Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Could this man be the new Australian Idol?

There has been quite a degree of comment on the likelihood that the ALP’s biggest challenge in this election is to convince voters that Mark Latham would make a competent, level-headed leader.

An example of what I’m talking about from Paul Kelly:

“The main issue of this election is Mark Latham – and whether he can convince the nation to trust him as prime minister”

This stands to reason, and one would assume it would be true of all party leaders putting themselves forward as potential Prime Ministers. However, there has been much to suggest that observers, analysts, and the combatants themselves, see this issue as having greater importance in this campaign.

For me, the more interesting issue to come out of this kind of commentary is this: if Mark Latham’s character will be the deciding factor, then there must be an underlying assumption that voters are currently inclined towards a change of government.

They just want to be sure this choice will be ‘generally ok’ in the long run (there is, of course, the associated presumption that both parties are generally similar – see today’s this run down of election 2004 ‘facts and fiction’. Towards the end, there is this proposition:

There's [a] political cycle in two-party parliamentary democracies: one side gets a few terms if it's reasonably competent and presides over no disasters, and then it's the other's turn.Even a dud government after one term is harder to move than a very good one after three. And the Howard Government, which has never enjoyed much electoral currency, is ready for the chop after eight years.

Personally, its very tempting to take this as gospel and start getting my hopes up. However, as soon as someone comes across some kind of substantive evidence for this proposition being true in this particular election, I’d really like to see it. Its quite obviously believed to be a general trend in politics, but what about the current situation? Can we apply this proposition without limitation?

The idea has been suggested with sufficient frequency in news and news commentary (even brief mentions or suggestions of the idea will have contributed to this overall feeling) to make my initial reaction to this proposition: “yeah, there sure is a desire for change ‘out there’”.

Thinking about it though, I’ve not seen anything to suggest this sentiment exists anywhere else but in the columns of commentators and bloggers. It seems to me that it could be one of those ‘themes’ which political writers are happy to go along with, without questioning its’ legitimacy in the circumstances (I have to say, I sure felt a desire for change at the previous 2 elections, but I’m not going to even try and take that as evidence of anything in this context).

Is this proposition so well accepted amongst analysts and commentators that no one feels the need to draw a line back to some evidence or qualify it in any way? Is there some polling data which shows that voters rank it highly amongst factors likely to influence their vote? Or is it just an ‘electoral truth’? I’d be interested to know, as I’m sure as hell we’ll be reminded of the importance of Mark Latham’s ‘character’ again and again. And again and again and again.

On a side note: 50 points to whoever spots the first election advertisement (and no, those Federal Government initiative advertisements don’t count).

On an even sider note: If I can spuriously draw a link between voting patterns on Australian Idol, and Federal Election voting patterns, then I think its fair to say that Australians will not be basing their vote on talent or ability, and are more likely to vote for the guy with the better personality, or the guy who has been beaten up on by critics and who they feel sorry for.

This is why Marty (the judge's favourite, and this year's "Aussie Rock Bloke") got more votes than Ngaiire (despite a clear consensus that Ngaiire has the superior singing voice), and why Daniel (who presented a theatre-restaurant style performance, and was duly criticised) now appears in the Final 12.

On the basis of this (oh yes, I'm going to draw conclusions on this evidence), the Coalition should be wary of laying too heavily into Latham, as he may just pull a sympathy vote. Similarly the ALP should cease talking up Latham's abilities, and just bang on about how great a guy he is, and how "Aussie" and "rock" he is. He'll then be a cert for election victory and the RSL club tour, er, I mean, the Lodge.


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