Since February, the Coalition political strategy has played out on the ground as an attempt to focus attention on Rudd. Whether this has been more by accident than design is probably worth pondering as well, but for all the “look at Kevin” programs, not a great lot has been achieved.
From Rudd dining with Brian Burke, his childhood memories, his links to those union blokes that keep turning out the lights, right through to actual policy programs like education, the environment and infrastructure initiatives (that we now know, courtesy of the infamous Crosby Textor Oztrack 33, actually worked in the Labor’s favour by highlighting issues that the ALP had position dominance on) – the strategy that actually played out on the ground was one of focusing attention on Rudd.
Yet for all those attempts at focus shifting, and for all electoral diversional therapy involved, the key measures that matter continue to be intimately linked to the performance of John Howard himself.
The Coalition two party preferred result continues to be the slave of Howard’s satisfaction rating since the 2004 election.
A few quick regression equations and a granger causality test on the relationship between these two series suggests that it is the change in PM satisfaction levels that leads to changes in the Coalition two party preferred vote, rather than the two series moving together as a result of third party influences.
The punditry may say that Howard is still extremely popular considering his satisfaction ratings, but with his satisfaction ratings being so intimately linked to the Coalitions TPP vote, that line of thinking quickly becomes a bit a grand non-sequitur in the general scheme of things. His satisfaction only needs to fall small amounts to have a serious impact on the Coalition vote.
The other key measure intimately linked to Howard’s performance is the ALP primary vote via the PM dissatisfaction rating, as we hinted at last week.
Again, after a few quick regression equations and a granger causality test on the relationship between these two series, it is the change in PM dissatisfaction levels that leads to changes in Labor’s primary vote, rather than the two series moving together as a result of third party influences.
What is also interesting to note here is the gap that has recently opened up between these two measures, suggesting the possibility that Rudd is starting to gain support as a result of what the ALP is actually doing, rather than simply relying on dissatisfaction with Howard to deliver them electoral support.
So while all the policy noise and political advertising fills the political brainspace of the nation, when it comes right down to it, this election is still all about John Howard.
The big danger however is that hint in the last chart which suggests that Labor might finally be gaining support on the basis of their own merit. If that relationship starts to consolidate, there will be very little that Howard can do to turn his electoral fortunes around. When you are staring down the barrel of electoral annihilation, that is probably the last thing he wants to hear.