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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

what a difference a poll makes « Previous | |Next »
September 4, 2007

Denis Shanahan's response to a new poll has come to resemble the worm of a certain section of the electorate. This week there's a big dip in his worm response, but he's still managed to discover the ultimate strategy, the big campaign move that could get Howard over the line.

Shanahan thinks Howard should call an election.

So there you go. The one thing that's guaranteed to bring Rudd to his nerdy little knees is the realisation among Australians everywhere that this is no rehearsal, we're not pretending anymore. Apparently standing in the polling booth, pencil stub in hand, we will all consider how swimmingly things have been going for the past decade, how wealthy and secure we all feel, and we'll vote coalition. At crunch time we'll be completely rational about this.

As much as it's become standard practice to check how Shanahan's spinning things each fortnight, it's also become standard practice for commenters to analyse his analysis. Robster of Brisbane says "It looks like the bandwagon effect is beginning to kick in. Voters have got used to the idea of a change and are now starting to welcome it."

Some are more welcoming than others. Our adversarial political system spills way beyond parliament. But the idea that voters have become used to the idea of change is becoming observable now.

Over at Blogocracy andre of Adelaide says "There must be a lot of ex Liberal voters out there. If they are anything like me their voting intentions are set and everything is perceived through that prism."

Bearing in mind that there are a few political staffers posing as common or garden commenters, these two suggest that there's a sense of inevitability about this election. We've given up waiting for Rudd to stuff up and now we're waiting for Howard to put us out of our misery.

The notion that everything, including the campaign proper (will we be able to tell when it starts?) is perceived through the prism of fixed intentions is an interesting one. Assuming we're also perceiving the polls through that prism they're more than just a vague indication of voter intention a long way out from an election. They're more like a quantification of the national mood that reinforces that mood every time they're released.

In other words, if you intend to vote Labor you can be comforted by the knowledge that you're far from alone. You must be doing the right thing if so many others are doing it.

Comments from the coalition side of the opinion fence also have that air of inevitability about them. On the whole they're a little less shrill, a little more resigned and starting to refocus on 2010. Speculation is moving from who might replace Howard, to who will raplace him, and that's not a happy conversation among coalition devotees.

For an outlier result this poll has had an amazing impact. One more like this and Mr Howard should perhaps stop listening to Mr Textor and heed Mr Shanahan. It's unlikely to happen, but at least an earlier election might arrest some of the momentum and preserve the senate majority.

| Posted by Lyn at 5:02 PM | | Comments (20)


I think there is quite a few born again labor voters out there.
Then theres the fence sitters who just think its time for a change.
And also those that wouldn't normally vote labor but surmise that Ok Oz is in a good position financially and can afford a few years of labor so if it works out fine and if it doesn't it will be obvious and they will get tossed next time.

Howard standing next to Bush at present is about the worst thing he could do.

Too early to be calling it a landslide I think.

Shanahan must be a swallowing hard: he's talking in terms of "John Howard has run out of time"; "The Prime Minister has no choice but to call an election even though public polling says he faces ‘annihilation’. It’s his own word, and his only choice." Calling the election is probably the only circuit breaker the PM has left etc etc.

It's a gloomy reading of the tea leaves. It implies that the longer Howard waits the worse it will be. So much for the 'APEC surge'.

It's impossible to know exactly why things have gone the way they have, which is why Les has nailed it. You just need more nails than usual. Born again Labor voters is an intriguing notion, given that born-agains tend to me more passionate than born-befores, or whatever they're called.

Is it a long term commitment as the working class returns to the fold, or have we really moved on to the third way? We won't know for years yet, but Workchoices did reintroduce class into Australian politics. Pretty silly in retrospect, but there you go.

I get the impression from various comments around the opinionsphere, and again from Michael Brissenden tonight (notoriously reliable source, not) that APEC sounded like a good idea at the time. Problem is, terrible polls weren't anticipated and Howard seems to have totally misjudged the effect it would have. The President of the United States of America seems to be something like high beams to Howard's rabbit.

At this point I get the impression that holding the election off will just add to the perception that Howard's more interested in himself than anything else and, as andre of Adelaide pointed out, that would be the result of viewing everything through the prism of the inevitable.

I think it's an interesting proposition that a poll can tell us so much about what we think that it has the capacity to make us think that way, whether we're inclined to or not.

by "born again labor voters" do you mean the return of the social conservative blue collar working class--Howard's battlers--moving back to the ALP?

Why so? WorkChoices?

Well there has always been plenty of Labor voters out there hence the state governments in power. I guess that they have been now born again as federal labor voters now that they perceive that they have the right messiah to follow.
I think that the term Blue collar is no longer viable in terms of labor voters. Its a whole new ball game now that people are generally better informed through better news coverage and the internet. So all parties have a greater cross section of people types. Also all the new younger voters that have come into the market have no need for all that blue collar labor voters nonsense. They just vote for the brand they like and at the moment Rudd is Heinz baked beans and Howard is plain label.


