Ask voters anywhere what they think about politicians slinging off at each other and the answer invariably is that they hate it and wish it didn’t happen. People always say their representatives should accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative.
And the politicians keep right on ignoring Johnny Mercer’s lyrics and continue to make disparaging remarks about each other, which pollsters like ACNeilsen in today’s Fairfax press find angers and annoys those they question.
How can this be? Why do political campaigns ignore findings like four fifths of people not caring about the Brian Burke affair and carry on attacking?
There’s a very good reason in fact — electoral history has shown the politicians that on election-day, negative campaigning regularly works. The very same people who tell the pollster they abhor personal attacks end up being influenced by them.
So after a fortnight of the Liberals accusing Kevin Rudd of dealing with a spiv for his own political advancement and the pollsters reporting Labor facing a Ruddslide, there will be no backing off. The probes into the integrity of the Labor leader will not just continue, they’ll intensify as really desperate men start to say and do really desperate things.
There is a risk in the strategy. In the United States where the art of negative campaigning was refined, the absence of compulsory voting means that making a person so sick of politics that they don’t bother to vote can be as good as winning a vote.
In Australia, where over 90 percent of people vote rather than under 50 percent in the US, a campaign that’s too negative can rebound. The people revolted by negative tactics have the option of punishing the tacticians by voting for a third party or independents.
The way things are shaping up, the Greens can look forward to a record high vote.