Shifting political sands

I have an article published over at On Line Opinion this morning about where I think electoral politics is heading this year, and why a lot of the MSM commentary is just misguided.

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Posted in Federal Elections, media, politics
26 comments on “Shifting political sands
  1. aj says:

    Just finished reading it Mark and you have articulated exactly my frustration.

    Political reporting in Australia has long followed the formula you have stated. Is this balanced reporting? How hard is it for reporters to gauge a mood change? Why does the reporting up until recently reflect more of the notion that Howard and Costello are the strong economic hero’s? The Australian editor two weeks ago actually shocked me with a critical op ed on Costello’s failure to reform like Keating did ie. if they are going to do comparisons between parties, reporters must look at both sides on all issues, not just look at one party.

    On Insiders two weeks ago, Piers, Brian and I think Sacha were discussing the poll that said that a majority of people think Howard is arrogant. They flippantly discussed this and concluded no, he is not arrogant – the voters must be wrong. Why doesn’t the reporting reflect or discuss what’s being discussed in the homes? Who is setting the agenda for political reporting in the msm?

    People just want to be informed, whether it be bad or good. But opinion pieces in the msm are often regarded as fact and which distorts the information getting to the public.

  2. Mr Denmore says:

    You’re right about Hartcher’s lazy analysis, Mark. I had some respect for him when he was in Washington for the AFR. But since his return, he has gone native and adopted the press gallery pack mentality view. Worse, he uses a lot of fancy words to say very little. Back to the police rounds, mate, and learn how to write again.

    It’s patently obvious that Howard’s national security trump card has been shredded by the debacle of the Iraq war and the AWB scandal. And his claims to superior economic management are nonsense, particularly given the RBA is about to hike cash rates for the fifth time since the 2004 election. People aren’t THAT stupid.

    It was clear that a lot of voters held their nose and plumped for Howard in the last two elections. But now the stench from his miserable government has become so bad that many people will switch to Labor, particularly now that it offers a credible alternative.

  3. grace pettigrew says:

    I am cranky that I actually paid to read Hartcher’s trite tripe, what a waste of time that was. Never thought he was much chop in the SMH but had some respect for the journal’s good taste, no more.

    Glenn (medicated) Milne said it all better, in fewer words, this morning in The Australian – Rudd is behaving like a PM, and Howard and his front bench are behaving like they are in opposition.

    The worm has turned indeed.

  4. Carl says:

    Good article Mark, cheers.

    You rightly criticise the pundits for their constant comparisons with other elections, however you finish the article noting that Governments tend to lose big.

    Do you think its possible Rudd might win a very narrow victory by only a handful seats?

  5. Mark says:

    Carl, I guess that’s a generalisation based on more than one instance, unlike the constant “2007 is like 2004” stuff – note the second error which also qualifies the first.

    I think Labor might indeed win narrowly, but I also think Labor might win big and Labor might lose. At the moment I’d have my money on somewhere between the first and the second options, but my whole point is that election campaigns and public opinion are fluid but also affected by by previous shifts and perceptions. Therefore, all we can really analyse is the state of play right now, but we can extrapolate to some degree because the state of play between now and the election will build on the foundations of the shape of the contest and the reception of political messages already evident.

  6. Barney Maroon says:

    One factor not mentioned in your article which I hypothesize is important is a steady accumulation of dislike for the Howard government. Over the years there have been a number of problems that the Government has dealt with disingenuously (Iraq, AWB, Children overboard etc) and failed to take responsibility for. Beattie, Iemma and possibly Carpenter have successfully put up their hands acknowledging responsibility for problems which the electorate has accepted. While individually the Federal Governments “scandals” have failed to impact, together they have created an impression of arrogance and aloofness. Now that Rudd is presenting an apparently viable and trustworthy alternative there must be prople on the margins who will be developing a dislike for individual ministers.

  7. Mark says:

    Yes, I think that’s right – those sort of things are subsumed under the rubric of “long term government” I guess – the longer you’re there, the more you piss people off and this also has an accumulating effect.

  8. pre-dawn leftist says:

    Mark,

    I think you’re on to something here. While I dont wish to tempt fate, I have a feeling in my water that it doesn’t matter what Howard and cronies do from now on, they have already lost. I can see the same sentiment in the faces and hear it in the voices of Government members. They are starting to look and sound beaten.

    Of course, its way too early to make predictions like this, and its always possible for the Government to snatch back the agenda, but it seems less likely every day. I have also noticed that normal people are a lot more willing to openly criticize Howard in general conversation now than over the past few years. Its almost like a cone of silence has been lifted and people are speaking their minds.

    Things certainly “feel” different.

  9. Mark says:

    Agreed, and I think that aj’s point supplements yours, pre-dawn leftist. Why is it exactly that the commentariat fail to pick such shifts? The Canberra press gallery bubble? The herd mentality? Partisanship? Fear of “picking the election wrong”?

