As we get to the business end of the Queensland election campaign, Graham Young and I took a slightly different tack on some of the questions for our third online focus group for The National Forum. This time we were interested in seeing how the sample participants responded to the campaign, and particularly how they viewed the performance of the opposition.

It’s likely that the pitch from the Coalition in the last few days will be that they should be strengthened in Parliament in order to perform better as an opposition. In effect this is a concession of defeat, but it’s not a bad tactic in the absence of any discernible momentum for a protest vote. The idea is that because Beattie has succeeded in making them the issue, they’ll leverage that focus onto process issues and suggest another huge majority is unhealthy for the State’s democracy.

The risk of course is that this tactic will only reinforce what has become the central frustration of many voters – those who would like to vote against Beattie can’t bring themselves to mark their ballots for the Coalition in case they get elected.

Many of our sample agreed strongly that the State needed a better opposition, but quite a few were sceptical of whether the Coalition could provide one. “Dump the lot and start again” was the suggestion from one Sunshine Coast 50 year old male voter, while another male voter aged 80 from Brisbane wanted a “different cast”.

Participants were specifically questioned about whether the Coalition deserved to be punished for their campaign. Some felt an election loss and the media focus on bungles were punishment enough, but some believed that the Coalition would be punished, with the “Beattie killed my brother” ad singled out by one participant. Interestingly, at this stage, voters in our sample had made up their minds, hadn’t been swayed much by the campaign launches, and were unlikely to change their votes.

The best the Coalition can hope for this late in the game is a small correction back in their favour. But given the odds against them in terms of seats held, this may not translate to very much. Beattie will most likely be returned with a slightly reduced majority, not the increase some commentators are now tipping. But it will still be a big majority and the Coalition’s challenge will be to do effective policy and communications work over the next term.

Peter Fray

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