I think you're right about people not thinking of themselves in terms of collar colour. We all think we're middle class whether we are or not. That's why the anti-workchoices ads have been so effective. We're seeing lots of struggle street types being ripped off. It sets up a distinction between the haves and have nots that we like to pretend doesn't exist.

I also agree that Howard is plain while Rudd is Heinz, but I also think that for a lot of people Rudd is a new flavour altogether, like satay baked beans or something. If your friends have all tried them and seem to like them, you have no choice by to try them as well.

It will be interesting to see whether your born again federal Labor voters theory works out. Will that mean they'll become state coalition voters? I mean, regardless of who the coalition puts up at the state level?

I am not sure that people fear Work Choices as much as the Ads portray. I think people generally fear the future and the cost of it and work choices is part of that fear. Food, Housing and other necessities are the greater fears and earnings come into that equation so attacking work choices makes good sense.
As stated in the mini debate on the ABC last night the first anti work choice ads stated that Labor was going to tear the legislation up if they are voted in. Now they are saying they will keep a large amount of it.

At the moment business and industry is finding it hard to get good staff so maybe the whole evil work choice laws are somewhat negated by that. In 5 years time that might be reversed and then we may have problems with people being exploited but who knows what government we will have then and what the work contract situation will be.

It's hard to know isn't it? Everyone has their pet theory about what's going on. At this point in time election fatigue is just one more in the mix.

My personal favourite is the Novelty of Rudd theory. It's shallow and doesn't sit well with the idea that democracy is a serious business, but not everyone takes politics seriously.

so what has happened to the "culture of complaint" that the Australian goes on about? The culture of complaint refers to people waiting in the streets with baseball bats, ready to whack the PM over the head.

Has it become the 'it's time' mood? Is this the new media frame?

Lyn, Your right there about not everybody takes politics seriously. I was thinking on this last night and think perhaps 20% of the voting population have intelligence enough and a desire to be interested full time. Another 20% have some intelligence and some interest in some issues and some desire voice them. So that leaves 60% who either don't care, don't have enough brains to grasp whats going on on a daily basis or just whine about the "Bloody Government" no matter who's in power.
The latter group would explain why the commercial news differs from the ABC coverage. My theory is that as political parties poll people so does commercial news programs and the news polls shows that people are sick of seeing the old pollies on the television and want new ones to love/hate. These channel 7 and 9 programs reach into the lounge rooms of the 60% above. This is why we have seen such a large and fast swing away from the Howard government as this news reflects the views of its target audience.

I am disappointed that Australian culture has taken up the baseball bats. Gone are the days of the good old piece of 4 x 2 out of the back of the Ute. We have become so Americanized haven't we?

Is that true Les, that commercial TV is favouring Rudd? I can't be bothered sitting through the Australian Idol and cat-stuck-up-a-tree stories to find out. On the odd occasion I see a short I get the impression Rudd's doing rather well out of them. It would figure though. Keep dishing up the new and shiny and they'll stay watching.

Boredom and complaint up against a novel bloke who hasn't done anything wrong yet. The timing of APEC was indeed unfortunate at that rate. Not only is Howard everywhere you look, he's accompanied by the equally stale Bush.

True about the 4 x 2 vs baseball bats thing. They could at least be holding cricket bats. More appropriate for Howard you'd think.

Yes I would guess that a lot of Blog Political commentators don't watch much commercial news and base their opinions mainly on The Australian and similarly pointed demographic media. They do miss a whole chunk of society and the way that stories are told to them.
Kevin Rudd was on ACA tonight and The 730 Report and talking about his meeting with Bush in 2 different ways.

Both sides crave the bottom end of the voting market and always do because this is where they win or lose elections.

Les & Lyn
how about the complacency of the electorate as the enemy of Howard? Howard needs to blast the electorate out of complacency is the key electoral strategy to close the gap in the polls.


Agree with you on the limited sources blog commentary uses but I think there's a reasonable explanation for it. Blogs cater to their audiences and their audiences are national. Media sources then, are also national ones. Mind you, there's also an undeniable snob factor, if I can be insensitive enough to call it that. I have a snobbish attitude about media myself.

The bottom end of the voting market theory has a lot of merit. You'd think the top end would have the smarts to realise that.


Complacency probably has its place alongside boredom, relaxed and comfortable, mood swings and a lot of other explanations for what we're seeing. I'm beginning to wonder whether it's time to admit we just don't know.

Thinking back to the defeat of Keating, did he really lose because he was perceived as arrogant or is that just accepted wisdom? Are we certain of that only in retrospect?

Yes Lyn your right there Blogs cater for their audience ( people that share their interest in politics) just like the media does.

