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Foley can undo Baird

In Queensland commentators thought the LNP unbeatable because of the number of seats they held, but the real arbiter of margin between elections is Newspoll, not the last election result.

On that basis the NSW Coalition has a margin of only 4%, a swing of 10% since 2011.

Applying a uniform swing of 10%, the Coalition would lose 18 seats, giving it 51 seats, or a workable majority of 4. It would take a uniform swing of 13% for them to lose an outright majority (even though they would have 51.2% of the two-party preferred vote.

Newspoll has never shown the Coalition on less than 54% two-party preferred, which would suggest they will retain a small, but workable majority (although how that could require 54% in a working democracy is hard to understand).

But therein lies their weakness. As the Queensland election showed, a weaker opponent can do a Judo throw, using your strength against you to score an unheralded win.

The Queensland election worked like this. The Newman government went into the election with 73 seats, and Labor 9. Looking at the seats, and not the polls, virtually no-one (this analyst aside) thought this could be reversed in just one election.

Electors were cranky with Newman, and he ran a campaign based not on his achievements and Labor’s past performance, but on spending promises funded by a massive privatisation campaign of electricity and port and rail assets.

There was a 14% swing against the government, Newman lost his own seat and they fell 3 seats short of a majority. There is now a Labor minority government in Queensland.

Our qualitative polling of swinging voters showed the loss was due to three factors – dislike of asset sales (14%), dislike of Newman or the style of government (34%), and a protest vote cast to send the government a message in the “knowledge” that they were certain to be returned (34%).

What gave these traction was the deeply held conviction that how you voted didn’t really matter, because Newman was certain to get back in.

So the election was like a by-election. It wasn’t a referendum on who should be the next government, but on a vast array of smaller and less consequential issues and irritations. And most non-Greens minor party voters preferenced against the government.

Some of those factors apply in New South Wales, and if the NSW Coalition doesn’t convince voters that the government could actually lose the next election, then it may slip into opposition, giving the ALP a litany of one-term Tories to add to their chant of one-term Tony.

In a virtual online focus group of 523 NSW voters, weighted for voting intention, we found that 70% thought the Coalition would win, 7% thought Labor and 14% predicted a hung parliament.

Queensland was not dissimilar.

However, Premier Baird is popular, unlike his Queensland counterpart. 53% approved of him while only 23% disapproved.

Opposition leader Foley is a low profile clean skin, like his Queensland counterpart, Palaszczuk. He had 31% approval versus 29% disapproval. In another departure from Queensland Baird was preferred premier 54% to 34%. In Queensland the Opposition leader was preferred.

48% thought the government deserved to be re-elected (and a further 16% were neutral) while only 26% thought the opposition deserved to be the government.

But this did not translate into an overwhelming desire to re-elect the government. While 47% want the Coalition to win, 39% favoured Labor and 10% a hung parliament.

So, voters think the Coalition will win very easily, but their own preferences are less strong in that direction. They like Mike Baird, but they don’t dislike his opponent, and most importantly, they don’t think he can win.

Which is where privatisation comes in. 53% of respondents said they were less likely to vote Coalition and 47% said they were more likely to vote for the Opposition over asset sales.

If Luke Foley can make this election into a referendum on asset sales, and resist any attacked on Mike Baird, then he might just win. The Coalition can assist him on this by talking about all the projects they will fund with the sales and neglect to run a negative campaign on Labor and its track record.

The electorate is certainly not ready to welcome Labor back. When we asked respondents whether they thought Labor needed another term in opposition, 50% agreed while only 35% disagreed.

But again, running this argument depends on voter expectations. If they don’t think your opponent can win, and you attack them directly, then they may mark you down as vindictive.

The key to the New South Wales election is therefore expectations. After the Queensland result you wouldn’t think that would be a problem, but of course New South Wales couldn’t be like Queensland, could it?

An edited version of this article was published in The Australian.

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+2 #1 RE: Foley can undo BairdRobert ball 2015-03-27 08:21
Thx Graham good article I suspect as well there could be a surprise for the NSW Libs.
-1 #2 MrRod Foster 2015-03-27 16:27
If the NSW voter does not return Baird then I doubt there is much hope for any reforming political Party in Australia. To regard a State election as a time to protest suggests a low level of intelligence amongst those eligible to vote. QLD perhaps is different because voters were exasperated with Newman. The campaign was abysmal also and the election called far too early. Another demonstration of the Newman arrogance.