It could be the end of Media Mike's love affair with voters

He was preferred premier by a large margin and was looking at a two-party-preferred result of 53 per cent against 47 per cent for the opposition.

This side of the festive season, according to our qualitative polling at On Line Opinion, he would be lucky to hang on to government when South Australians vote in two weeks.

Our panel of 252 respondents is still supporting Labor on balance, but without enthusiasm and despite Rann. Adjusting for the fact that our samples tend to favour Labor, this points to a close result.

Conventional wisdom says voters return incumbents when economic times are good, in which case Rann should be travelling well. South Australians are happy with their unemployment rate, the lowest in the land, and see the key industries of mining and defence prospering. Infrastructure and property are being developed, the election comes on the back of a successful arts festival, and they see Adelaide becoming a modern metropolis and feel prosperous.

Yet when we ask whether South Australia is heading in the right direction, the conversation nods at the good economic times, takes them for granted and quickly veers towards the personal qualities of the Premier and his cabinet.

According to one middle-aged male, "The Rann government is tired and a believer of its own spin. While they have been able to ride the mining and defence boom of the last five years, much of this was already in gestation at the time they took power. Health is a major issue in SA and they have promised a new hospital -- but this doesn't address country and city needs for many more GPs. On a personal note: our Attorney-General [Michael Atkinson] is an embarrassment, while the Premier . . . appears dishonest."

Apparently as a result, 44 per cent of respondents thought the state was heading in the wrong direction, compared with 36 per cent who thought it was heading in the right one.

The big issue is "water, water, water", followed by health. Yet they aren't really the issues when you probe. Water is an issue because in a dry state such as SA, supply is always precarious and there is a perceived failure to plan, resulting in a proposal to build an unpopular desalination plant.

Health is an issue because of failings in the system, but also the announcement of the abandonment of the existing Royal Adelaide Hospital and its resurrection on a greenfield site. This relocation is also widely unpopular.

In both cases, "spin over substance" is the underlying complaint. These electors think that "Media Mike" is good at making announcements but poor at executing them; which, allied with his personality and problems such as the Michelle Chanteloise affair, gives them the impression he is less than honest.

This is a perception the Liberals have picked up in their campaign theme of trust. The Liberals are also running a presidential-style campaign that, on our polling, makes sense. On balance our respondents disapprove of Rann and approve of Liberal Opposition Leader Isobel Redmond, preferring her as premier by 48 per cent to 38 per cent.

So, why are the still favouring Labor with their vote?

While there is a visceral dislike of Rann, they are not sure that they know Redmond well enough. Even Rann's supporters are somewhat diffident. "Despite his public persona as a bit of a tosser, he has done a lot of good things for the state." Opponents are embarrassingly frank: "He is a lying, narcissistic, power-hungry man."

Redmond is a cleanskin, and she doesn't have the professional politician's habits: "I like her frank, no-nonsense style: she gives the impression she has decided to take the bull by the horns, pull the party into line, and is there to do the job no one else seemed able to, even if she does slip up occasionally. At least this is genuine stuffing up."

She has two weaknesses. One is the Liberal Party, which is seen as extreme. The other is that 33 per cent of voters neither approve nor disapprove of her. From their comments, this is because they don't know enough about her, which gives the ALP an opening to claw back support.

In NSW and Queensland, Labor has won unwinnable elections with hard-hitting, even vicious, advertising campaigns against the opposition leader. Such a campaign works well against leaders who are not well-known: you can paint in the character of your opponent from whatever palette you want.

However, it may not matter too much what voters think of Redmond. While almost as many want the Liberals to win as Labor, only 14 per cent think this will happen, making Redmond an acceptable tool to administer some corporal punishment to Rann.

She is a respectable candidate worth voting for, and you can hedge your bets because voting for her is unlikely to change government, although it could lead to a hung parliament. Greens preferences may determine this election: 52 per cent of Greens voters would like to see a hung parliament, making voting for Redmond an attractive path for them.

The Liberals are campaigning on the basis that "Redmond is ready". Electors aren't so sure. But many have had enough of Rann. There are only 14 more sleeps before we find out how much is enough.

First published in The Australian on March 6, 2010

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0 #1 Keep him in NSW. We got Anna. Don't needStewartinoz 2010-04-21 17:20
Keep him in NSW. We got Anna. Don't need any more of that ilk.