ANU study shows how Labor lost the unlosable election

Ian Bushnell 3 September 2019 26

Bill Shorten failed in the end to convince undecided voters. File photo.

Labor bit off more than it or the voters could chew with a leader that failed to convince them that the Government should change, according to a new ANU research on the 2019 federal election.

As part of the ANU poll series of surveys, Associate Professor Nicholas Biddle from the Centre for Social Research and Methods examined voter volatility – or changes in who Australians said they would vote for in the lead-up to the May election, and who they actually voted for on election day.

He found more than a quarter of those surveyed ended up voting for a different party than the one they’d indicated, and for all the talk about the Coalition having a woman problem, the volatility of the female vote proved significant in the Coalition retaining Government against most predictions.

Those who didn’t intend to vote for the Coalition, but ended up doing so were ”more likely to be female, at the upper end of the age distribution, non-Indigenous, without a university education, and living outside the most disadvantaged areas in Australia”, Professor Biddle said.

But the picture was far from uniform and the story a mixed one. “These individuals also tended to be less supportive of population growth. And despite the popular narrative, they were no more likely to support populist views,” Professor Biddle said.

And while the election seemed focused on the leaders, many voters were very much looking at their local candidate.

“The most common reason given [for changing their vote] was their views on the local candidate had changed,” Professor Biddle said.

The data also shows that Labor faltered in the so-called unlosable election because the risk-averse were eventually deterred by the breadth of change Labor offered.

Professor Biddle said it wasn’t necessarily the policies themselves, or being anti-government intervention but more likely the number of policies, the range of areas which Labor was proposing to make changes with in the end that changed their minds.

“It gives some indication that a typical Labor policy platform will not necessarily put voters off but it needs to be more well-targeted and less likely for people to feel that their savings or income is at risk,” he said.

In contrast, the Coalition was much more focused with its centrepiece tax cuts policy.

“To me, the difference between Labor and the Coalition in this election is not so much that a big policy change can’t be argued or prosecuted, it’s that multiple policy changes across multiple areas can be very hard to prosecute,” Professor Biddle said.

Many voters also could not bring themselves to back Bill Shorten on election day, with many citing him as a reason for not voting Labor.

“When it really came down to it people just weren’t able to support him,” he said. “For whatever reason, rightly or wrongly, Bill Shorten was not able to convince those swinging voters.”

Professor Biddle said the results had clear implications for polling in Australia. “More care and transparency about how these groups are treated should be a real focus of any adjustments to polling in Australia,” he said.

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26 Responses to ANU study shows how Labor lost the unlosable election
Capital Retro Capital Retro 8:12 am 05 Sep 19

“And I’ll bet your electricity bills are SO much cheaper now!” says Jackie White

Indeed you are right Jackie but the reason is a 1.2 per cent decrease in electricity prices in 2019-20 will be followed by a 6.3 per cent rise in 2020-21. … The forecast price rise comes after an ACT government report found the territory’s move towards 100 per cent renewable energy added almost $72 to the average power bill last financial year. (Reported Dec 21, 2018)

You voted for the Greens too?

Jim Jim Jim Jim 6:55 am 05 Sep 19

It’s pretty simple there were too many big ticket policies that would potentially upset the game too much and would have been easier to stomach if raised at the start of a second term campaign. The devil known was the safer option and people took it. It was sheer arrogance and electoral disconnect that cost them amidst several alleged historical issues associated with Mr Shorten. I doubt many could even tell you exactly what their local member’s views were and voted on political allegiance. Those that shifted felt the aforementioned disconnect.

bigred bigred 8:57 pm 04 Sep 19

I sensed about twelve months before the election that it was going to go Labor’s way, or be much closer than a lot expected. My thinking was the doubts that Shorten would be an effective leader and also had way too much lead in his saddlebags from his past machinations.

On top of that, Chris Bowen’s “take it or leave it” arrogance frightened a middle class using existing tax arrangements to get ahead. He failed to convince them of the sense of his policy ultimatums. Same applied to his side kick the Member for Fenner. It got to the stage that when either of that pair came onto the TV, I left the room.

Credit must go to SCOMO for running the most disciplined and focused campaign I can recall. In summary, while we didn’t like the liberals we could abide what the other mob offered.

John Moulis John Moulis 5:03 pm 04 Sep 19

Labor didn't "bite off more than they could chew", they killed their election campaign by uttering the magic (or demonic) words "climate change". As soon as people heard them they were fearful that they would be slugged in the hip pocket again for no purpose. And have to suffer even higher electricity bills and blackouts. I was going to vote Labor but when they mentioned "climate change" I remembered the hung parliament, the carbon tax, renewable energy targets and all that BS we kicked out the back door when Abbott was elected. And we didn't want it sneaking back in again when we had been there, done that and had moved on.

    Jackie White Jackie White 9:41 pm 04 Sep 19

    And I'll bet your electricity bills are SO much cheaper now!

Grimm Grimm 10:35 am 04 Sep 19

Way overthinking what is really pretty simple.

1. Labour, as usual, attacked a section of society for being successful. Australia apparently isn’t all that keen on tall poppy syndrome, or socialism. Class warfare keeps losing elections.

2. Shorten is unlikable and slimy.

Peter Mackay Peter Mackay 7:32 am 04 Sep 19

Overthinking the thing. Voters don’t weigh up the policies or follow politics as obsessively as some. They have better things to do.

Labor lost because the polls said that they would win in a canter and they acted like they had already won. See John Hewson in 1993.

When Bill Shorten said what a pity that Hawke had died a few days before seeing a Labor victory, and then the bookies paid out on a Labor win, well that was permission for people to vote for the person they actually preferred, rather than with the herd.