Gary I don't think it is within Howard's power to close the gap. I don't think even if he comes out and says he will handover after the election will save him. Now I am also not sure that standing down now is a move that will close the gap for the coalition either. Its a shame that there isn't a somewhat groomed female to step in at this late date. That would make it interesting!

I guess that Liberal strategists reckon that they can limit the swing against the Howard Governmen to prevent the 16 seats falling to the ALP.They can build up the defences in several of the seats and so limit the damage to say 10 seats. It's a genuine possibility as Labor's support is soft and there is hesitancy about Rudd and his team.

The polls are national polls--what really counts are the polls in the 16-20 marginal seats. We are not seeing these kind of polls being published. The political parties have them though

The flaw with this Liberal strategy/ game plan is that the Coalition is not fighting from a position of strength. It is still well behind on the primary vote.

according to Christopher Pearson in the Australian we are just talking about conspiracy theorists in the twilight world of the blogs


You hear that a lot among those who can't adapt to online talk (detest that word blogosphere). I wonder how such people explain the grassy knoll, Marilyn and Elivis sightings, the number of people who must have been involved in faking Jim Morrison's death. All before blogs.

Perhaps Pearson is involved in a conspiracy to discredit something many old school journos feel threatened by?

Once again Gary makes a point in suggesting that Howard's hoisting on a petard is so potently ironic, when this is the petard of public apathy largely of his and his allies own manufacture, that served him so well for over a decade.
Les, I know what you are saying, but no one with half a brain will stay exclusively on their home turf for feedback. Isn't that why you come here too. You are not a lefty, but you are obviously into current affairs and you no better off talking with people who share your views.
So you come here to find out the alternative. You don't like the left viewpoint, but you are smart enought to know that people as smart as you DO subscribe to it and you want to know why, just as lefties want to know what has you beleiving what you believe. Intelligent people know they will not profit by contempt prior to investigation more than through pooling, sharing and comparison of facts, ideas and "slants".
Les, you are an employer with your own business, if I recall right. You would not leave work to head out on a job if you were not sure you had your equipment with you. Better to do the tiresome thing of quickly checking first, that all is in order because experience teaches you it's far worse to have come all the way back later to pick up something unnecesarily left behind.
I follow the same idea. I don't like contradictory views either, but god help me if I don't check them out first, because nothing surer the one time I don't I'll have egg all over my face, too.
Sometimes someone actually knows more than me, but that's ok in the long run, because I'm always interested in finding better ways for doing things too- and that relates to knowledge.
It's true lefty blogs have sprung up, but that's because lefties feel so frustrated with the way news is framed by "Big" Media and Press- we don't feel we get the real story from Nine tv news or the 'tiser for suspect reasons and feel we have to hunt it down further on the internet, at the least as a supplement for verification.
On the internet you can get easy access to better papers like the Age and the SMH and then move to blog sites discussing current affairs. This very day Lyn, or Nan, picked up on a Jason Koutsoukis oped in the Age and quoted it for my benefit, as part of a discussion on another thread. As it happened I'd missed the article and am beter off for the finding of it, from my point of view.
If tabloid media and telly are tempted to edit out criticism the fact of the blogosphere should actually keep the mainstream media more "honest", because it means they can't guranteeably "deliver" up audiences conditioned to a certain viewpoint to those interests it represents any more, which is why it shows signs of frustration with indy blogging, to me.
If it "witholds" or manipulates or is sloppy in obtaining information and is later shown up, it loses credibility with just those consumers with enough brains to be especially worthwhile to it-the ones who can "blow" its credibility and are creative enough to be useful in the maintainence of civilised society, anyway.
Elsewhere today the opposite happened. I read a contribution from a conservative blogger I simply would have been the less well- off for, for the avoidance of. Simply, the cautuionary nature of the opinion- something I had not thought of, btw.
It was slightly unpalatable at first, but something kicked in and I realised it was a good point adding a lot to what I knew on a certain subject.
Finally, a morsel for the forlorn. Because I think Howard is going to lose does not mean I am entirely or even particularly happy. I have no illusions that the alternative is likely to be much better, at least on certain issues dear to my heart and for similarly poor reasons to those offered by the other lot. And my mind is always open to change, if the argument is good enough.

This quote from a recent Glenn Milne op-ed in the Courier Mail has some relevance to the conversation here:

The lessons Keating learned then are applicable to Howard now. Faced with the same voter intransigence, the longer Keating put off the election in 1996, the more he looked like he was running scared. The danger for Keating then is Howard's now; that such sentiments become self-fulfilling. Voters convince themselves the Government can't win and switch to get on board with the winners. The longer this goes on, the more sullenness turns into outright resentment as voters finally just want the election over.

For incumbents, this becomes a cycle of ever-diminishing political return. It's even more the case as 2007 draws to a close because the country has basically been in election-campaign mode since Rudd took over the leadership last December.
The op-ed is entitled, 'Repeating the lessons of 1996'.