The curse of the electoral cycle

When politicians make pronouncements, how do you know whether they are spin or genuinely believed?  When they do spin a story it’s their veracity that is called into question.  But when they seem genuinely to believe what they’re saying, it’s their judgement that is questionable.  Take as an example Tony Abbott’s weekend statement about the nature of the Coalition’s contemporary predicament.  He said "I would just caution any of my colleagues against thinking that there is a quick fix or a magic bullet for the poll difficulties that we have.....the problem wasn't Brendan, and it's not Malcolm, it's not even us. The problem is the electoral cycle." Christopher Pyne echoed this in his Channel Nine interview with Laurie Oakes when he said: "A year ago people thought that Brendan Nelson was the problem, a year later they think Malcolm Turnbull is the problem; but the problem is not the leadership, the problem is the electoral cycle."  When two Coalition members say virtually the same thing within a day or two, it suggests the spin doctors have had a hand.  But if they really believe it, the more likely diagnosis is a delusional state, a crippling political malady. [more]

So is this an attempt to convince the public that the prime problem for the Coalition is not its leadership, or even what it’s doing or not doing; it’s the electoral cycle, an inescapable cycle that inflicts damage on the electoral prospects of a recently defeated political party no matter what it does or says?  Or do they really believe what they say?

There’s no question that after a substantial period in power political parties become ‘tired’, short on new ideas, complacent, especially if the economy seems to be going well, and perhaps lazy.  The time taken to get to that point varies, and in the case of the Howard Government extended over four terms and almost twelve years.  It’s also true that the people become tired of a government or a leader and look for a change.  Again the time taken for the people to tire varies, and even when they do, they will change a government only when a viable alternative is available.  So if the electoral cycle does have an influence, how much, and when, varies. 

Aristotle made an interesting observation about this on Oz Election Forums on Monday.  “Both Tony Abbott and Christopher Pyne are implying that a new government can expect to continue receiving the support of the electorate at this point in the electoral cycle, just short of 2 years into its term, and the Opposition would find it difficult to make much headway.  On the surface this seems a reasonable explanation for the Coalition's electoral position.  However, there is no evidence to support this conclusion.  At the same point in the electoral cycle, comparing the Rudd Government (2007+) to the first Howard Government (1996-1998), on voting intentions, leaders' satisfaction ratings or better Prime Minister ratings, Kevin Rudd and his Government are completely dominant.  In fact, compared with all previous Governments since the second Hawke Government (1984-1987), at the same point in each term, the Rudd Government is the standout performer.”  Aristotle goes on to support this view with an array of figures.  The piece is well worth a read.

Gerard Henderson, executive director of The Sydney Institute, also invokes the electoral cycle as a factor in his piece in today’s SMH, Given the climate, Turnbull's the right man for the job when he concludes “That's about all that can be done until, in time, the electoral cycle turns. As it invariably does.”   But he has the good sense to preface this assertion with: “In the short term the Liberals, under Turnbull's leadership, have little alternative but to advance good policy. There is much that can be said about small business including farmers, rising youth unemployment and the likely increase in power generation costs under a carbon reduction scheme that should appeal to the Opposition's core support base.”

So what are Abbott and Pyne really saying?  And do they actually believe it?

If it’s just old fashioned spin, either to convince the public that there’s nothing much the Coalition can do until ‘the electoral cycle turns’, or to salve the raw emotions of a dismayed dysfunctional party, it may not do much permanent damage to its fabric; but if it is a strongly held belief the damage will take much longer to repair.

Can anyone believe that ‘the problem wasn’t Brendan’?  Although in retrospect many will have formed the view that he did a better job and would be more acceptable than Turnbull, who would rate his performance as satisfactory?  Although consultative, as he won his post by only three votes, he never had the unqualified support of his colleagues.  His antics in parliament were ridiculous, his stunts such as the 5c cut in petrol excise silly, his policy initiation wanting, and his political judgement, especially in calling a leadership spill to get Turnbull off his back, suspect.  Any prospect he might have had in reviving his party was fiercely white-anted by Turnbull from day one.  Nobody outside the Liberal Party believes that ‘the problem wasn’t Brendan’.