And ScoMo had been pushing the fact that he was preferred PM, by saying a vote for Shorten is a vote for Shorten.

What sort of policy pushing was that? Nothing at all. And yet it was effective.

    Jill Lyall Jill Lyall 8:07 am 04 Sep 19

    Labor lost because of a massive misinformation campaign by the LNP aided and abetted by massive amounts of money from one Clive Palmer

    Peter Mackay Peter Mackay 8:12 am 04 Sep 19

    Yeah, that worked out well for Clive, didn’t it? Labor lost because they were taking the voters for granted. They figured that if they didn’t like the LNP, well neither did normal people. Well, HELLO!

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 1:31 pm 04 Sep 19

    Chris Cross That's what I thought Clive's standing was mainly for; to prop up the Liberals to benefit himself.

    Peter Mackay Peter Mackay 2:17 pm 04 Sep 19

    Palmer's ads were aimed at *all* mainstream politicians.

    This is starting to sound like Don Trump, who blames everyone but himself.

    Let's face it, the ALP dropped the ball on this election, and they didn't see it coming. The network coverage showed Labor heavy after Labor heavy looking puzzled and shocked on the night, and the Liberals going from despondent to jubilant.

    Nobody expected that result.

Jill Lyall Jill Lyall 7:19 am 04 Sep 19

A survey showing the pig stupidity of a large number of Australian voters. Oh well.

Sazzad Masud Khandakar Sazzad Masud Khandakar 9:06 pm 03 Sep 19

Brexit, US election, .... AUS election 🗳 .... the great hack .... Cambridge Analytica .... Social media

Gabriel Spacca Gabriel Spacca 8:13 pm 03 Sep 19

There was a time, not that long ago, that elections were fought over policies. Not always well, and some policies were god awful, but they were there. Now this study is saying Labor had too many policies.

Really? Is that what we the voting public really want. A policy-free political system?

If that’s true, then we deserve everything that’s coming to us.

HiddenDragon HiddenDragon 7:54 pm 03 Sep 19

“..and for all the talk about the Coalition having a woman problem, the volatility of the female vote proved significant in the Coalition retaining Government against most predictions.”

That’s another, and rather interesting, parallel with the 1993 election, and the last minute swing which saved Keating.

Stu McRae Stu McRae 7:16 pm 03 Sep 19

To summarise - dud policies , dud leader. Dud outcome.

    Dave Lenihan Dave Lenihan 9:13 am 04 Sep 19

    Stu McRae A leader that was less trustworthy than a cut snake. Did they listen, No. Taking to any election with Judas Iscariot was suicidal.

Acton Acton 5:35 pm 03 Sep 19

The main conclusion to be drawn is that opinion polls are unreliable, useless and/or deceptive and those who breathlessly await and analyse them should find more productive ways to spend their time.

    astro2 astro2 7:59 am 04 Sep 19

    Actually, no, the polls have generally been pretty accurate and have been becoming more so over time. However, the recent incidences of very late swings away from the predicted outcomes (in the UK, US and Australia) are a relatively new thing and, in some cases, are possibly the result of foreign electoral interference through the news feeds of voters in selected swinging seats, e.g. in some Qld, seats there are voters who swung to vote Liberal and are now waiting to receive franking credits (of up to $30k!) from the government. They don’t have investments or franking credits, they just think they will get these from the Liberal government. Even the Liberal party didn’t put out ridiculous claims like this so other sources of information (via targeted news feeds) are the likely source.

    Acton Acton 10:27 pm 04 Sep 19

    How can you say the polls have been accurate when they have consistently been producing inaccurate results? You under-estimate the intelligence of Australian voters and over-estimate the accuracy and reliability of polls. Polls are now conducted very differently and the methodology is flawed. Gone are the days when pollsters would contact people by phone or conduct face to face interviews on the street to compile random and representative samples. Polling companies like Ipsos now gather opinions from people who self-select to join panels in exchange for prizes and rewards. People who self-select for these panels are unrepresentative of the general population so the results will be flawed. Political parties can also influence poll outcomes by stacking these panels with their own people. Even the ANU’s Social Research Centre uses a panel to run surveys, which is supposed to reflect the opinions of the general population, but doesn’t.
    Biddle’s study of the May election found that more than a quarter of those surveyed ended up voting for a different party to the one they had indicated. So obviously the polls were totally inaccurate.
    Who couldn’t make up their mind?
    “Females, the relatively young, and those in more disadvantaged neighbourhoods were most likely to change their votes,” he said.
    Labor lost the election because voters realised correctly that the removal of franking credits was an attack on savings, affecting every one of us directly or indirectly. But mostly Labor lost the election because Shifty Shorten was unworthy of trust.

Capital Retro Capital Retro 5:34 pm 03 Sep 19

Not one mention of the single biggest reason being Labor’s promise to abolish franked dividends and play around with negative gearing.

Many Labor voters are into both these schemes and self-interest is always stronger than political allegiances.

For the record, I don’t believe in either of these schemes – they should be withdrawn.

    Capital Retro Capital Retro 9:55 am 04 Sep 19

    “in some Qld, seats there are voters who swung to vote Liberal and are now waiting to receive franking credits (of up to $30k!) from the government. They don’t have investments or franking credits, they just think they will get these from the Liberal government.”

    They are some of the people I am talking about too.

Stephen Saunders Stephen Saunders 5:02 pm 03 Sep 19

‘Less supportive of population growth’. Get it? Labor doesn’t. Even after the failure of their migrant-parent policy, they still back Big Australia:,13058

    astro2 astro2 7:52 am 04 Sep 19

    Stephen, that doesn’t explain the very late swing away from the ALP as their policy on immigration (and other policies) were published well before the election so the polls would have included voter’s attitudes.

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