Unhappy memories of 1980. The Federal election campaign of 1980 was the first in which I had a serious tactical involvement and I remember well the excitement of entering the last week with the opinion polls showing our Labor team actually in front of the incumbent government of Malcolm Fraser. It was a surprise to almost everyone, including ourselves, that we were in with a chance of winning and it was in the heartbreak of finally being beaten quite easily that I developed my fear of the perverse impact opinion polls can have on an election result.

Back then my post-mortem concluded that the Australian people did not like Malcolm Fraser much as a man. They found him arrogantly aloof and the last thing they wanted was to encourage those characteristics by giving him another resounding victory. Not that they actually wanted a return of Labor to office. Memories of the economic chaos of the Gough Whitlam years were still too strong for that. What the people wanted was to teach the Liberal-National Coalition a bit of a lesson rather than replace it and those opinion polls began to reflect just that sentiment.

Alas for Bill Hayden it was not to be a year for the drovers’ dog. With the news reflecting that Labor might actually win, a significant share of people turned back to the Coalition and that was that. Along with my unhappy memories all I was left with was a desire to never have the side I was working for being looked at as too likely a winner.

Hence my interest in that question the pollsters normally ask about who voters expect to win along with who they intend to vote for. A big difference between the two I see as a real danger sign.

In this current Queensland election campaign the red light was showing for Labor when the Galaxy poll just after the announcement of the election date had the Liberal National Party leading on voting intention but well behind on the question of who was likely to win. But as the weeks have gone by and the LNP continuing to be shown in the lead, the expectations about Labor’s chances have changed dramatically.

From being thought the likely winner by 64 per cent at the start of the campaign, the figure published in the Courier Mail this morning is only 52 per cent. This page one splash announcing the poll result is likely to send it even lower:

Under my theory of the perverse influence of pollsters that should be enough to give Anna Bligh a victory when the real votes are counted tomorrow night.

The Crikey Queensland Election Indicator continues to point slightly in that direction as well. This morning it gave Labor a 60% probability of winning to the LNP’s 40%.

My favourite tabloid. I will be watching the newspaper circulation figures with some interest to see whether my new favourite tabloid, the Townsville Bulletin, does better in the selling stakes than its News Limited stablemates. I just love the often quirky front pages like this one:

An IMF Influence. With the International Monetary Fund urging countries to keep cutting interest rates to stimulate the world economy it is not surprising that the Crikey Reserve Bank Interest Rate Indicator now has a half a per cent reduction the most likely outcome from the Bank’s April meeting.

A stable Australia in an increasingly unstable world. As the Economist Intelligence Unit describes it:

…this economic chain reaction — from banks to markets to consumers to companies — is entering a new phase. Economic pain, reflected in millions of lost jobs and destroyed savings, has entered the political realm, causing some governments to collapse and threatening others.

The risk of political instability is leading to a wave of trade protectionism, which is rippling across the globe. It was just such a political response in the 1930s, exemplified by America’s infamous Smoot-Hawley tariffs, that deepened and prolonged the Great Depression.

In a new report the EIU says political risks from the economic crisis are increasingly dire and quotes Dennis Blair, America’s new intelligence chief, saying political turmoil from the global recession has replaced terrorism as the country’s biggest security threat.

The interesting report contains the EIU’s Political Instability Index showing the level of threat posed to governments by social protest. The index scores are derived by combining measures of economic distress and underlying vulnerability to unrest and Australia comes out as one of the world’s most stable nations.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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