It's not whether you win or lose

It’s too early to make a call of the election, but if you’re a forecaster why wait until it’s obvious? So here’s my call. Julia Gillard is going to win. But that doesn’t mean that Tony Abbott can’t be a winner too.

Labor was always odds-on to win - four-to-one at the moment according to the betting markets. But there are battles and there are wars. It’s not who prevails this time, but who prevails most times that ultimately counts.

So Abbott’s job is not to beat Gillard, but to provide a platform for the election after next. Can he achieve this?

My judgments are partly based on our most recent qualitative polling which received 2,225 responses. They suggest that the selection of Julia Gillard has restored Labor’s fortunes on a two-party preferred basis to where they were in April, when Labor would have won an election by a margin of around four points.

In April while Kevin Rudd was still up on the high-wire you could feel the strain if you put your hand on it. Now, while the two-party preferred vote is healthy for Labor, they are much more reliant on the Greens as primary votes have leaked away to their left. So there is strain still there.

Our respondents, who are more likely than the average to follow current affairs, give Gillard a slightly better rating than Kevin Rudd but only because some of them have moved from disapproving to withholding judgment.

At the same time, they have moved against Tony Abbott.

This means that Julia Gillard’s position might look robust but is fragile, while Abbott’s is deteriorating. She’s vulnerable, but he’s going backwards.

This election the issues are fairly clear. There is the government itself and the record that Julia is trying to “move forward” from. Closely allied to that are issues of debt, increases in the cost of living, economic management, and a general concern for the country.

These are more closely associated with coalition voters. Then there is climate change, education, health and population, which are more closely associated with Labor voters.

Asylum seekers and immigration are also present and are negative for the government, presenting a reason to vote Green or Coalition.

A week ago Julia Gillard declared that this election would be a referendum on a sustainable Australia. This is very clever. It’s a good vehicle to appeal to a number of conflicting constituencies simultaneously without alarming any of them.

On its plain meaning her pitch will be well-received.

In research we undertook for the LGAQ last month we found the public is, at worst, resigned to population growth and, at best, enthusiastic about it. They see it as linked to economic growth, and their biggest concern is that infrastructure isn’t keeping pace.

Most concern about population growth occurs in the developing areas of south-east Queensland where it is changing the nature of neighbourhoods. Areas like this in Queensland and New South Wales will decide the results of the next election.

As enunciated by PM Gillard this policy takes on more strategic dimensions than just a policy to keep the urban fringe happy.

She framed it in terms of a fragile environment, a signal to Greens that climate change is not forgotten.

It also speaks to concerns about asylum seekers - “sustainable growth” is a left-wing version of “we will decide who comes …”.

And it reassures about the economy, a traditional Coalition strength, and frames this policy area in terms of infrastructure provision, an area stronger for Labor than the Coalition.

Yet according to our polling the pitch doesn’t work well. Greens and the remnants of the Australian Democrats are marginally convinced, but it doesn’t resonate with blue collar conservatives. (Not that Abbott’s mantra of waste, debt, taxes and boats does any better, in fact it does much worse.)

Responses to Gillard’s battle cry feature themes such as “spin”, “hot air”, “rhetoric” and “words”.

Most worryingly for her campaign, the “moving forward” motif is becoming an object of derision. As one respondent said:

“Gillard The Slogan Bogan. She's so backwards with her moving forward slogan. She's a policy free zone. Boat people policy? Maybe oneday. In Due Season. Nothing but a mess she's trying to run away from as fast as possible!”

So why is Abbott falling further behind? (Though he may have a bounce this week off the back of his debate performance.)

I think there are two reasons for this. While Gillard is not seen as the ideal solution to the problem of Kevin, her elevation shows Labor is at least prepared to address it. Voters have “moved forward” from Howard and will give Labor another chance, but if Gillard fails her demise will be more precipitate than Kevin’s.

The other reason is that the confused Liberal campaign has run away from Abbott’s most leverageable asset - his authenticity. An example of that is the way they have tried to neutralise industrial relations by effectively outsourcing their policy to the government for at least their next term.

Responses on the question of preferred PM show that Abbott is still well regarded and has some of the best characteristics of a PM. The two themes associated with him are “trust” and “leader” - he is a known commodity. While for Gillard they are more generic - “woman” and “policies”. She gets marks for femininity, novelty and what she says she will do, he for masculinity, familiarity and a track record.

So how does Abbott get back into the game? He has to play to his strengths. He’s unlikely to win the next election, and he should say so. That would help to rehabilitate his authenticity because 87 per cent of our respondents would agree with him.