  10. Mr Denmore says:

    Why is it exactly that the commentariat fail to pick such shifts? The Canberra press gallery bubble? The herd mentality? Partisanship? Fear of “picking the election wrongâ€??

    All of the above, I would say, and the fact that journalists spend far too much time these days interviewing other journalists, instead of getting out and talking to real people.

  11. Adam Gall says:

    Even insulated postgrads like me have begun to see a bit of this shift, anecdotally. I know of several acquaintances who have voted Liberal in the last few, and have now begun to talk about Howard as ‘arrogant’ and ‘old’, with ‘old ideas’. It was bit of a surprise, to be honest, since I’m usually facing a brick wall of wallet guided reasoning with these same people.

  12. Enemy Combatant says:

    Great analysis, Mark and comments, Barney Maroon, Mr Denmore.

    May the “Shifting political sands” become a sandslide win.

  13. steve says:

    Great Article, Mark Just want to make two quick points.

    It was news to me about the wages share of GDP being at such a low point.

    Secondly Mumble is reporting that one of the large betting shops has ceased to take bets on whether Maxine McKew or others will beat Howard in Bennelong because of the weight of money on McKew and others. Including Mumble’s own cash apparently.

  14. Don Wigan says:

    Not just the current commentariat, Mark. I remember seeing an article from Mungo McCallum a while back (Tim Dunlop slammed it) that seemed to be saying that whatever was the case now Howard would probably get back.

    I don’t think he said much about public perceptions on the economy or defence/security. He just figured with Howard’s penchant for dog whistling and dirty tricks, his lavish govt ‘feel good’ TV advertising in an election year, and his seeming unlimited pork-barrelling would see him through. According to Mungo, as a fixer Howard makes Richo look like a wimp. He saw him as the ultimate Endgamer.

    I had a high regard for Mungo in his day (now unfortunately in semi-retirement) and it might be interesting to know if he still held that view. Any chance of getting a guest posting from him?

  15. Bill Posters says:

    If you read carefully you can see that many in the press implicitly believe that the fix is in and Rudd will win. They’re careful to hedge what they say, of course.

    And then there are those who’ve never known anything but the Howard government and really can’t imagine anything different.

  16. Mark says:

    Might have a go, Don, I do have his email address lying around somewhere!

  17. professor rat says:

    Bush was certainly not alone in his bubble. There was a lot of corporate media in there. Also Vichy Dems representing their constituents in the massive Military entertainment complex were inside looking out.

    In the UK Blair even had intelligent writers like J.Hari on board for a long time.

    Its lame duck season but don’t forget duck seasons get banned.

    The lying rodent used rat cunning to extract all front line troops already remember. He could hold himself hostage like the sheriff of Rock Ridge.

    He needs to be shot with a silver bullet, staked and burned before I’ll believe he’s dead.
    And even then I’ll have nightmares of dwarves with long sharp knives out.

    Congrats on Milnes imitation as flattery Mark. Matthew Price is allright and Luke is back. Just got to crucify John.

  18. David Rubie says:

    professor rate wrote:

    He needs to be shot with a silver bullet, staked and burned before I’ll believe he’s dead.
    And even then I’ll have nightmares of dwarves with long sharp knives out.

    I won’t believe it until I personally drive the stake into his black heart. However, even then, chances are the same voodoo that keeps Ruddocks re-animated corpse shuffling around may well be used to resurrect Australia’s own Lazarus. So it will also require a corpse burning.

  19. steve says:

    This week will be a good test of just how relaxed and comfortable Howard is feeling. Newspoll is due out tomorrow, the Reserve Bank announces whether interest rates rise at 9.30am tomorrow morning and the Federal Police will possibly throw their Printgate findings on the table as they disappear for their Easter holidays. Compounding all this is that the Queensland Libs are fighting like wildcats.

    The Qld Libs are continuing to play up like second hand lawnmowers with Tim Nicholls refusing to meet Flegg today to explain his leadership challenge and Seeney the Nat Opposition Leader demanding that the Libs sort out the leadership brawl that the Lib factions are involved in.

    Although the leadership challenge is allegedly dead, it won’t lie down. Seeney refuses to throw Nicholls from the Shadowcabinet front bench and Flegg continues to limp along as a lame duck leader but Nicholls can’t get three or four people to join him in the coup. All this has to be annoying to Howard who has won hands down in Queensland in the past but the infighting this time could be terminal.

  20. tim g says:

    I think Labor might indeed win narrowly, but I also think Labor might win big and Labor might lose.

    Gee, way to go out on a limb, Mark.

    I agree with you, however, about the commentariat’s obsession with the last election campaign as a form guide for the next. The way things are shaping up, a more apt precedent for this year’s election is not 2001 or 2004, but the last time a long-in-the-tooth government faced the electorate after presiding over 3 or more interest rate rises – 1996.

    Fingers crossed.

