Victorian Premier Steve Bracks in an unguarded moment gave the game away – the election has been designed to be boring. Bracks is invoking the ghosts of the Kennett era and running a controlled campaign designed to reinforce his strengths as a cautious, conservative and nice guy leader. Hence it’s no surprise that such passion as there is has been generated by factors which are basically part of the process itself – the rhetorical contest between Labor and the Greens over preferences, the composition of the newly restructured Upper House, and the Nats’ chances of holding seats.
But quantitative and qualitative research conducted by Graham Young and me for The National Forum tells an interesting story about the dynamics of the campaign.
In many ways, there are strong parallels with the recent Queensland election. This is perhaps not surprising as both Bracks and Beattie have similar political approaches, if radically different personas. And it’s not surprising either, as in both cases a long term Labor government can parry voter dissatisfaction with lack of delivery on services by pointing to a divided and unconvincing opposition.
Voters surveyed hold Bracks to account to some degree for the slowness of delivery on services targets and major projects. But at the same time, some ALP voters recognise that the legacy of the Kennett era conditioned Labor’s approach to government. But while Liberal voters are attracted to the Opposition Leader, very few voters of any persuasion believe that Baillieu will deliver on his wish list. That’s either because he’s seen as being out of step with his party (more socially liberal, an accidental leader) or because the voters have correctly perceived that funding the utopia Victoria would become under Premier Baillieu would simply be impossible.
There are more resonances with the Queensland campaign. Promises by the Liberals to increase the health workforce are discounted because voters are too smart to believe that the staffing problems in health are easily fixable. For a variety of reasons, state governments have succeeded in convincing electors that the issues for which they have responsibility are often shaped by factors beyond their control, whether it’s climate change or medical training. Perhaps this is a reflection of the generally diminished role of the states. It does mean that reasonably competent governments have a big advantage from incumbency. The only ideological point of differentiation available to the Liberals is also their achilles heel – privatisation Kennett style.
Bracks is almost certainly headed for victory. The fact that he won’t do as well as Beattie in holding most of the seats gained in his landslide is more a reflection of the lack of Liberal implosions in the campaign.