This blog’s first post suggested that the NSW election could be one event that may cause a re-think about the current orthodoxies of Australian politics. Maybe that was optimistic. So far, media explanations for the NSW result, where the swing against the ALP looks to be only 3% (leaving the Liberals 8-9% to go and they have still yet to win a single seat from Labor), have recycled the same old chestnuts used for the other state results. Incredibly, given the way the NSW election was conducted, some are even trying to push the ‘incumbency factor’ as a reason for Iemma’s return.

Even leaving aside its banality (voters keep voting for the incumbent because, er, they are voting for the incumbent these days), if there really was an incumbency factor, then someone should have told Sussex St. If there seemed to be one problem they had to deal with in the election campaign it was an anti-incumbency factor. The campaign was desperate to present Iemma as a new start and detach him from the past governments and its mistakes, not only from Carr but the ALP itself. Iemma’s dilemma was to retain power while appearing to be a new government but with most of the old personnel still in place (which is why they were hidden from view). It would be interesting to find out what the Federal Liberal MPs who chose to stick with Howard last year instead of a new start under Costello, think of the power of this ‘incumbency factor’ nowadays.

Anyway at the state level this ‘incumbency factor’ has had a curious way of working only when the ALP got in. So while the ‘incumbency factor’ was working for Carr in 1999, three years later in SA the incumbent Liberal government was losing power. It would seem more reasonable to say that at the state level there has been a decisive realignment towards the ALP rather than an ‘incumbency factor’ working irrespective of party. Where the ‘incumbency factor’ may appear to be reasonable, however, is to explain Labor dominance in the states with the Liberals’ retention of power in Canberra. That this state of affairs is stable is supported by the second orthodoxy: that voters will want to vote one way at state level and for the opposite party federally.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Monday, 26 March 2007.

Filed under State and federal politics

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