Can anyone accept that ‘the problem’s not Malcolm’?  This is even more preposterous.  He too began with a majority of just four but had much more media support than Nelson ever did – the media decided, almost from day one, that Nelson would not succeed.  Turnbull has shown repeatedly that he lacks political judgement, nous and commonsense, a characteristic that reached a dizzy height at the climax of the OzCar affair.   And it continued with ‘I cannot lead a party that has no contribution to make to the ETS’, a brave even commendable position but imprudent for a leader to utter publically.  And as if that hadn’t angered his party room enough, he was soon on the airwaves again adding a backhander to the ‘anonymous smart-arses’ in his party.  Apart from his abysmal political acumen, his policy cupboard is bare and showing no sign of being restocked, and he has been ruthlessly opportunistic and disingenuous in his public rhetoric.  He has now lost authority in his party, and the Nationals treat him with disdain.  He has been a dismal failure and a disappointment to the voting public, even Liberal Party supporters, as evidenced by continual awful polling for over a year, now worse than Nelson’s.  How on earth can Abbott or Pyne seriously expect anyone other than blind Turnbull supporters to believe ‘the problem’s not Malcolm’?  Certainly most political journalists have written him off, although some expect him to hang around because of the paucity of alternatives.  Even Gerard Henderson sees him only as the best of an indifferent bunch.

But perhaps Abbott’s most unbelievable claim was that ‘it's not even us’.  What is it that allows an experienced politician to make such an outrageously inaccurate, such a manifestly ludicrous statement?  So it’s not the Coalition, or the Liberal Party, or the Nationals that are responsible for the parlous state of the Opposition.  Unbelievable!  It’s not its lack of policy initiatives, it’s not its inability to establish a policy position on such important issues as the ETS; it’s not its opportunistic opposition to almost everything the Government does; it’s not the deceptive spin it perpetuates day after day through which the public clearly sees; it’s not its complicity in the Godwin Grech affair and its abortive attempts to bring down the PM and the Treasurer, which the voters disapproved so pointedly; it’s not the disarray the Coalition is in, it’s not the public discord on display over and again; it’s not anything the Coalition is doing or not doing, not anything it is saying or not saying – no, it’s  the electoral cycle – that’s the problem.   A problem not amenable to Coalition intervention, one not capable of remedy, one out of the hands of this blameless body so cruelly suffering the curse of the electoral cycle, a contagion that comes with electoral defeat and which dissipates not by virtue of anything the Coalition can do, but only with the inexorable passage of time.  So never mind leadership, never mind creating good policy, just wait patiently for the electoral cycle to move to its next phase – the restoration of the Coalition to its rightful place at the centre of power.

Belief in the primacy of the curse of the electoral cycle afflicts the delusional.  If there is a cure, it will take lots of time, new thinking, new ideas, new leadership, new people.  But will the Coalition take it?

What do you think?


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Bushfire Bill

13/10/2009Just reading the tea leaves and then read your post. This is the Liberals giving up. One of Aristotle's psephy posts showed that the Labor lead is real and substantial. They are operating off a base several per cent higher than at the lat election. Until now I'd assumed there would be a "narrowing" at election time. But now I'm not so sure. It could be a Coalition wipeout. It seems they know it, too. This busniess about the "electoral cycle" is their way of calming the rusted-ons in the face of the awful defeat that's coming.


13/10/2009AA your final para hits the nail on the head " we will wait until the electorate wakes up from its dreamstate",seams to be the order of the day, Nov 2007 was all a mistake. History shows us Frazer wanted everyone just reading the sports page, Howard back to the 50t's picket fence and a Holden in the drive. Neither had any policies to present just spin now but rhetoric back then. This lot come from the same mould and it should take another election 20+ seats lost before it sinks in if the poll trend continues, leaving a few husks/hacks and relics to occupy the opposition benches. As a well know Liberal said many times "cycle"(use any comment)in a pigs ar***" which is where we find them today.

Acerbic Conehead

14/10/2009AA, I got done for drink driving and I'm up in court tomorrow. I had been out for a quiet drink - just one, mind you. Then my four mates came in and I shouted each of them a drink. In turn, they reciprocated and made me join in. I got into the car, was breathalysed just up the road, and the rest is history. I couldn't say no - I mean, how good is a friend if he doesn't finish the round and join in the fun? Do you think the judge will go along with that one?

Ad astra reply

14/10/2009BB Your take on Abbott’s statement is eminently plausible. His attribution of the present predicament of the Coalition to ‘the electoral cycle’ is code for saying ‘there’s nothing we can do about it – we just have to wait for the inevitable reversal of the cycle’. This is entirely consistent with his oft-repeated argument that the defeat of the Howard Government (such a ‘good’ government) was an awful mistake made by a sleepwalking electorate that will eventually wake up to realize what a disastrous mistake it has made electing a fraudulent Prime Minister and a counterfeit Government. Having reached that pivotal point in the electoral cycle when the scales have fallen from their eyes, they will turn to those they can really trust to run the country properly, just as John Howard did for twelve glorious years. Bilko I see you express the same sentiment. The ‘great electoral awakening’ should be a sight to see. But as you say, the ‘great Coalition awakening’, which might occur only with a further substantial loss of seats, is a prerequisite to any electoral awakening. Acerbic Conehead Nice analogy – the Coalition argument is no more cogent.

