Thursday, March 17, 2011

Swings and Roundabouts

If I got to ask one question to the leaders of our major parties, and I knew they would have to answer truthfully, the question I would ask is "What do you really think about swinging voters?"

I think the answers would be outstanding.

The thing is, most swinging voters are not, for the most part, discerning, skeptical folks.  Typically, they are disengaged from the political process.

LIke it or not, a major party who attracts the majority of these voters is probably going to triumph.

That said, the major problem with the poitical parties having to tailor their appeal to the swinging voter is this: given their level of disengagement with the process, often fundamental misunderstandings exist, rendering the process almost farcical.

O'Farrell's opposition to the Carbon Tax is a great example.  The tax has nothing to do with NSW government (directly) - on my understanding, no deal need be struck with the states.  Of'Farrell has peldged to fight the tax, but has not clarified on what basis he expects Gillard to care about what he thinks.

That's an example of a party using (and abusing) the ignorance of many swinging voters.  The problem for a party is when (what is perceived to be) poor governance from another level of politics "poisons" the electorate against you.

A great example of that was all the talk before the 2010 Federal Election about the reviled Labor governments in NSW and Queensland and their effect on the Federal Labor vote.

Of course it is all but impossible to measure the effect - but it seems likely that if the Labor brand was stronger in NSW and Queensland generally then Gillard would not have needed the support of the independants, and Federal Parliament would be a very different place at the moment.

Which all brings me to today's Sydney Morning Herald.

For a few weeks now the Herald has published a photo and quotes from the staff and the clientelle of a hairdresser somewhere in Sydney.  I suppose the series has been interesting, but really all it is is a reworking of the "man on the street" interview.

I was struck by the comment from one of the ladies.   She is 87, and voting Liberal, and said "I'm disgusted with Labor, the way they are throwing money around.  They came around offering me new pink batts... They're giving too much money away without actually doing anything."

Now, perhaps I'm being a little unkind here. Perhaps this voter actually has a nuanced view of the connection between Federal and State Labor, and is displaying an advanced analysis of the situation.

More likely, however, is that she completely misunderstands the roles of State and Federal Labor, and doesn't see that whilst there are many, many reasons to be angry at NSW Labor, none of them have anything to do with pink batts.

The real shock, for me at least, is that as far as this voter goes, Federal Labor has poisoned her against state Labor!  As if NSW Labor needed another obstacle - it must be enough to make a Labor staffer weep.

It's tough, I think, for a party to know what to do with this kind of voter, who I fancy is displaying a fairly common level of understanding of politics.

A careful, detailed reasoned argument managed over multiple news cycles is unlikely to have any effect.  Disengaged voters get their politics from television ads during reruns of Two and a Half Men, talk-back radio and gossip over a cup of tea.

This is why we get simplistic slogans, ads that cater to the lowest common denominator - because it is, like it or not, usually these swinging voters that are easiest to shift.

These people decide elections.  Parties are welsome to deride them, to despise them, and to despair of their disengagement.  But if you fail to respect their power, you won't get anywhere in politics.  These voters hold our state's futures in their hands.

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