New South Wales election: how the conversation went

It’s a truism that voters vote against the party they most dislike and for the party they least dislike. So our elections are grudge matches where the winner is only grudgingly approved. Or that’s the way it usually is.

However two elections in recent memory have been different. One was the 2007 Federal Election, when Ruddmania was at its zenith.

The other was this year’s New South Wales state election.

Our quants clearly show that even those voters opposed to the coalition found it hard to dislike Baird, with Greens voters the only group to record more than 50% disapproval (and then the highest figure was only 54%).

This is a phenomenal level of popularity.

It allowed the coalition to use his credibility to sell policies that were not popular. In fact, in our first survey, out of our politically balanced sample, 53% said they were less likely to vote for the government because of privatisation.

And rather than damaging Baird’s popularity, it actually rose with most voters, including ALP and Greens.

The coalition’s success was not just based on Baird’s popularity. Popularity can win an election, but only if leadership is the central theme.

And even if leadership is the central theme, it still needs to be demonstrated through the issues.

While privatisation was a significant issue, the most important issue in New South Wales was actually traffic and transport.

The coalition diagnosed the problem and proposed a number of cures, which consisted of building transport infrastructure. The side effect of building the infrastructure was that some of the publically owned assets would have to be sold.

They asked voters if they were prepared to wear the side effect, and they were.

Unlike the Queensland election, where privatisation was an issue, but not the major one, the New South Wales election was a referendum on privatisation, but framed as a way of achieving something else.

The question was not “Do you approve of privatisation?”, but “If the only way of dealing with transport infrastructure shortfalls is to privatise some government-owned assets, do you approve of privatising those assets?”

Voters took this question seriously. Probably more seriously than they might have without the Queensland election result to remind them that a protest vote can actually change the government.

(There was a protest vote this election, but it didn’t go to Labor. It was present in the areas where Coal Seam Gas extraction was an issue, and went to the Greens, who, while not significantly increasing their statewide vote, actually picked up 2 seats to double their representation in the Legislative Assembly. But it was a localised issue, and a localised vote.)

This was the other side of the election. Foley lacked traction with huge numbers of his own voters neutral on him. And he lost ground during the campaign as a result of attacks on the government that were refuted by eminent past politicians from his own side.

His attempt to use foreign ownership as a lever appears to have failed, with it hardly registering as an issue in our poll.

Costa, Ferguson, Keating and Iemma undermined their own party and supported the coalition privatisation in the interests of what they saw as the greater good. This resonated with voters who were still uneasy about ALP corruption and reminded them of the reasons they had voted Labor out last election.

Most voters believed it was too early for Labor to return to government. And while they also saw both parties as to some extent corrupt, they saw ALP corruption as larger and more systemic, while coalition corruption was smaller scale, opportunistic and neutralised because they believed in the premier.

Which brings me back to my first premise. This was an election where voters were positive and really wanted to vote for the party that won, not an election where they were strongly voting against one or the other party.

Foley was a promising start for Labor, and not disliked, but this election wasn’t about them, either for or against, it was about Baird and the coalition.

Strategists from both sides will be studying this election for a while. Is it, like Rudd’s 2007 result, a one-off, and never to be repeated, even with the same leader?

Or is Baird like John Key across the ditch – a new type of non-Labor leader who has broad appeal and can maintain that appeal election after election.

It’s been a long time since the Liberal Party in Australia has had a leader like that. John Howard’s record was impressive, but the people never loved him, they just got used to him.

The tables below back up this analysis. Instead of the normal Leximancer maps, which can’t show change between polls, the tables show how the significant words have moved around between the first survey, taken in the second week of March, and the second survey, taken the day of the election, and the day after that.

Direction Concepts 15 04 15

Issue Concepts 15 04 15

Issue Election Concepts 15 04 15

First Preference Concepts 15 04 15

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