Monday, August 27, 2007

Unsophisticate voters rule. What's new?

Couple of small items in the Australian Financial Review today speak quietly but sigificantly about our political landscape. The news is not the best.

First, Family First. They're one of many parties over the years that got a State or Federal upper house seat without significant profile or support. Give your party a motherhood-type name, then spend all your time making preference-swapping deals with other micro parties. Electoral analyst Anthony Green had a very good writeup on how they got in.

Well, they're aiming for a full slate of Senate candidates in the upcoming Federal election. They're hoping to gain the balance of power in the Senate, which is not beyond the pale, given their good fortune last election.

They're largely a conservative party, although they take some leftwing positions sometimes. Although “family first” is their purported doctrine, it can really cover a multitude of sins from left to right. It's plausible they may gain a position of power in the Senate, but it's hard to imagine it lasting. Like many populist parties – especially those that mix left and right – they have a strong capacity to become riven by competing elements within the party. This tends to be followed by splits, explosions, then annihilation. Often leaving a trail of sub-optimal legislative outcomes.

The other article gives an ominous reading on the electorate's imperfect understanding of climate change. A poll of swinging voters in marginal seats by Ipsos found that 42% believe the ALP could better manage climate change, versus 20% for the Coalition. However, quite a high proportion (38%) felt there was no difference between the major parties on climate change policy.

True, “swinging voters in marginal seats” must constitute one of the less informed group of voters in any electorate. But those very people tend to make and break governments. It is an ominous indicator of the lack of understanding that persists regarding the issue. This suggests that John Howard's obfusticative policy on the issue has been quite effective in its core aims: to do nothing while maintaining a semblance of serious concern. It's been enough to mislead 58% of the electorate.

I favour compulsory voting in the expectation that it bumps up the participation rate, and encourages people to consider issues more carefully. Sometimes I feel I'm being sentimental.

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