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Election chaos and surprises aplenty

By Kathryn Crosby - posted Wednesday, 21 August 2013

This is an odd election.

Called, uncalled, called again. Switching leaders. Three word slogans are bad so here's our three word slogan. We're about a new hope so here's our decade plus old negative dogwhistling and sometimes blatant racism and sexism. No discussion of core issues like health and education but more discussion of the election than I've ever seen in any Australian election in my lifetime. More candidates and more parties then one can really fathom, most born in to existence because they all thought it was going to be a blow out Liberal win with high protest vote and now it's a tight race again.

It's chaos. The gaffe-o-metre should be testament to that.


For a microcosm of the chaos, check out the commentary on the Pirate Party's preferences page about trying to do a deal with the Australian Democrats, but getting the wrong one of the two warring versions of the party. The version of the party without the AEC registration have issued a statement saying they're not running any candidates, but there's Australian Democrats candidates on the ballot.

We're also still 3 weeks out, which means the vast majority of the electorate is only just starting to turn its focus to the election. And they're not hearing much of what they're used to hearing, so you may start hearing some very loud complaints.

A record number of parties and candidates yelling in to every available microphone and community forum about how some other party didn't play by the rules and somebody cut down their corflute signs, occasionally dropping the slogan or approved talking point. The community yelling back 'that's nice, but we're over here'.

Oy, the noise.

We also have a bunch of new pollsters trying to get in the game, and all kinds of numbers bouncing around, adding to the noise. I don't think the poll movements are that big, a point here, a point there… yet there's plenty of people willing to call the election on it. Newspoll (PDF) this week was Labor down and losing: Essential has Labor up and locked back up at 50/50 (or more accurately, Labor 50.1, Liberal 49.9).

In such a chaotic election environment, how anyone can be making predictions is beyond me. Polling in such chaos isn't going to tell you what you need to know. You can probably look at the sharp rise in Rudd's dissatisfied numbers in Newspoll, translate that to the two point drop (which is really pretty small) and say well that's probably that pretty poor performance in the debate. But the numbers alone aren't telling the story.


For some time now various talking heads, for example Insiders' Andrew Catsaris, have been referencing state by state polls, and saying that the mood is different in different parts of the country. Labor will lose seats here and there; possibly pick up seats in Queensland for example. In which case, why is anyone calling anything off national polling data now? Did it suddenly become not-complex and -inconsistent?

And some, like the recent numbers in New England (PDF), need to be thrown out because there was so much shifting in candidates in recent weeks. New England, while on the subject, is another case in point of the chaos. It was Windsor v Torbay, then Windsor v Joyce, then a bunch of meh and no real competition, and in the final iteration it's Rob Taber - Independent endorsed by Windsor v Joyce – Taber's candidacy announced after the poll was done but before it was published.

This kind of chaos and this kind of noise usually means lots of election night surprises. It's going to be one of those nights where a weird preference flow has a Rise Up candidate looking good in some seat in WA, and some independent nobody outside of the electorate has heard of getting a huge primary vote in some previously safe seat in Victoria. There will be three way contests, and the third may not be a Green. Members of Cabinet and Shadow Cabinet may unexpectedly find themselves out of a job while backbencher nobodies of either side increase their margin.

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About the Author

Kathryn Crosby is a political and communication strategist with experience on the left, right, and centre including 14 months as the principal strategist for the Australian Democrats. A member of the International Association of Political Consultants when actively consulting, she is currently on sabbatical working on a book and splitting her time between Sydney and Jerusalem. Find her on twitter at @ktxby.

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