Spin is in the swim

Move over Nanny State, parental responsibility is back. That's the headline message from 723 Queenslanders we interviewed in an online qualitative survey about backyard drowning and politics.

It is a message that has implications for Bligh and Springborg in this election year.

Frequently political decisions are made on the basis of the Yes Minister syllogism of "here is a problem, something must be done about it, this is something, therefore it must be done".

Our respondents don't buy that logic.

Just before Christmas the Bligh government floated the idea of 4-yearly, or even annual, inspections of pool fencing.

Our respondents disagree, whether they supported the government or opposition, were male or female, young or old, or owned a pool or not.

Out of a list of solutions, annual inspections were ranked second last and four-yearly inspections last by 60 and 72 percent. Highest ranked were educating parents (66 percent) and subsidising toddlers’ swimming lessons (46 percent).

This is not surprising. 78% believe that parents rather than pool owners bear the higher responsibility.

They see the government's role as marginal, and backyard drownings as an important, but intractable problem, to which there is no perfect solution.

In an era where governments declare war on every chronic problem this research carries an important message. The public doesn't believe many of these programs are any more than public relations.

The political questions in our survey reveal the danger of this approach.

Six months ago we uncovered dissatisfaction with the Bligh government not evident in quantitative polls.

Apart from the length of time Labor has been in government the big issues were to do with infrastructure - water and roads - and health.

These were the reasons for the dissatisfaction.

In this poll the infrastructure issues are much less significant, and Labor gets the credit for fixing a number of them, yet Bligh's net dissatisfaction has slightly increased.

There are two possible explanations. The first goes right back to issues like backyard swimming pools.

While problems are being addressed, Queenslanders think that the only reason they are being addressed is to give the government another media opportunity. They refer to this as "spin".

The second is that the economy didn't rank as an issue in the middle of last year, but now it ranks above roads, and is strongly linked to concerns about the future.

It is as though our respondents are determined to disapprove of Anna Bligh, no matter what she does. Good performance will be discounted as spin, and circumstances beyond her control will be blamed on her.

This might be good news for the Opposition, except they have similar perception problems. Springborg's net approval has increased a little, partly because of a real achievement in forming the Liberal National Party. That is where it stops.

The biggest problem Springborg has is he is perceived to have no policies.

Voters want to know what the LNP stands for, and while Springborg has been in Parliament for almost 20 years, they still want to know more about him too. Without that knowledge everything he says is spin too.

Which must make it difficult for the Premier in deciding when to hold the next election.

With early election speculation rife, 37 percent of our respondents said they would be less likely to vote for the government if an election was held in February or March.

But if the economy is only going to get worse, and everything you do is seen as just a media stunt, maybe this is as good as it gets, particularly as your opposition is still vulnerable to the same criticism.

Could be time to dive in.

First published in The Courier Mail on January 21, 2009

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0 #1 CommentPhilip Machanick 2009-01-29 05:02
Graham, you forgot, there's another party in Queensland. How does your qualitative polling suggest the Greens are doing?
0 #2 CommentBrian 2009-01-29 06:43
Greens? Never seen one in Jindalee!
0 #3 CommentGraham Young 2009-01-29 07:26
Hi Philip, it doesn't tell me much. The level of Green involvement in the poll is not as high as it has been, which suggests there isn't a strong Greens surge on. They have one member of parliament, but he got elected as Labor, and I don't get enough of a sample from Indooroopilly to be able to draw any conclusions about him.

Same goes for other electorates where they might have a chance.

However, I think that their propensity to just vote one may have an impact on Labor's chances in a number of seats.
0 #4 CommentTom Fletcher 2009-01-29 09:07
Graham - Are you serious or trying to be funny? The problem for the Greens is that they are not backed by big money. Labor has the unions to back them whilst LNP have big business interests to back them. The Greens have neither and without this money coming in, it is difficult to field candidates and get the message across. Furthermore, much of what the Greens stand for appears as a threat to the vested interests of Labor and LNP supporters. We humans cannot continue on the way we are going with our throw-away society and I believe this plus total greed have caused the present economic crises. (Note, I used the plural form there).
0 #5 CommentGraham Young 2009-01-30 06:42
Hi Tom, I'm serious. Not sure what there is to joke about. I don't think it is money that is holding the Greens back. Afterall, One Nation got 23% of the vote and a number of seats in 1998 without any substantial financial backing.

My impression is that the Greens don't really want to be a major party. They're certainly unwilling to do the things that they need to. Which means they are likely to continue to be a party of influence who can occasionally get the balance of power in an upper house.

As Queensland has no upper house, then their impact on Queensland politics is limited to whether they end up preferencing Labor in the lower house.

Their best chance to win a seat in Queensland was the by-election for Brisbane when Beattie left, but that didn't happen.

I keep meaning to do a study on the Greens, because I probably have more information about them than anyone else. Remind me to get around to it.
0 #6 CommentStewart Beveridge 2009-01-31 20:06
From what is seen in the media, the alternative to the current government is LNP and there is nothing to show that it has any position, other than personality attacks. It seems they are only 'seat warmers'.
This may be only media reporting, which can be grossly biased and or inaccurate, but if it is a true representation of what is the state of affairs, then in a Labour biased state , we are stuck with ad hoc Anna Bligh, spin, botox and all. Not an enviable prospect.
0 #7 CommentPeter Whalley 2009-02-02 22:50
I agree entirely with respondents' perception that Bligh's government is driven by by spin. Beattie had the rare political gift of being able to declaim his honesty publically as a political asset. I can't see that in Bligh. Even though she might have other qualities, the ineffective use of spin by a tired and an only modestly competent administration will start to wear thin. And as for the so-called greens? Did Ronan Lee defect so that history would show he was the first green mp in queensland or was it because he wasn't going to be re-selected by labor in Indooroopilly? what about all the greens working in politically anointed positions inside Bligh's administration? Come now! Some could argue the greens already were governing in parts of the executive building