A number of electors have already changed their vote because of the election campaigns, but for many different reasons, none of which are dominant. This partly reflects the failure by the ALP to establish a clear campaign message, and partly a disbelief that either side will deliver on their promises.
In the last online focus group to be conducted during this election by Professor John Wanna, Mike Kaiser, Michael Lee and me, voters were more confused about the central campaign arguments than they were in the first. This time the participants were voters who said they had changed their intentions during the campaign. They should be a good barometer of what is working and what isn’t.
Expect this election to be volatile. While this group are definitely swinging voters now, many of them told us at the beginning of the campaign that they were "highly unlikely" to change their vote. So while all but one said they were unlikely to change again before election day, would you bet a PM’s salary on it?
They rated domestic issues more highly than the refugee issue, but weren’t convinced that Beazley could deliver. Accusations that Labor can’t handle money and that interest rates would rise have worked. This isn’t a hard perception and appears to arise partly from memories of past Labor leaders like Whitlam and Keating. Labor under Beazley also suffers from the perception that it is only an imitation of the Liberal Party.
This time we probed the question of leadership using the words of a previous participant who said: "When the world experienced the emotion and the fear and the terror and the reality struck, I saw it as an opportunity to break through the usual political rhetoric." Could this have been done? "Yes," came the replies, "by cutting out the grandstanding and…talking plainly about a shared and positive future". "We could have been honest about Australia as an independent nation." "Time to re-examine long-term policies and objectives."
When asked to nominate a leader for the job they went for Curtin, then Menzies. When probed about the recent past, Bob Hawke shaped up as better than Howard or Beazley. One mentioned Malcolm Fraser. Our present is apparently peopled by political pygmies.
Previously, when the idea of alternative approaches has been discussed Stott Despoja, Brown and Hanson have rated well. Not this time. The Green and One Nation campaigns haven’t left much of an imprint, while the Democrats’ is seen as being a series of largely pointless one-woman photo promotions.
There is hope for the minor parties and independents. Most respondents said they would vote for a minor party or independent in a particular seat, but only if there was a chance of them winning that seat. Yet on the major parties, fully half said that they were less likely to vote for John Howard if they thought he would win easily. At this stage, that would appear to be Beazley’s best chance, because most of our participants believe Howard is home and hosed. Reviewing the evidence, they’re probably right.
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