One aspect of the Victorian result that hasn’t attracted any comment is the implications for the Democrats federally. Except in the blogosphere. Graham Young at Ambit Gambit believes that the Greens failed to capture the protest vote to the greatest extent possible, and that their static vote might presage better things for the Democrats in the federal poll next year than pundits are crediting.

Analysis of the minor parties vote in the Victorian election has been muddied by spin. Family First and the Greens are both keen to claim that the results prove they’ve either consolidated their position or arrived on the scene as a force to be reckoned with.

While the Democrats ran candidates, unlike in the Queensland election, they effectively ran dead. They’re harnessing their remaining enthusiasm and resources for the fight to re-elect their Senators next year.

Long term governments, such as Bracks’s in Victoria and Beattie’s in Queensland, inevitably disappoint some of their own supporters. In the context of a lacklustre opposition, not only disillusioned Labor voters but also swinging voters who have no time for the alternative government look for a vehicle for protest.

Analysis of the Queensland election result done by Graham Young and me for The National Forum demonstrated that in state seats where both the Greens and Family First were running, the Greens vote was significantly lower than in seats where they had the protest vote to themselves. Both parties have strong ideological images – environmentalist and Christian conservative respectively – which make them less attractive to swinging voters basically looking to give both the government and the opposition a kick in the pants. In Victoria, the People Power candidates probably picked up a lot of the residue of protest voters who didn’t want to associate themselves with either Green or socially conservative politics respectively.

With the Stott-Despoja era history, the Democrats have the advantage federally of being able to present an image which is short on ideology but big on “none of the above” sentiment. While Democrats Senators seeking re-election – such as Lyn Allison and Andrew Bartlett – might not excite the press gallery, they’re also unencumbered with ideological negatives. The recent Newspoll figure of 5% for the Democrats might be a harbinger of something of a return to form – remembering that voters’ memories are short, and the Democrats have done little to sully their image over this electoral cycle.

Howard will be seeking a fifth term next year. If the Labor Party is smart, they’ll unite behind Beazley, and the “new, untried, possibly mad” factor that worked against Latham won’t be a card to play. Any fifth term government has made enemies aside from the tiredness factor, and Howard has had a term that’s scrappy, to say the least.

If they can sew up some smart preference deals for the upper house, the Democrats might be much better placed to capitalise on this than the Greens, whose negatives will have been reinforced by the negative campaigning directed against them in several campaigns now.

Peter Fray

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