  21. Mark says:

    Tim, that’s my whole point, though. Political situations can change very quickly. There’s surface noise, and there are longer term shifts in public opinion which are near irreversible. We’ve seen enough poll numbers and you can perceive enough of a shift in mood to suggest that we may have reached that point. But nothing is certain, and the situation in six months, while it will build upon the situation now, will be a different alignment of forces and beliefs.

    Note my next para though – my punt at the moment would be a reasonable Labor win, but not a landslide.

  22. ChrisGS says:

    A great read, Mark. I’m really enjoying the way blog-land has started to undermine the power that the arbiters of analysis and public opinion have traditionally wielded. It goes to show how most columnists and Press Gallery reporters squander the advantages of access (a double-edged sword) and distribution, with pedestrian and conformist thinking.
    Blogging has played a part in recent US campaigns; with the take-up of broadband and ‘mainstreaming’ of bloggers into sites like news.com, this form might also come of age in Oz for the 2007 election. Judging by Virginia Trioli’s joyous declaration of the death of blogs last week, they must be getting worried!

    Anyway, enough love-in: one of my pet peeves is the commentariat’s continuous lauding of Howard’s political acumen and all-round brilliance. Disciplined, focussed and opportunistic – I’ll give him those – but Howard has never struck me as a master strategist or even highly intelligent. He’s a man who’s had 33 years of practice at only one thing (political cut and thrust) so you would hope he had mastered it by now!

    The way Rudd is effortlesly portraying the ALP as the party of the future, with Howard seemingly unable to counter effectively, shows up his limitations. They were always there, but Rudd’s predecessors were unable to capitalize on them for various reasons. I also think it’s more than coincidence that many of Howard’s recent missteps (e.g. the Obama outburst) have occurred after the departure of Arthur Sinodonis, his apparently very capable chief of staff.

    Still, I’m sure the columnists will be out there telling us how John Howard, father of the nation, that protean force of Australian politics, will somehow conjure electoral gold from lead, once again. He’ll put the neophyte Rudd back in his rightful place (after taking him off the surgeon’s table – heh), ensuring Howard’s ascension to the Liberal pantheon.

    This could still happen, but given the issues that have turned against Howard (e.g. interest rate, Iraq), the robust challenge of Rudd, and the slight whiff of “time for a change” in the air, it will take something pretty big to change the dynamics. Knowing the way Howard operates, make that “big, nasty and scary”.

  23. mal says:

    The mood of the press gallery is an interesting question. I’d guess that they think that with the huge advantages of incumbency, that the government’s always a chance – for all the reasons that Don mentioned above (and frankly I agree). Political commentators, with the notable exception of the wonderfully splenetic Alan Ramsey, are also very conservative, in the sense that they all seem damned scared to voice an opinion. And when they do allow one of these wee timorous beasts out into the open air, it’s so hedged by bets that it’s barely noticeable.

    I also wonder how much behind the scenes action there is with these guys. Ramsey bought this out with Rudd, wrt the story about Rudd’s childhood, which lead to an asinine discussion on the Insiders on Sunday, where they were happy to talk about Labor’s behind the scenes transgressions, but not the Liberals (though Glen Milne did admit to having received a blast from the PM at one point). I seem to remember Tim Colebatch (from the Age) writing about Costello being quite prepared to offer a double-barreled blast for any economic criticism of the government. But there must be more subtle ways of wielding influence as well, such as being cut off from the drip feed of inside information and so on.

  24. Mark says:

    This could still happen, but given the issues that have turned against Howard (e.g. interest rate, Iraq), the robust challenge of Rudd, and the slight whiff of “time for a changeâ€? in the air, it will take something pretty big to change the dynamics. Knowing the way Howard operates, make that “big, nasty and scaryâ€?.

    I think that’s basically right, Chris.

    I also think, as I said in the article, that the budget will be key for the government. If, after a few weeks, it has sunk like a stone (and let’s not forget Amanda Vanstone’s “sandwich and a milkshake” quip a few years ago – the electoral power of tax cuts can be radically overstated), then I think the shift will be entrenched. I expect, though, that the government, rather than going for big ticket budget spending for its own sake, will be paying careful attention to crafting a budget to reinforce the themes it intends to take into the election. So there’ll be some clues to the campaign there too.

    The other joker in the pack is if Labor falls back in the polls (and I think it may well) – the media will resuscitate the “Ratty is a political genius” and “honeymoon is over” lines and these will in themselves have an effect. Though the thing for Labor is not to get spooked by them and to continue to craft a future focussed message. The media’s “power” mainly lies in the power parties give it when they take heed of it.

  25. Mark says:

    It was news to me about the wages share of GDP being at such a low point.

    steve, on that point, the source is the report on WorkChoices by David Peetz discussed in this post:

    http://larvatusprodeo.net/2007/03/26/workchoices-one-year-on/

    I didn’t know about it til I read the report, but when you think about it, it stands to reason – all the indicators show a very low aggregate rise in wages, and falls in some bits of some sectors in real terms, and look at the stockmarket and the corporate profit reports.

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