11%

9%

9%

9%

10%

15%

16%

Controlling interest rates

13%

11%

9%

11%

9%

11%

13%

15%

Australian jobs and protection of local industries

39%

34%

40%

32%

41%

36%

32%

33%

Ensuring a quality water supply

3%

5%

4%

5%

3%

4%

5%

12%

Housing affordability

17%

14%

11%

14%

13%

13%

16%

14%

Ensuring a fair taxation system

20%

19%

21%

17%

18%

16%

17%

14%

Security and the war on terrorism

8%

8%

6%

5%

5%

4%

8%

9%

Treatment of asylum seekers

14%

11%

6%

6%

10%

8%

5%

na

Managing population growth

9%

11%

9%

7%

8%

8%

12%

na

Ensuring the quality of Australia’s health system is rated second as an important election issue behind management of the economy. This isn’t new information. What is a bit newer is the next bit.

Next, from the same poll, we’ll look at which party is better trusted to handle these election issues.

Q.  Which party would you trust most to handle the following issues?

 

Labor

Liberal

Greens

Don’t know

Difference 23 Jul 13

Difference 17 Jun 13

Management of the economy

29%

44%

3%

25%

-15

-18

Ensuring a quality education for all children

40%

31%

4%

25%

+9

+1

Ensuring the quality of Australia’s health system

34%

33%

7%

27%

+1

-5

Protecting the environment

19%

21%

39%

21%

+18

+10

A fair industrial relations system

41%

30%

4%

24%

+11

+3

Political leadership

28%

35%

5%

31%

-7

-19

Addressing climate change

20%

23%

30%

27%

+7

Controlling interest rates

26%

40%

2%

32%

-14

-17

Australian jobs and protection of local industries

34%

35%

4%

26%

-1

-7

Ensuring a quality water supply

19%

26%

22%

32%

-7

-14

Housing affordability

26%

28%

6%

39%

-2

-12

Ensuring a fair taxation system

31%

33%

5%

31%

-2

-11

Security and the war on terrorism

23%

38%

4%

36%

-15

-18

Treatment of asylum seekers

22%

33%

13%

31%

-11

-22

Managing population growth

20%

33%

8%

39%

-13

-19

Only a 1% difference between the parties in terms of who’s better at managing the health system!

The rule of thumb is that the Coalition are always stronger on issues such as the economy and national security and the ALP are always stronger on issues such as education and health. For the ALP to be only narrowly in front in terms of the perceptions gap on the issue of health is something that would be major cause for alarm.

So the government now is trying to address their problem on perceptions of the health issue by raising the tobacco excise. Smoking kills people. Lets raise a tax on cigarettes to reduce consumption and death. This is a pretty obvious point. What’s interesting though is the coordinated way the ALP have gone about addressing the issue.

Firstly there was a press conference yesterday in which the Prime Minister said

“Around 30 per cent of cancer is caused by tobacco consumption and it’s estimated this will kill 15,000 Australians each year, that is far too many and it’s also really expensive for the country to deal with. We need to get serious on this major driver of cancer in Australia. There is a limit to the number of taxpayer dollars available to health”

So that’s out there. Then comes the next bit which was released last night in the form of an advertisement (when I typed in Tony Abbott on youtube, this was the first result that came up).

So now it’s become a personal issue for Tony Abbott that he has to deal with. How does he respond to this claim. Will he deny the claims made in the advertisement or will he attack the government for engaging in “negative politics.” If he denies the claims, he accepts tobacco donations (bad). If he attacks the government for engaging in “negative politics” he accepts tobacco donations, is engaging in “negative politics” and giving the ALP a soundbite to use in election material by getting caught in the word game Rudd has established (triple bad).

The immediate response from the Coalition was to point out that Rudd as a backbencher took hospitality whilst on the backbench from a foundation that provides equipment to the smoking industry in Germany. It sounds so tame by the Coalition’s standards. So tit for tat. So boring. So easy to address by someone with their act together.

Already, we have the Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey attempting to make this an economic issue and not a health issue.

Note the use of the words “it’s not a health measure.” When you negate the frame, you evoke the frame.

It should be fascinating to see how this plays out over the coming weeks and months. The ALP have not been this organised in their attacks on the Coalition for years. If the ALP can regain their strength on the issue of health, that will be more positive ammunition for the ALP to use during the election campaign.

It’s early to make this judgement, but finally the ALP seem to have their act together!