When might big-spending campaigns work?

The commenters on yesterday’s campaign finance post think that big ad campaigns don’t always work. That’s certainly the finding of the US literature on this subject – not that money never makes a difference, but that it interacts with so many other factors that there is no stable or predictable relationship between political spending and political outcomes.

Generally speaking, I believe the chances of any campaign over-turning stable elements of public opinion in the short to medium term are very low. The Howard government’s propaganda campaign on WorkChoices was doomed because the unions could tap into deep elements of public opinion. The importance of the union campaign against WorkChoices wasn’t that it changed minds, but that it kept the issue in people’s minds until polling day.

The more interesting campaigns are on unfamiliar issues, where public opinion is to a certain extent up for grabs. The mining tax was an example of this. Given existing tax and spend polling the issue could have headed in several directions if it had continued – we are generally in a pro-tax part of the political cycle if consequent spending the public approves of is emphasised, but opinion is also highly sensitive to situations in which workers may lose their jobs. Another factor in the mining tax case was that the government advertising in response to the miners was terrible, an off-putting lecture that did not hit existing pro-tax intuitions. Continue reading “When might big-spending campaigns work?”

The media gatekeepers vs free speech

Katharine Murphy’s Age column yesterday attacking big ad campaigns against government policy is the third such argument I have seen from journalists in the last six months or so. George Megalogenis made a similar argument in his Quarterly Essay (though for reasons I did not entirely follow, he thinks campaigns are ok after laws have been passed), and Peter Hartcher argued that ad campaigns threaten economic reform.

Murphy says:

We have a choice. We can either bump along and slide into a combative political environment where vested interests set the agenda, or we can stop, think and consider the alternatives.

Should there be full public funding for elections, ensuring that politics is left to the politicians? Should we require truth in political advertising?

Or should we do nothing, and wake up in a decade to find that politics can’t do anything; that politics is now solely about carving up the spoils, that reform has become impossible?

Though I strongly disagree with the Murphy’s views, she does more or less correctly describe what campaign finance reform is about. Its purpose and effect is to insulate the political class from the views of those who disagree with them or might challenge them. Continue reading “The media gatekeepers vs free speech”

Planned outage this Sunday

Hello all, your friendly Ozblogistan tyrant here.

To perform some important maintenance on the site, it will be necessary to deactivate all Ozblogistan blogs temporarily on Sunday afternoon. I am expecting to take the site down around 2pm, central standard time, for up to two hours.

Dubious ideas submitted to the higher education funding review, part 3

Of all the dubious ideas likely to be submitted to the higher education funding review, the most dangerous because most likely to be accepted is that deregulated supply – from next year, the Commonwealth is scheduled to abolish the controls that currently tell unis how many students to take and broadly what disciplines they will be in – should be combined with capped prices.

That however is the message of the higher funding review submission of the Innovative Research Universities lobby group.

For them the price per discpline would be simplified version of the current ‘cluster’ funding model, with many disciplines given the same funding rate, and a flat maximum student price.

It would be a blunter price mechanism than now when we need a sharper one. Continue reading “Dubious ideas submitted to the higher education funding review, part 3”

Dubious ideas submitted to the higher education funding review, part 2

It is quite plausible that there are public benefits from higher education on top of the private benefits accruing to graduates themselves. And there is an at least theoretically plausible argument that, in some cases, these public (and private) benefits may be under-produced if higher education was simply left to the market. This is a conventional market failure argument used to justify public subsidy of higher education.

But is it the case that taxpayers should fund public benefits even if there is no market failure? That seems to be the claim made in the Universities Australia submission to the higher education funding review. They tell us that:

McMahon [an American academic] concludes that the value of external benefits (excluding equity funding which is separate) to wider society beyond those appropriated privately through education by the former students themselves ranges from a lower bound estimate of public benefit of 37% to an upper bound estimate of 61% as a share of the total returns to education. Fifty per cent is close to the midpoint estimate. Universities Australia believes this can serve as a reasonable benchmark for discussion of the public: private benefit shares of higher education.

Later in the submission they call for this to be the basis for public funding: Continue reading “Dubious ideas submitted to the higher education funding review, part 2”

The start of a tax and spend turnaround?

The 2010 Australian Election Study is now available at the Australian Social Science Data Archive, so we can see the latest results in a long series of similarly-worded questions on tax and spend.


Question: If the government had a choice between reducing taxes or spending more on social services, which do you think it should do?

For the first time since 2001, more people say they want reduced taxes than more spending on social services. However the proportion of respondents wanting less tax is up only 3 percentage points. The main thing that has happened is a move from clear support for more spending on social services to a ‘depends’ option.

There are problems with this question. It omits the status quo, which is always popular if presented. It doesn’t make completely clear the options it is presenting, reducing taxes AND reducing social services (at least compared to what they might otherwise be) or spending more on social services AND paying higher taxes (at least compared to what they might otherwise be). But I think the consistent question lets us track broad sentiment over time. Maybe here there are some small signs of some changing views on this issue.

False tax and spend choices

Essential Research today kicked off the annual round of pre-budget tax and spend polls, but with some pretty bad questions. Take the question below on the goal of returning to surplus by 2012-13, which according to this poll most people think should be abandoned:

But how about if the question had been phrased:

Q. Do you think it is more important for the Government to return the budget to surplus by 2012/13 as planned – which may mean cutting services and raising taxes – OR should they delay the return to surplus and go deeper and deeper into debt, with more government spending each year diverted to paying interest?

Tax and spend questions need to spell out the full implications of choices for the results to be meaningful. The failure to explain the real alternatives also renders pointless a question on increased spending.

Labor machine man puts family first

The moment on Insiders this morning when new NSW Opposition Leader John Robertson is torn between the Labor line on gay marriage and the life chances of his gay son. He says the right thing in the end, but his initial equivocation was painful to watch:

BARRIE CASSIDY: Just a couple of quick questions and quick answers. You’ve dealt with marijuana and a little more directly than Bill Clinton.

Gay marriages?

JOHN ROBERTSON: Look it’s a federal issue.

And I have a son who’s openly gay. Obviously I think he is a wonderful person.

But it’s a matter for the Commonwealth.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Do you support his right to marry?

JOHN ROBERTSON: Well I see him as a person who is a genuine person who can make a contribution to our society. He’s bright, he’s intelligent.

And to be blunt I think people should have the same rights.

Dubious ideas submitted to the higher education funding review, part 1

With submissions to the higher education base funding review due on Thursday, some organisations are starting to put their ideas out into the media. I thought I would start an occasional series on dubious proposals made to the review (though I suppose this is just a more specific version of what this blog has been about since it started).

Behind the AFR‘s paywall is a story about the Australian Technology Network’s submission. They are suggesting that graduates who work in areas of skills shortage get a discount on their HELP debt repayments.

But generally where there are skills shortages the market deals with financial incentives: the pay goes up. And why should taxpayers rather than employers fork out when staff get more expensive?

The only example given is a rather sexist one, that female engineers should be given an added incentive to stay in the profession. The Beyond Graduation survey, of graduates three years out, found that engineering graduates were already earning good money (median salary $75,000) and had the second highest rate of income growth since their first job (63%). If there is a problem with women in engineering, I doubt it is money. A female engineering graduate isn’t likely to earn more doing something else. Continue reading “Dubious ideas submitted to the higher education funding review, part 1”