Yes, this is not an ordinary election

Saturday, 3 November 2007 

Leaving aside Mr Shanahan’s strange way of seeing margin of error only applying in the government’s favour not Labor’s, it is definitely true that the swing in the marginals is not as pronounced as that happening in the government’s safe seats. Newspoll trend surveys have been showing the same thing even in Beazley’s day. The 5-10% swings by state that Newspoll reports in the marginals is not out of line with what the those trend surveys has been showing. By July-September, the swing in the marginals was only (!) around 8% compared to 11-12% in the safer government seats (and 7% in safe Labor seats).

But that is the whole point. This election is not about the fight in the marginals in the old way, it is about the coalition losing its grip on what were its core constituency and seats. There has always been a tendency to overstate Howard’s hold on the marginals over the last decade, as expressed through the myth of the ‘Howard battlers’. Howard almost lost the marginals in his first term. His success had more to do with the weakness of a Labor party that had lost its historic role and hence its grip on its core supporters and upwardly mobile sections of it.

Now it is the coalition’s turn. If Howard has a chance fighting his way back to government through the marginals then someone should tell him, because not only are the themes of Howard’s campaign directed at core coalition supporters (despite their limited effect with other voters) but so is his touring schedule. What, for example has he been doing in Victoria for four days in a row this week where the closest seat to fall is 5%, visiting such seats as McEwen (6.4%), Deakin (5.0%) and La Trobe (5.8%) none of which Labor needs to win to take power? And why haven’t the Liberal party sources that are sure Bennelong is safe, according to Mr Shanahan, told their party leader to stop wasting his time going back there as he did all last weekend?

Whatever Mr Shanahan’s issues with understanding polling data, the way his interpretation has been unthinkingly picked up nationwide is not necessarily because the media likes a good news story for the coalition. In fact they were rather getting into the swing of enjoying the government’s troubles as in the enthusiasm they reported Abbott’s bad day. Rather it is just a repeat of the same mistake they have been making all year, seeing everything through the prism of the past. By definition, elections are always fought in the marginals, it is just that the definition of marginals is about to change.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Saturday, 3 November 2007.

Filed under Media analysis

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