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Bored by the state election? Believe it or not, there was actually a lot to like

Politics

A survey of voters has recorded a surprising level of engagement and positivity towards the recent Queensland election, writes Dennis Atkins

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With the 2020 Queensland election disappearing in our rearview mirror, we can rattle off the supposed conventional wisdom about the campaign. People thought it was shallow, dishonest, irrelevant and uninspiring. That covers it, doesn’t it?

This is what you might hear at the local cafe, the bar while watching your favourite sport or scrolling through social media.

It turns out these apparently agreed perceptions of this just gone election campaign are like most armchair and morning newspaper commentary – wide of the mark.

A fascinating study of the election conducted after the settling of the dust shows Queenslanders were engaged, interested and, would you believe, inspired by the campaign and what was being said, especially by the winners, Labor and Annastacia Palaszczuk.

A survey of 1000 voters by JWS Research recorded a surprising level of engagement and a generally positive attitude towards the election.

There were some firm elements of disapproval and strong negative reactions by a significant minority but most Queenslanders took the election very seriously and mostly liked what they saw and heard.

It is a civic report card we can hold up with pride.

A clear majority of voters thought the election was important for the state (64 per cent) and relevant (54 per cent) and a narrow plurality felt it was clear in what was being said (48 per cent).

Of course, there is a natural cynicism held by the community in respect of any election and this contest didn’t disappoint on that score. Almost three in five people (57 per cent) thought the campaign was the “same old stuff” while only 16 per cent saw it as new and different.

The idea that the campaign was one of the most negative seen has some validity but those who thought political parties were being deceitful were close to matched by voters who felt the contest was honest – 40 per cent had a negative impression while 29 percent saw the content positively.

There were significant minorities for assessing the campaign as engaging, interesting and memorable – overshadowed by conclusions assessing the election as not engaging, boring and forgettable but not by that much.

People might say a finding more people had negative impressions means we can dismiss the campaign as just another Saturday night at the rodeo.

However, seasoned observers of elections can find some nuggets of valuable ore in the opinion survey pan.

For instance, for many, voting was inspired by the candidate or party being picked – a finding that might surprise in these cynical times. “Overwhelmingly, electors who cast a formal vote did so in support of a specific party or candidate (78 per cent), even more so among Labor voters (90 per cent) but fewer among supporters of the Greens (68 per cent) and other minor parties and independents (58 per cent),” the JWS report said.

“Few mounted a protest vote (19 per cent) against another party or candidate, but this voting behaviour was most common among those who voted for independents and minor parties (excluding the Greens) (38 per cent).”

These findings are interesting because of the strength of negative advertising from both Labor and the LNP as well as carpet bombing with anti-ALP material coming from fringe players such as Clive Palmer and the odd shadowy Canberra-based outfit.

The biggest impact of negative advertising and messaging was felt at the edges of the political contest with 26 per cent of Greens voters and 38 per cent of those who chose one of the “others” on the ballot making their choice based on what they didn’t like.

Elsewhere in the survey, the roadmap for the Palaszczuk victory can be easily found. The top of mind key issues were the economy, jobs and cost of living (24 per cent) followed by the COVID-19 pandemic (15 per cent) and the policy on the state borders.

People might say this is counter to what was said during and just after the campaign – that the government won because of the virus and how it was handled. This was true and remains so but in the minds of voters, the handling of COVID-19 and the future of the economy are joined at the metaphorical hip.

Research carried out for one key union showed people agreed with Palaszczuk’s message that a good health response to the pandemic is also a good economic response – this also showed up in the internal research by the major parties.

“You can’t have one without the other. If you lose control of the virus, then you’ve lost the chance to protect the economy,” Palaszczuk said during her official campaign launch.

One other aspect of the JWS research sure to be noted by the major parties is on when and how people made up their minds on voting.

It’s clear from the survey people liked voting early and not having to queue up on the traditional election day – 36 percent of people made up their minds who to vote for in the early or middle stages of the campaign while less than one in five decided in the last week or on “election day”.

Anyone who thinks elections can return to the old model when everything is geared towards one day is kidding themselves. What we saw in October is the new normal.

Those who like this new way of doing things and made up their minds early were predominantly in older age cohorts – almost three in 10 aged 65 or older and almost a quarter in the 55 to 64 years bracket.

The hardest to swallow finding for the LNP is in the table which records who deserved to win. Labor dominates (57 percent of all voters thought Palaszczuk’s team should prevail) but the LNP is damned by a finding that found one in four of its supporters thought the ALP did most to claim the winner’s prize. That’s known in the trade as “ouch”.

The full JWS post-election report can be found here 

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