A journalist asked me on Friday who I thought had won the second week of the campaign. With Mumble’s poll-mix showing the government coming back, it looks like lots of us gave the wrong answer to that question.
Making judgements about television and newspaper coverage that most swinging voters are not watching or reading doesn’t help. The parties fret about images, bias and mis-steps. Yet, late-deciding voters are either not paying attention or are suspicious of the media. Mark Latham was believed by the punditry to have performed well during the 2004 campaign but there’s not much point winning the media contest and losing the election.
We don’t take enough notice of campaign advertising, and whether it is reinforcing the themes the party leaders are trying to build. Party advertising is unsubtle, cheap and repetitive. It’s easy to dismiss. One of Labor’s problems in 1996 and 2004 was the lack of co-ordination between the leader’s office and the national secretariat over television advertising.
This is something that those on the campaign trail or who watch the ABC of an evening can miss. Usually, wage slaves with young children are only just sitting down to watch television well after the news and current affairs programs are over. They see the party ads, though.
Which of the parties is meeting their objectives? Rudd will win if voters believe he is a low-risk alternative to Howard – not because he gained the most photo-opportunities during the campaign. The government is struggling to get a consistent message through on the economy (is it “going for growth” or “sound the tsunami alarm”?). Their anti-union campaign may be resonating, though. Trade unions are not the bogey they used to be but the electorate wants to know whether Rudd will be his own man as prime minister.
I know people who are still expecting Howard to come up with”a Tampa“, perhaps in the guise of a terrorist incident in the dying days of the campaign. This misconceives Howard’s political strengths. Howard wears his opponents down. His nickname, “the rodent”, was given to him in the 1980s by the Peacock forces amazed by the way Howard gnawed away at the party leadership in 1984 and 1985.
If he defeats Rudd, it will be because of many small manoeuvres rather than a single knockout blow.