Will the election campaign make any difference?

Election campaigns attract¬† fascinated attention. In fact I doubt the election campaign will make much difference either way, before it started the likely outcome was a narrow Labor victory. The evidence is that American presidential election campaigns made little difference as Brendan Nyhan noted just after Obama’s victory:

For months I’ve been emphasizing the role of the political fundamentals in determining presidential election outcomes. Last night that approach was again vindicated. The median forecast from leading election models was that Barack Obama would receive 52% of the two-party vote. According to the current numbers on CNN’s website, he’s at 53.1%. And despite the (overhyped) attention to state polls at sites like Five Thirty Eight, the swing from 2004 was nearly uniform across states (with a few exceptions that were apparently driven by home-state advantages and race).

The novelty of Julia Gillard generated a brief surge to Labor which dissipated and Labor’s bad week generated a brief mini-surge for Tony Abbott. However we are now seeing the poll trend converge to the likely outcome of a narrow Labor victory. In the last twenty years we have seen two very close elections: 1990 and 1998. In both cases the incumbent government was returned with a minority of the two-party vote. This generated much mythology about the government’s brilliant marginal seat campaigns, noteworthy that the suggestion that Labor is somehow ‘sandbagging’ marginals eats to hold on against a national swing is emerging as a media theme . Peter Brent notes the hold of the myth of marginal seat mastery. I suggest that when the Coalition loses the popular explanation with combine the marginal seat theory along with the argument that Abbott took victory for granted. After 1998 many in Labor believed that victory could have been theirs if only they had campaigned differently, in fact Labor over performed in 1998 it could not have done any better. The belief that 1998 was a lost opportunity contributed to Labor’s complacency in the run-up to 2001.¬† In fact 1990 and 1998 were rather anomalous elections, the crisis of the Victorian state Labor government and the fall of the Queensland National Party contributed to a very uneven swing in 1990, and in 1998 One Nation directed preferences to Labor in many coalition seats which artificially inflated the swing to Labor, there was also a notable recovery of Labor support among many traditional support groups that had strayed in 1996 and these groups such as non-Anglo migrants were largely located in Labor seats. NSW could play the same role in this campaign that Victoria did in 1990, and Bennelong perhaps like Melbourne Ports could be the ethically diverse seat that defies the trend. Kevin Rudd’s rapprochement with Julia can only help among Asian-Australian voters perhaps. Currently Liberal activists¬† overstate the extent of community disaffection with the labor government, rather as Labor activists did in 2004. it’s not 1996 Abbott cannot just establish himself as a viable alternative PM (which unlike the media I think he did some moths ago) and surf to victory.

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