False cynicism about politics

An Essential Research poll out today asks whether, in general, governments make decisions that favour corporate interests or favour the interests of voters. 60% say that governments favour corporate interests, and only 9% think that voters interests are favoured.

Only last month, however, another Essential Research survey came up with results that seem rather in tension with this. Asking about the attributes of the political parties, only 29% thought that the Liberals were too close to the ‘big corporate and financial interests’, and just 15% believed that of Labor. So many voters seem to believe that governments in general favour corporate interests, despite the two possible governing parties not generally being viewed as too close to those interests.

What’s more, 50% of voters thought that Labor ‘will promise to do anything to win votes’ – including ignoring corporate interests? – and 36% though the Liberal were also willing to promise anything to get votes.

When asked about politicians in general the public tends to resort to lazy cliches without worrying too much whether or not they are consistent with each other. Politicians are too poll driven, and they don’t listen to the voters enough. They favour big interests, and they will do anything to win over voters.

Though there are still contradictory views about political parties, the more specific the question the more other sorts of information than stereotypes come into play. Their own partisan loyalties, for example, or specific examples (or non-examples) of the attributes in question.

When asked about individual politicians, views tend to improve still more. I’ve noted before that named politicians always get higher trustworthy ratings than politicians in general, even politicians like John Howard who were continually accused of being economical with the truth.

In practice, the Australian public isn’t really very cynical about politicians. If anything, it has a naive faith that politicians and government can fix their problems.

A case for voting Labor in NSW?

Today’s Newspoll, as reported in The Australian, shows NSW Labor’s support at a catastrophic 24%, having hovered around a quarter since the middle of the year.

Certainly they deserve to lose.* But even as a Liberal supporter, I am not at all sure that a Labor wipe-out would be a good thing – and NSW’s own political history shows why.

After a modest defeat and loss of minority government in 1995, in 1999 the NSW Liberals went down to bad defeat, with a swing of 10% and a loss of 13 seats. This combined with factional and other problems severely undermined their credibility as an alternative government.

Effectively, in delivering devastating blows to major political parties voters risk severely constraining their choices at the next election, and quite possibly (as in NSW) another one after that. So even if they are unconvinced of the government’s merits – in 2007 a NSW Galaxy poll found most people did not believe Labor deserved to be returned – they don’t vote them out.

Due in part to the severity of the 1999 Liberal defeat, NSW has endured four more years of a government that was by 2007 already tired and under-performing. If Labor gets anything like the vote the current polls suggest, in 2015 and 2019 NSW voters may again face the dilemma of a government that needs to go but an opposition that does not yet seem ready to arrive.

* Except my friend Sacha Blumen, running against Clover Moore in Sydney. I have never forgiven Clover for her role in bringing down Nick Greiner.

Why do graduates lean left?

James Paterson had an op-ed in yesterday’s Weekend Australian arguing that uni graduates lean left, and blaming it in part on academic bias.

I had a look at the party id question in the Australian Survey of Social Attitudes 2009 and the differences by qualification level are certainly striking. However people with TAFE certificates and diplomas have similar affiliations to people with bachelor degrees, despite the fact that there are few ‘political’ courses taught by these institutions.

On the other hand, those who spend longer at university, postgraduates, end up with more left-wing affiliations than bachelor degree holders. This leaves open the possibility of a ‘university’ effect on political views.

Party identification (%)

Continue reading “Why do graduates lean left?”

LDP – promoting conservatism in the Senate

Over at Thoughts on Freedom, blogger Jim Fryar seems happy enough with the electoral progress of the libertarian Liberal Democratic Party.

But a story in today’s Sunday Age suggests that what I think is the LDP’s first electoral impact in Victoria is, well, not exactly striking a blow for freedom.

Their Senate preference deals, it seems, are helping bring back to life the political fossils in the DLP, with their candidate John Madigan set to win the last Victorian Senate spot. Even Madigan’s occupation – a blacksmith – seems out of another era. He’s an old-fashioned working class conservative Catholic, who wants the shops to shut at 12 on a Saturday and is ‘sentimental about Australia’s diminished manufacturing industry’ (ie presumably wants tariffs back). The ghost of BA Santamaria will haunt the Senate.

According to the Sunday Age Continue reading “LDP – promoting conservatism in the Senate”

Why Labor voters in Melbourne need to vote Liberal

In the 2002 French presidential election it came down to a run-off contest between the conservative Jacques Chirac and the nationalist firebrand Jean-Marie Le Pen, after the left candidate Lionel Jospin was eliminated. Showing they had not lost their sense of humour, French leftists set up a shower outside a polling booth, to wash themselves after voting for Chirac to keep the lunatic Le Pen out of the Élysée Palace.

