Australian Lefty on Politics, Governance, Science and Info Management

Rudd’s dangerous dynamics

Posted by Dave Bath on 2007-08-16

I think Rudd and the ALP are in for a bumpy ride with opinion poll figures, which at first will show contradictory trends.

Before wargaming from an ALP strategist’s perspective, I’ll some acronyms for key demographic groups, etc:

  • STS – Small Target Strategy
  • MFL – "Malcolm Fraser Liberal" a.k.a "Doctor’s wife" a.k.a. "wet liberal"
  • DLV – Disillusioned Labor Voter – have shifted to Greens/Democrats because of the STS over the last few years. Preferences will always go to the ALP before the Libs
  • Humanitarians – The MFLs and DLVs : e.g. chattering classes from both left and right
  • CC – Committed Capitalist – unconcerned about civil society, will always vote Liberal
  • SV – "Sunrise" Viewer – news comes from tabloid press (if they read at all)
  • SVU – Sunrise-Viewing Unionist – hard to shake from voting ALP
  • SVA – Sunrise-Viewing Aspirationalist.

Note that there is some overlap and migration between the two types of SVs.

Rudds initial popularity and the rise in ALP primary voting intention came from:

  1. Familiarity to the SVs
  2. The promise to the Humanitarians of a "Man of Principle" given Rudd’s 2006 essays in "The Monthly" and they way they were reported in the press, encouraging them into the ALP fold.

The STS won’t influence the SVs at first, but is a turnoff for the Humanitarians, who will mark down Rudd’s performance as opposition leader and the ALP primary voting intention will fall.  For a while at least, the ALP TPP and preferred-PM figures will hold up.

The MFLs are an interesting group: do they hate the Howard/Ruddock approach enough to shift to the Democrats (and possibly Greens), or will they give up on Rudd and return to the Liberals because of perceived economic self-interest in the absence of a differentiator on moral issues?

The SVAs are the group the ALP is wooing the hardest.  The combination of worries about WorkChoices for themselves or their children, together with the "Nice Mr Rudd" perception and the STS on economic matters makes the ALP appear attractive to SVs.

The SVs couldn’t think about economics apart from changes, or threats of changes to "headline" figures.  They understand interest rates, vaguely understand what employment figures mean, think a bigger GDP is better but don’t know what it means, don’t know the difference between budget and current account balances, and wouldn’t have the foggiest idea about economic sustainability.

While they might make noises about warm-fuzzies of humanitarians issues, their political behaviour is barely, if at all, influenced by the issues affecting civil society or affairs in other countries.

The ALP strategy with the SVAs is simple:

  1. Play the short-term hip-pocket issues by
    • increasing fears about WorkChoices
    • seeming identical to Howard on economic matters
    • making attractive noises about the cost of rent and cabbages
  2. Play up the cost to the environment of Howard, the only long-term issue the SVs even vaguely understand
  3. Play on Howard’s "sneakiness" in a non-specific manner.
  4. Don’t do anything that might make the SVs actually think: they might get confused and this will make them unpredictable

There is another interesting demographic that will be ignored except in tightly targetted localities: non-caucasion SVAs.  Subtle fears about Howard’s racist agenda will be sent to specific electorates, but will not be put on the national stage because of the effect on the many caucasian SVAs who are essentially xenophobic, whether they admit it or not.

The most interesting dynamic is how SVAs are affected by falling figures on Rudd’s performance and ALP primary voting intention as the Humanitarians become disillusioned again with the ALP.

If SVAs listen to headlines about opinion polls with falling figures, they may lose confidence in Rudd and create a dangerous feedback loop for the ALP.

While the ALP may welcome criticism of the STS by the Humanitarians (it neutralizes fear of change among the SVs), if the criticism extends to accusing Rudd of being as "sneaky" as Howard, the SVAs may decide to stick with the Devil (and/or Understudy) they know.

These dynamics create significant risks to the ALP STS.  If the threats of a returned Liberal government to our long-term economic and democratic stability weren’t so grave, I’d almost enjoy watching Labor’s STS blowing up in their face.

I know I’ve glossed over the influence of policy announcements, major scandals, or shifts in economic and security environments between now and the polls – but those topics are for another post.


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