Labor and LNP avoided big issues in campaign

There are always more election campaigns available than it is possible to run. For starters there is the negative campaign and the positive campaign.

Then there are almost endless variations on those. There is the small target strategy, looking fetching on both the arm of the negative campaign (say John Howard in 1996), or the positive campaign (Kevin Rudd 2007).

And there is the large target campaign: like Donald Trump’s impossibly large target strategy, or John Hewson’s impossibly honest GST – and sometimes it even works.

At times campaigns address real issues facing electors, and at other times they are genteel conversations about things that don’t matter much at all: as everyone ignores the bear in the corner.

This Queensland election was pretty much in the last category. There was a little negative campaigning, but compared to what we’ve seen in previous campaigns this was mild. I suspect that both sides feared negative campaigning would rouse the One Nation beast, which would gobble their campaigns up.

The LNP were upbeat in their advertising, until they hit on electricity prices in the last week. Labor ran negative from the beginning, equating Nicholls alternately with Campbell Newman, or Pauline Hanson, but the sound track was subdued.

By and large, neither side addressed a multiplicity of issues that might have made a difference to the state, apart from Adani.

And I’m pretty sure that Adani was not meant to be part of the conversation, but the Greens insisted, probably picking up a seat as a result and creating mayhem for the majors in a slew of others.

Reading the entrails of our exit poll, not a lot changed between the end of the campaign and the beginning, except for a sharp decline in the standing of Tim Nicholls. Pace everything else, this must have been the determining factor.

Nicholls started the campaign in touch with Palaszczuk. Her approval rating was -15% in our first poll, and his was -27%. In our second poll she had improved marginally to -9%, but he had declined to -41%.

(For comparison Donald Trump currently has a -19% approval rating on the same basis, according to Gallup).

This was mostly a result of a change in the attitude of LNP voters with a 17 percentage point drop in Nicholl’s approval rating from 57% to 40%, and an almost equal increase in his disapproval rating from 12% to 28%. There was also a significant decrease in approval amongst One Nation voters.

While the impact on preferred premier status was nowhere near as great (41% down to 38%), it still meant that Labor’s negative campaign had worked.

The weakness in the public perception of Tim Nicholls meant that while Adani should have wedged both him and Labor, it only seemed to wedge him.

Both sides supported Adani, but Palaszczuk’s decision to veto the loan somehow let her off the hook with city voters, while keeping her sweet enough with regional ones.

Perhaps if Nicholls had talked to voters about some of the other issues they were interested in he could have done better. Or if Palaszczuk had, she might already have declared victory.

These issues were: jobs, renewable energy and power prices; debt; infrastructure; size and cost of the public service; and unions.

The answers are complex, most with negatives for both sides and with voters being split on what they are.

So jobs can be a product of new mines, or hiring “front line public servants”. Electors love renewable energy, at the same time that they hate high power prices, but don’t understand the two are linked.

Infrastructure requires capital, but both sides had sworn-off privatisation, and they had the same problem with debt. So repayments had to be incremental, and in the indeterminate future.

There are unions the public doesn’t like, such as the CFMEU, but picking a fight with unions might have brought all of them out, and some of them are very cuddly, particularly those to do with health and education.

In the end the only other issue that appears to have made an impact across a broad range of electorates was the possible relationship of a minority government with One Nation.

Our research suggests this didn’t change many votes at all, but it certainly lit-up the Greens and Labor bases. Because of his poor standing it was more a problem for Nicholls than Palaszczuk. Many believed her promise she would go into opposition rather than deal, compared to his undertaking to treat with whatever he might be given.

Newman became less of a factor as the election progressed. At the beginning he had 152 mentions out of 341 responses. By the end it was 75 out of 261. But Nicholls couldn’t make up the difference.

It’s rare that leaders make the difference, but if you don’t run hard on issues, personality is all voters have to judge you by.

This article was first published in an edited version by the Courier Mail.