Labor voters in the seat of Melbourne may need to do something similar this Saturday. In what may be a first for Australian major party politics (or at least very rare), the only way Labor can guarantee itself victory in this seat is to boost the Liberal vote.

Their problem is that if the Liberals are eliminated before the Greens their preferences will run heavily against Labor. The figures on Antony Green’s website suggest that about 85% of Liberal preferences went to the Greens in 2007.

Yet if the Greens are elmininated first, Labor is headed for the kind of crushing victory over the Liberals it achieved before 2007, because Green preferences overwhelmingly flow to Labor. Continue reading “Why Labor voters in Melbourne need to vote Liberal”

Bowtell for Melbourne (or why the Greens are just too flaky for me)

Last night on ABC TV news Lindsay Tanner filled what seemed to me to be a major omission in Labor candidate for Melbourne Cath Bowtell’s campaign. He appealed directly to Liberal voters to ignore their party’s Green preferencing how-to-vote card and preference Labor instead.

All the Bowtell campaign material I have received is focused on a competition with the Greens for the ‘progressive’ vote. Even the admission that Labor is not as far left as the Greens is phrased in apologetic terms: ‘Unlike the Greens, Labor does not have the luxury of behaving like a single-issue group’ said one campaign letter I received from Bowtell.

But despite the ‘progressive’ vote focus, it is likely that Liberal voters will decide the seat of Melbourne. Indeed, for all the money the Greens spend in Melbourne, and all the buzz their campaign generates, they would have no hope whatsoever of winning the seat were it not for the Liberal how-to-vote card. On the primary vote in 2007 the Greens were actually about 600 votes behind the Liberal candidate. Only the distribution of minor party and then Liberal preferences made them serious contenders. Continue reading “Bowtell for Melbourne (or why the Greens are just too flaky for me)”

Victoria – left-wing state?

I may be Carlton’s lone classical liberal, but are things much better in the rest of Victoria? An article in this morning’s Sunday Age proclaims Victoria the ‘left-leaning state’.

The article notes that Labor’s vote has been typically strong here for decades, and is holding up here during this latest campaign as it declines elsewhere as the Julia, Kevin, Mark and the leaker soap opera undermines the Labor campaign. As John Roskam observes, the left-wing tilt even influences the right – the Kennett years aside, the Victorian Liberal Party has typically been rather wishy-washy compared to the more robust conservatism found elsewhere.

The Australian Survey of Social Attitudes 2009 asked its respondents to rate themselves on a 0 (left) to 10 (right) scale. It actually finds that Victorians (average rating 5.04) are moderately to the right of people in New South Wales (average rating 4.97), but the more noticeable thing about the figure below is that NSW and Victoria are to the left of the rest of Australia.

Continue reading “Victoria – left-wing state?”

Reasons for voting intentions

This week’s Essential Research survey asked its repondents about the main reason for their voting intention. Unfortunately a lack of consistency between the questions asked undermines comparisons. Nevertheless there are some interesting differences:

* Liberals and Greens voters are both more likely to have negative than positive reasons for their voting intention, but differ a lot in what those reasons are
* Gillard is a bigger plus for Labor voters than Abbott is for Coalition voters
* policies are not a big factor
* the Greens have the lowest proportion of ‘party faithful’, and Labor the highest

Labor voters cheer up

Happiness research always finds that right-wing people are happier than left-wing people. And so it was again in the Australian Survey of Social Attitudes 2009.


Questions: If you were to consider your life in general these days, how happy or unhappy would you say you are, on the whole …
Generally speaking, do you usually think of yourself as Labor, Liberal, National or what?

But as you can see in the figure, Labor identifiers have cheered up compared to the 2007 AuSSA, which was mostly carried out during the last months of the Howard government. The ‘very happy’ happiness gap has halved from a Coalition lead of 12% in 2007 to 6% in 2009. The proportion of very happy Coalition identifiers has dropped by only one percentage point, so the explanation is happier Labor supporters rather than less happy Coalition supporters.

Should I preference the Greens in the seat of Melbourne?

Lindsay Tanner retiring from the seat of Melbourne, where I live, creates a dilemma for me. For the last three federal elections I have given Tanner and therefore the ALP my second preference. In the last election Liberal preferences were distributed, so how Liberal voters like myself see the Green-Labor choice can affect the outcome in Melbourne.

However I preferenced Tanner not because he is Labor but because I respected him. I’ve read a couple of his speeches in which he gives a clearer explanation of why markets are necessary than is typically found on my own side of politics. While there isn’t really much evidence that this government could ever make hard spending decisions about current programs, I am willing to believe that Tanner in the Finance portfolio and Cabinet (or the gang of four) at least typically led to less-bad outcomes.

But now that Tanner is going, should I still preference Labor above the Greens? Continue reading “Should I preference the Greens in the seat of Melbourne?”