Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Voting dynamics

There seem to be some fixed dynamics in the way people vote, ballot rigging or its technological equivalent aside.

Clever politicians understand most of the tricks, and use them. In our Commonwealth countries a visit from the Queen in an election lead up period is almost a rolled gold guarantee of success. Don’t ask why, it is hardly relevant to anything.

She (the queen) lives in England, so all bets are off there. But that faux queen, Maggie Thatcher proved the old rule that a war will guarantee success when she took on Argentina over the Malvinas (Falkland Islands). Ronny Regan picked up on that one to good effect.

The economy appears to have an overriding effect, if you accept data from Australia where every Federal government has one or lost on economic performance since at least 1961.

But I suspect Australia is a slightly different dynamic, where voters tend to be fairly schizophrenic. That is, with the Federal election taking the lead, voters tend to opt for the non-federal government parties at state level.

Voters also tend to deny any party a majority in both Federal houses, with governments rarely carrying the Senate.

Of course rules do get broken. The Howard government holds, if not enjoys, a majority in both Federal houses now. A looming Queensland election is going to give us a chance to see if the Fed/State dichotomy holds as well.

On paper the incumbent Labor government in Queensland looks set for an easy win. Not only do Howard’s Liberals hold the fort in Canberra, but his state party colleagues are uninspiring klutzes.

But even with factors in their favour, and polling showing the Labor team streets ahead, there is caution. Savvy politicians know that it pays to go into election day as the underdog, to do otherwise is to invite a protest vote. The stronger the prospects the bigger the protest vote that can be expected.

Malcolm MacKerras, Australia’s leading election forecaster, has been busy reading the entrails of red kangaroos; he says Queensland Labor will probably lose 12 seats to the coalition parties. That still gives them a handy, if reduced majority in the unicameral parliament.

I tend to accept MacKerras’ predictions because he mainly tends to be on the money. But the one dynamic every politician is firm on is that anything can happen on polling day.

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