Oct 7, 2011

State-by-state damage to Brand Labor

Despite the best efforts of a tax forum and media tail-chasing about the Labor leadership, this has been an unusually sedate week in federal politics.

William Bowe — Editor of The Poll Bludger

William Bowe

Editor of The Poll Bludger

Despite the best efforts of a tax forum and media tail-chasing about the Labor leadership, this has been an unusually sedate week in federal politics. This presumably can be put down to a national hangover after a long weekend that brought grand finals in both major football codes, together with a related consequence: Newspoll did not take the field over the weekend as per its usual schedule, thereby sparing the government its regular fortnightly morale blow. However, the polling gods found an alternative means to maintain the water torture Labor has suffered since early this year, courtesy of a Newspoll of state voting intention from Western Australia. The kicker here was yet another primary vote figure with a two in front of it -- 29%, to match the 26%, 28% and 27% Labor recorded in the most recent federal, Victorian and Queensland polls, and the 25.6% it was able to scratch together at the NSW election. The South Australian government was only able to escape the same fate by making it to 30%. Labor governments in Victoria and South Australia were performing roughly as badly following bank collapses at the turn of the 1990s, but the results federally and in NSW, Queensland and Western Australia are without precedent for Labor since Newspoll first opened for business nearly three decades ago. The uniformity of the results has inspired talk of permanent damage to a "Labor brand", a notion that presumes a common source to electoral effects at federal and state level. To consider the extent to which this is so we can turn to the archives of Newspoll, which has been publishing regular polling figures federally and for each mainland state since 1985. The chart below is based on quarterly voting intention in federal and state polling, the aggregated state result giving weight to each state's figures in proportion to its population.

What emerges is a remarkable tendency for the two lines to move in synchronicity over the short term. However, a longer-term view reveals a series of distinct phases in the relationship between federal and state voting intention. For the first few years after 1986 there is a consistent gap in favour of federal Labor of about 4%. This vanishes in late 1990, when the federal Coalition under John Hewson begins to record consistently strong poll leads for the first time since the election of the Hawke government. This shift brings the two lines almost perfectly into line, where they will broadly remain until late 1999. It is at this point that Labor's state-level ascendancy in the 2000s becomes clearly established: Victorian and Queensland governments are in the first flush of their honeymoons, while the Carr government establishes a harder fought ascendancy in New South Wales. Labor thereafter remains stronger at state level until the federal party catches up on Kevin Rudd's watch after December 2006. The election of the Rudd government in November 2007 can be seen as initiating a new episode of alignment in federal and state fortunes, albeit one separated by a two-year gap. At state level, Labor's fortunes immediately enter the decline that leads to its present all-time low; federally, the party at first scales new heights under Rudd before entering a precipitous descent at the start of 2010. The state figures meanwhile continue plunging at a similar clip, maintaining a constant gap between the two of roughly 5%. One reading of this is that federal Labor began chasing state Labor's tail as soon as the Rudd government's honeymoon was over, and certainly the conventional wisdom would have it that exactly this happened in New South Wales. However, this seems to turn on its head the experience of the Howard years, when the consensus was that the Coalition's dominance at federal level was damaging it in the states. Either diagnosis seems unduly deterministic in any case. Labor's current tail-spin is clearly better explained in terms of mutually reinforcing effects at federal and state level, caused in different ways by self-inflicted political difficulties and an unprecedented unalignment of federal and state electoral cycles.

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61 thoughts on “State-by-state damage to Brand Labor

  1. Stevo the Working Twistie

    We’ve had enough of them. All of them. The only reason the Coalition polls higher is either they are not in power yet, or haven’t had time to stuff thing up properly. Not a single one of our three major parties actually represents it’s constituency any more. Labor is estranged from the workers, Liberal from the true small-l liberal heartland and the Nats from the bush. Like it or not there will be a re-ordering of Australia’s political structure in the next generation or so. Bring it on.

  2. Ruprecht


    weekly polls this far out from an election are not news — especially not #1 item news.

  3. Michael


    No off course not, nothing to worry about here, just push on, same direction, same speed, step by step, inch by inch.
    In years to come kids will be asking “mummy, daddy, what’s an ALP?”

  4. Steve Blume

    mmm – you say
    “Labor thereafter remains stronger at state level until the federal party catches up on Kevin Rudd’s watch after December 2006”
    The federal party rise commenced in February 2005 shortly after Kim Beazley became Opposition Leader and stayed on a consistent rising trajectory right through until the 2007 election of Rudd. Not especially relevant to the comparison you are making, but let’s not re-write history to suggest a Rudd driven turnaround of Labor fortunes which did not exist. Julia Gillard’s popularity was strong through all three of her stints as Deputy Opposition Leader.

