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The party we hate least (by a small margin) wins government

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24.05.2019

We're told that the federal election results were shocking, unprecedented, and even Australia's "Trump moment". It's true that they were a shock. Because the entire country was expecting the opposite result. Why? Because the opinion polls signalled it. And a poll-obsessed political and media class bought it.

That tells us something about the polls. It tells us a lot about the politico-media complex and how we use polling. Or, rather, how we've been misusing it.

Bill Shorten during a debate with Scott Morrison.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

But the results are certainly not unprecedented. In fact, in the big picture of Australian elections, the results are very ordinary.

If you ask a regular Australian swinging voter her view of political parties, what's the first thing she'll say? Something along the lines of: "I don't trust any of them."

So, on that basis, which party will she tend to vote for? The one she dislikes or distrusts the least. In the absence of a charismatic leader, that is the usual run of things. And so it was this time.
For almost the entirety of the past three years, media and public attention was firmly focused on the antics of the Coalition government. For good reason.

In between Barnaby Joyce, Malcolm Turnbull, Tony Abbott, Christopher Pyne and Peter Dutton, it was a crazed time on a stage crowded with big characters. It culminated in what Scott Morrison called a "Muppet show". How good is that summary?

Illustration: John ShakespeareCredit:

We know that most swinging voters loathe all politicians. Whichever ones voters are most focused on are the ones we hate most.

So long as Australia's attention was on the Coalition, we loathed them more. Then, with the election under way, we turned our attention to Labor. So long as we were looking at Labor, we hated them more.

The longer the campaign went, the more attention fell on Labor. So they lost. By process of elimination, the Coalition won.

Sometimes politicians like to frame elections by posing the question to us: "Who do you trust?"
But swinging voters frame election day differently. Faced with the unpleasant dilemma posed by the ballot paper, like a kid forced to choose between broccoli and brussels sprouts, we ask ourselves: "Which do I hate least?"

Illustration: Jim PavlidisCredit:

If you don't eat your politician veggies, you can't have your democracy sausage. An oversimplification of the majesty and beauty of Australia's democratic sacrament? Of course. But is it wrong? When I put it to strategists for both major parties, they concurred with its central tenet.

From much of........

© The Age