Lyn 1

14/10/2009Hi Ad Another excellent quality column Ad. (it will take lots of time, new thinking, new ideas, new leadership, new people. But will the Coalition take it? No Ad the Coalition cannot take take it we have proof in their performance. The born to rule Liberals just do not get it. The part I hate is the down and out bare faced lies and dishonesty, and they can't lie convincingly. I am quite sure the electorate is listening. Abbott saying the electorate is sleepwalking pathetic. Also we have Mr 18% Turnbull still running around saying " we will win the next election" Oh! Please. Brendan Nelson's performance was ridiculous Ad, screaming out loud in Question time, the stupid petrol stunt was one of many. I share Bushire Bill's words "Next election a Coalition wipeout". Below is a very entertaining piece by Alan Ramsay Ad :- What do you think Howard's cronies should join him in the wilderness Alan Ramsey November 26, 2007 We have our country back. John Howard's Australia died with his government on Saturday night. So did the political careers of a whole raft of Coalition MPs. The final casualty list depends on how the count concludes in a few undecided seats, Howard's among them. It couldn't be more exquisite than that the Labor iceberg should take our outgoing prime minister down, too. Nobody is more deserving of oblivion. And where was the carnage greatest, despite all that blarney from Howard in the campaign's dying days that "I can still win"? Labor made gains everywhere, but the Liberal bloodbath in NSW and Queensland alone gave Kevin Rudd the 16 Coalition seats (and more) he needed to put Labor into office federally and complete the Labor sweep in every state and territory. Nine Labor governments in total. We've not seen its like before. There was a lot of confected guff yesterday from some of his colleagues who survived about what a "great" prime minister Howard had been, even the "greatest" after Menzies, the Liberals' deified founder. Yet the reality is Howard's enduring legacy is the utter destruction of the party to which he professed, in his election night concession of defeat, to "owe" everything. All those state and territory Labor governments now in office, with the exception of NSW, came to power under Howard's watch as prime minister. Think about that. Howard saw the demise of every Liberal or Coalition government in every Australian capital except Sydney as he plunged onwards through four Coalition victories federally across the better part of 12 years. Now his government joins them all in the cemetery. Yet this, we're told, is a "great" prime minister, the national head of the Liberal Party and the senior partner for almost 60 years in what remains of the non-Labor Coalition. Such is the reality of Howard's "greatness". As for this last election, the one that kills Howard off politically, along with the nastiest, meanest, most miserable, self-absorbed Commonwealth government to blight Australia in living memory, Rudd out-campaigned him, with discipline and immense energy, like Howard has never previously been thrashed in his 33 years in political life. And for many of us, as Howard and his strategists pulled on every ugly negative they could come up with, not just in these past six weeks but over the past year, it was a delight to see him flounder so badly and fail so completely. All that remains to sweep him out of sight is to get rid of the more obscene remnants of his governance in the months ahead. Peter Costello, one of those who went through the ritual yesterday of "talking up" the selfish little man who never understood when it was the right time to get out, has been smart enough to understand he is not going to hang about and try and resurrect the wreck that Howard leaves behind. Who could blame him? Now, while Costello sits on the backbench for three years, honouring his commitment to his voters in his Melbourne seat, what should happen is those other political misfits like Alexander Downer, Philip Ruddock and Tony Abbott should think about another life outside politics. None are part of the Liberals' future. For God's sake, go and make our Christmas complete. .

Ad astra reply

14/10/2009Lyn 1 Thank you for the Alan Ramsey post-election piece; he certainly didn’t mince his words, correctly sheeting home most responsibility for the loss to Howard. Of those who Ramsey suggested should quit, Ruddock hangs on and recently indicated his intention to re-nominate. Abbott probably feels he has more to give, but if he’s relying on the electoral cycle turning around eventually, he’ll be in for a long wait, as BB predicts. I was interested to re-read [i]Dangerous and dishonest predictions[/i]. Nothing the Coalition has done since March has changed the validity of that piece. As you correctly point out, the electorate, far from sleepwalking, is wide awake and can see clearly the lies, the disingenuousness, and the inconsistency of the Coalition. Even this week, seeking to make political capital out of the asylum seeker issue, it has trotted out Ruddock with his unsubstantiated assertion that 10,000 are in ‘the pipeline’, Downer with his angry insistence that the Pacific Solution was the correct answer, Sharman Stone insisting that the Rudd Government’s ‘softer’ policy, including the end to Temporary Protection Visas, were the reasons behind the increase in arrivals, but refusing to say whether the Coalition would reinstate them, Petro Georgiou contradicting her, and a backbencher saying that the Coalition should reintroduce those measures. What is the public to make out of that? On the other hand Rudd says simply that his Government will stick to its policy of being tough on people smugglers but humane in its treatment of asylum seekers. When politicians fly in the face of known facts and commonsense, everyone except their rusted-on supporters laugh at them, ignore what they say, and mark them down. The opinion polls have shown this time and again. Yet the Coalition persists with its worn-out mantras. I imagine it’s because they have nothing else to say.