Then he has to give an alternative philosophical vision of where he thinks Australia should be heading. There’s no obvious coherence to what he’s offering at the moment. And then he’s got to dedicate himself to what the vast majority of voters are crying out for - keeping Labor honest.

Abbott got a lot of respect when he ran the Ironman Australia Triathlon not because he won, but because he finished. He’s in a similar race now.

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0 #1 I doubt whoever loses will be around forHeléna 2010-07-30 21:15
I doubt whoever loses will be around for the next election, whether that's Gillard or Abbott
0 #2 It is far easier to pick the loser(s.) Peter Hindrup 2010-08-02 21:46
It is far easier to pick the loser(s.)

If either win, Australia will lose.
0 #3 And the Loser is; (dfidgeridoo-dr um rollGary Dean 2010-08-02 22:28
And the Loser is; (dfidgeridoo-dr um roll) Australia!!!
0 #4 The perception that the Government has nPlease not Abbott 2010-08-03 00:03
The perception that the Government has not proffered significant policies is interesting.
Massive restructuring of and increase in the funding of the hospital syatem.
Already 300,000 computers in schools and more to come.
Community health centres.
Trades training centres.
A massive school infrasructure program which has saved a fragile building industry from collapse, and could not, unless their has been corruption on the part of the supervising companies, have generated a fraction of the waste claimed by the Opposition.
A policy to resubmit a cap and trade carbon polution reduction for approval of both the public and the Parliament.
A policy to ensure a fair return for Australia's resources.
A policy to ensure better provision of superannuation
Finally, former chief economist of the World Bank and Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz described the Rudd goverment's stimulus package as "one of the most impressive economic policies I've seen, ever".
And for those who complain that there was some waste, he pointed out that the alternative was the waste of thousands out of work and under utilisation of resources.

Unfortunately the achievements of the Government and their policies have been drowned out by the Opposition's orchestrated chants of "waste", "failed policies" (yes the insulation scheme was agood policy to stimulate the economy and also have a positive environmental impact but failed to take account of human greed and thus failed) "great big new tax" (Tony's got one of those too)
and "massive deficit" (a deficit whose size is the envy of the rest of the developed world).
Sad that if you make enough noise, repeat the same simple mantras often enough, a significant percentage of people will accept what you are saying as the truth.
0 #5 Ms Gillard will not win, nor will Mr AbbBrian 2010-08-03 07:40
Ms Gillard will not win, nor will Mr Abbott. Either the ALP or the Coalition will win. We are not yet a presidential state.
0 #6 To 'Please not Abbott', please not 'JuliRae 2010-08-03 17:34
To 'Please not Abbott', please not 'Julia'.

The Liberal party will win this election because Labor failed and everyone is affected by the last 3 years whether they deserve that or not.

The cost of living and increased taxes, as well as their own factional infighting will see Labor lose this election. Spin will not win them this election.
0 #7 My childrens school really needed a schoCraig 2010-08-05 19:33
My childrens school really needed a school hall. In Summer it was great to come home to a cooler house after sweating it out at my job which conditions significantly declined during the Howard years.Heating bills reduced dramatically in Winter.
Interest rates much lower than during Costello years.
Disappointed climate change action was blocked by Abbott.
Twelve years of Coalition pain was enough for me.
0 #8 I don't agree Graham, God Bless your cotBush bunny 2010-08-08 15:18
I don't agree Graham, God Bless your cotton socks LOL. Mainstream media are predicting a coalition win.

If the country votes ALP, they deserve what they got before. Absolute inefficiencies, and lack of political and professional management.

But on policies, only Blind Freddie would vote for the ALP again. They were lied to by the UN IPCC on climate and AGW. However, at least Rudd scrapped the ETS before more damage could be done to this country. And the Greens
are still going on about something that isn't happening.

Sustainability yes. Gudonyer Tony. Julia has failed to impress, but not her fault it is the advisers of course too. Stating she would set up processing centres in East
Timor without the East Timorese even agreeing, is not only stupid but diplomatically arrogant to suggest something that country wasn't in agreement with.

The ALP are a load of amateurs. I'm sure they have some
good and efficient MPs but the problem with the two party
system, is even if they don't agree with government policies they have to go along with them. That's why I vote Independent, they might not become Minister's but they will look after the needs of their electorate.

Well the Hon.Richard Torbay (Independent Northern Tablelands) became Speaker in the State Lower Assembly.