Cruisey Can Do must do better in Queensland election

The LNP appears to be cruising to victory at next year's state election, but maybe they are a bit too cruisy – it's not as good as it looks.

On the surface they have every reason to be relaxed. Surveys of our online virtual focus groups say that only 10% of voters expect Labor to win the next election; that around 60% of them are going to vote directly or indirectly for the LNP; and that only 53% of those who voted Labor last time want Labor to win this time.

Prominent commentators are comparing the 2012 result to the 1974 result which saw Labor reduced to11 MLAs, losing their parliamentary leader and ultra-safe seats like Premier Anna Bligh's South Brisbane in the process. And the election hasn't even been called yet.

But in elections, pride often goes before a fall, or as ancient Greek campaign managers are rumoured to have scrawled on the walls of their campaign offices - "It's Hubris Stupid".

Below the surface there is trouble brewing, and while I'm not predicting tragedy for the LNP in the last act, I think Labor is going to pull back a lot of the audience.

First there is the huge margin to the LNP. Voters don't generally generally vote that decisively, although there have been exceptions, such as 1974 in Queensland and 2011 in New South Wales.

Generally there is a swing back as the election nears. For example Kevin Rudd in 2007 was at one stage polling around 60% of the vote only to drop back to a relatively mediocre 52.7%.

To put that in perspective, the way that the boundaries are drawn in Queensland the LNP needs around 52% of the vote just to win.

There are two major reason voters generally swing back.

One is insurance. To ensure that the victors don't abuse their power some voters will strategically vote for the predicted loser as a way of laying-off that risk. The larger the anticipated majority, the more who will pay the premium.

The other is sympathy. This is where local campaigns kick in. If voters see a government heading to a deserved loss, they may vote to preserve a popular local representative from that government in a case of both having and eating their cake.

The reason that neither of these things happened to any extent in New South Wales is that hate for Labor was so great, and the Coalition was a safe inoffensive option.

Queenslanders currently hate the ALP – the party brand is the major theme that comes up when you ask how they will vote – but the LNP is not seen as safe or inoffensive.

That is one reason that Bob Katter's Australia Party is polling so well. He is an alternative to Labor that doesn't have some of the defects the LNP does.

On our figures Katter is getting a state-wide vote somewhere around 13%, more or less level with the Greens. This is not as good as One Nation's 22.7% in 1998, but better than it was doing at this stage.

The vote is between six and ten percent in south east metropolitan areas, but tops out around 30% on the Darling Downs, and is high in the country generally, and around Townsville.

Katter has pulled voters from both Labor and Liberals. 32% of his supporters say they voted Labor last election, and 42% LNP.

A major issue associated with voting for Katter, and the reason he does so well on the Downs, is opposition to coal seam gas. He opposes the industry, and his supporters believe him, while they don't believe the LNP and their leader Campbell Newman.

A vote for Katter can therefore be a vote against the government, against coal seam gas, and a warning to Newman, which could be a very attractive proposition as the election draws closer in a seat like Kingaroy where the sitting member, independent Dot Pratt, is retiring.

Newman is becoming a significant negative for the LNP. He was originally enthusiastically embraced by voters, but this enthusiasm is waning. He is still preferred premier to Bligh (55% to 34% on our figures), but his approval and disapproval ratings tie at 42%.

This is undoubtedly the result of negative ALP campaigning, as well as voters looking more closely at the government-in-waiting.

It is also the result of campaign mistakes by Newman and the LNP reviving memories of past LNP and Coalition incompetence. The only reason Labor has stayed in power so long in Queensland, is that the only bigger joke in state politics than the government has been the opposition.

One mistake that has cost Newman dearly is the failure to disclose his pecuniary interests when the ALP made an issue of it. This has created a perception that he is shady, doing deals to favour his wife's family, and providing an associative link to National Party corruption from the 70s and 80s.

Newman's unconventional position as non-parliamentary leader of a parliamentary party is also becoming an issue.

Voters think a competent party would have found a way to get him into parliament before making him leader and see the LNP as a fractious forced marriage of Liberals and Nationals.

Urban voters tend to think it is dominated by rednecks, and rural voters by city slickers. So added to concerns about competence are ancient reflexes of distrust.

And Labor is reminding voters of some of Newman's career low lights, such as the poorly patronised City Cycle project, with its highly visible platoons of unused bicycles littering CBD street corners.

Notwithstanding all of this the LNP should still win, but that is not what this election is about. What this election is about is the 2015 and 2018 elections.

Labor is trying to avoid decapitation. If it can damage Newman and the LNP enough, then it can save some of its bright young stars like Stirling Hinchliffe and Cameron Dick, and claw its way back in three to six years.

If the LNP can really make it like 1974, the the ALP will be out of power for at least 15 years.

This article was first published by in an edited form by The Australian on December 17, 2011

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0 #1 It remains to be seen whether can do canClive 2011-12-19 16:33
It remains to be seen whether can do can do any better than Anna whose performance during the flood crisis most agree was equally exemplary and in effect far more significant given the difference between Premier and Lord Mayor. Again, it will need the electorate to see beyond the short-term issues such as the Health funding, dam-building, CSG and Straddy mining and get the grander vision.
0 #2 Although I would vote Labor in a FederalMarian Rumens 2012-01-16 09:33
Although I would vote Labor in a Federal Election, I am truly undecided about the Queensland Election. I would really like to hear what the LNP have got to say on policies. What is their position on health, education and privatization? They said they would reduce the size of the public service but how and by how many? It would help their cause no end if only they were to tell voters what they are voting for
0 #3 RE: Cruisey Can Do must do better in Queensland electionRica 2012-07-05 18:35
@Marian, I also want to hear those things about their policies, I think this will really be helpful for us and who's worth voting for.

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