The re-election of the Australian Coalition government was a shock to pundits, pollsters and the parties themselves. A triumphant returning prime minister, Scott Morrison, said it was a miracle, and as a devout Christian, he may have even meant biblical.
Every reputable poll for nearly three years had Labor ahead. Not by much during the campaign but still not a single exception. One bookie (or prediction market as some like to describe them) paid out on a Labor win in the last week, losing A$1.3 million. And the one exit-poll pointed to a clear Labor victory.
And in Australia normally the polls have been incredibly accurate.
The Liberal-National Coalition victory reinforced a golden rule of politics in a modern democracy that it is almost impossible to campaign on reforms in the greater national interest if they challenge vested interests and /or result in actual losers plus voters who think they are losers or even voters who think in time they may become losers.
Or in more simple English, you lose votes when you promise to take more money off people.
Former Liberal leader Tony Abbott, suggested a climate change driven realignment was underway with his party in trouble in wealthy urban seats but benefitting in suburban “battler” seats. He was dispatched by an independent, campaigning on climate change, and other Liberal blue ribbon seats in the wealthiest parts of Sydney and Melbourne wobbled but held.
But in regional Queensland there was carnage for Labor. Their one regional seat in North Queensland, Herbert, centred on Townsville, was lost and other regional seats held by small margins by Liberal and Nationals MPs registered huge pro-government swings and are now held by large margins. A critical election issue in these seats was on whether a large coal mining development by the Indian company Adani should go ahead.
The message was that jobs were more important in these seats than climate change.
For some reason people like the idea of being able to feed their family, through having a job.
Another clear lesson was reinforcing the long held dictum on consistency of political messaging. Basically, when you are about at the point of vomiting from having said the same thing thousands of times, voters are just picking it up.
This result rewarded an almost entirely negative campaign. The Coalition focussed exclusively on doubts about Labor’s capacity to manage the economy. This was dumbed down to Labor can’t manage money, which Scott Morrison must have said 10,000 times. The Coalition did not even try to make the case they deserved to win. They barely mentioned any policies.
And in NZ the Government has just said they may need to borrow an extra $15 billion!
Soft and undecided voters in focus groups in Australia and also in New Zealand have for years complained bitterly that political parties in campaigns just bag each other and they often declare they are so upset by this that they would vote for any party which just sets out its positive policies.
This result says that is nonsense.
Labour in New Zealand is somewhat constrained on this front by Jacinda Ardern’s branding as “relentlessly positive”. National Party strategists are not and may well run a similar negative campaign on economic management credibility in 2020, especially if the New Zealand economy has weakened.
A lot will depend on the economy.