  5. Peter Ormonde

    Ah yes “brand labor” … what a truly incisive concept … this marriage of marketing and politics… and, since Labor is a brand like any other, the solution itself should be derived from marketing yes? New, improved, now with extra integrity, new packaging… perhaps a miracle ingredient? Or a new leader, a new image, a different hairstyle, higher hemlines???? … let’s see how shallow and superficial we can make ourselves?

    I’ve spent a lot of my working life arguing with this sort of facile apolitical thinking – explaining to politicians that marketing has very very little to offer political parties… that sweeping generalisations do not provide any insights whatsoever into how to change those attitudes or what sort of policies are required to meet the specific needs and interests of those sections of the electorate that can be won.

    One of the characteristics of market researchers in their approach to politics is that the results of their questionnaires ( the averages, the generalisations and approximations) become the artifacts of discussion, that trends are imputed to them, that all other variables – such as local issues, history, policies and broader issues – such as economic conditions – are ignored and politics is reduced to “scores” – call them honeymoons say. And these scores, these artifacts of artifacts, ten times removed – are elevated, reified, deified as political laws, as yet more generalisations built upon generalities and these become the “science” of pollsters. Not too far removed from those ancients with expertise in reading the entrails of chooks.

    So we have “honeymoons” to explain apparent differences in popularity … influences are imputed – albeit two years removed …. my goodness me yes… It’s so clear to me now. It’s just how things are – it’s written in the polls.

    I am still waiting for a market researcher to ever make any serious suggestions about how to turn public opinion beyond the most superficial and shallow… that after all is what they deal in. Packaging and slogans. Welcome to 21C politics and its pundits. Welcome to it indeed. And hey – it’s INTEREST FREE … completely.

  6. TheTruthHurts

    The problem for Labor is they no longer represent the “workers” of Australia.

    Can you imagine a plumber, brickie or chippie being interested in a Carbon Tax, Gay Marriage or other fringe leftwing issues?

    Yet Labor continues to let themselves be hijacked by these leftwing groups. It may be the talk of the town around Canberra Latte Cafes’ but out here in middle Australia everyone’s interested in working hard, making a living and getting ahead in life.

    Which is where Labor has gone astray. The Libs are now much more representative for the working classes. Tax cuts, low interest rates and more money in their pockets(even if by that horrible “middle class welfare” Labor hates) then so be it… and they WILL vote with their wallets.

    The biggest impact you can make on Australians lives isn’t fringe leftwing ideological feel good nonsense, it’s putting more money in peoples pockets every week. This is something that will improve the lives of millions. This is something that will increase happiness in millions of homes.

    And thats why Labor has lost it’s way

  7. klewso

    On “chasing tail” – catch Tony Jones’ Lateline effort the other night, luring Oakeshott on to the show “to discuss the Tax Summit”, presumably – and for the last 4 minutes (of a fifteen and a half minute interview) proceded to chase him up and down a dry gully, trying to pin him down on whether “he’d support Rudd?”
    Oakeshott’s “silly game” summation, at one point, seemed to sum up this “media obsession” pretty well.
    And some people think Oakeshott’s a clown?

  8. Son of foro

    I’d like to do some state-by-state damage to people who use the term ‘Brand …’.

    Here’s The Spiff Skirts again! Huzzah! Low interest rates? If by ‘low’ you mean interest rates were lower during Howard’s last days as PM than during his last days as World’s Not Greatest Treasurer, then I guess you’re right.

    If you’re going to repeat Tony Abbott’s claims about interest rates always being lower under a Coalition government then you, sir, are as big a liar as Mr Abbott.

    And what’s more, you should admit it, if you have any decency left in you.

  9. TheTruthHurts

    [“trying to pin him down on whether “he’d support Rudd?”
    Oakeshott’s “silly game” summation, at one point, seemed to sum up this “media obsession” pretty well.
    And some people think Oakeshott’s a clown?”]

    Actually the question was pretty straight forward.

    If Gillard was rolled and Rudd put back in the hot seat would Oakeshott support a Rudd Labor led government?

    It was a simple yes or no answer, but he kept dodging.

    Much like in At Home With Julia though what we ended up getting was a 3 hour comment on the workings of government in Canberra. Tony should have offered him a Soy Latte at the end.

  10. GocomSys

    @William Bowe, Another poll, yawn! Nothing better to do?

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