14/10/2009Perhaps another piece of the 'electoral cycle' code is the perceived inevitability of governmental stuff-up. This reasoning would go along the lines of, 'all governments eventually encounter a crisis which they manage poorly as a result of which one of our gotcha beat-ups will stick and have electoral consequences'. The problem for the Opposition, and the Interim Opposition Leader in particular, is that they have displayed such atrociously poor judgement in pursuing what they have perceived as such opportunities. I don't think it's necessarily helpful to speculate about whether or not this is the worst Opposition in living memory, maybe because my recollection of the Peacock, Howard, Peacock, Hewson, Downer period is coloured by a then-embraced but now-disavowed shadenfraude. However it was interesting to me that the Liberal Whip was recently moved to call for unity, and that this is followed by these comments by Abbott and Pyne. Perhaps these comments are nothing more than an attempt to placate the marginal seat holders.

Ad astra reply

14/10/2009Lyn 1 Apropos of my comments about Ruddock, you might be interested in Guy Rundle's piece in today's [i]Crikey: Rudd, Ruddock and the deep, dark currents of fear[/i] Rewi Yes, any government can make a monumental stuff-up; that looks to be what’s needed to give the Coalition any chance at a future election. So far the Rudd Government has been pretty sure-footed. What Abbott seemed to be saying was twofold; first we’re OK, it’s not us, it’s the wretched electoral cycle, and second, there’s nothing we can do – we just have to wait for the electoral cycle to turn, as it will some day. Whether Abbott will be still in parliament to see that day is moot. Any marginal seat-holders silly enough to be placated by Abbott will need to resign themselves to losing their seats next time, and sometime in the distant future, regaining them – a rather miserable prospect. The sensible ones will spend a lot of time in their electorates serving their constituents hoping that will make up for the mess the Coalition is in federally.


14/10/2009Abbott, Pyne and Henderson all use the phrase "electoral cycle", but it is not sufficiently explicit. What they fail to point out that the Coalition is actually trying to ride a UNIcycle, which is a far more difficult machine to master. A unicycle is inherently unstable, even when travelling in the desired direction. Unicycles wobble, and the riders often fall off. Sometimes unicycles even go backwards. But they are quite suitable for clowns.

Ad astra reply

14/10/2009ozymandias That's a nice metaphor for the Coalition - 'The Unicycle Riders' Lyn 1 I noticed on [i]The Poll Bludger[/i] today Andrew's quote of a Joe Hockey pearl: [quote]“The Federal Government is spending money on a scale that we had never seen before and it is having a profound impact on communities that is detrimental in many cases …” At which point the interviewer cut in: “But an impact that is keeping us out of recession.” Hockey: “Well, no it isn’t, because we have not gone into recession.” [/quote]. If you’re looking for Hockey gobbledegook that’s about as good as it gets.

Lyn 1

14/10/2009Hi Ad Thankyou so much for the link very intteresting. Hockey gobbledegook unbelievable isn't it, I am just going to visit The Poll Bludger now.


14/10/2009Aa - adding to your comment at Possum's re Lowy poll. -60% of respondents thought Climate Change a more urgent problem than 12 months ago [or similar to that] 34% thought 'no change', whatever that means. And ONLY 6% thought it was "less urgent". -Although climate change as such had dropped to 69% rating it as a major issue both "water" and 'the environment' scored in the 80% range. 3 related issues. Given all the [appropriate] media noise in the last year or so re the GFC I reckon climate change held up well as an issue of major import and would be surprised if it didn't start bubbling up to the forefront again in the next few months [fire season, Copenhagen, parliamentary shenanigans].

Ad astra reply

14/10/2009fred Thank you for the additional data. I agree that climate change is more important than represented in the media, which has made such a superficial appraisal of the Lowy poll. That is why I've suggested to Possum that he do a proper analysis. I hope he does before the debate in the House next week. I think you're right - it's not surprising the economic matters rated highly and displaced climate change, which however still rates as a very important issue.

Bushfire Bill

15/10/2009Dude, why don't you go somewhere else and troll your wares? AA, are you able to delete posts? The one above is a prime candidate. DO NOT OPEN THE LINK, ANYONE.


15/10/2009I very much enjoyed this, AA. Lovely. BB, I'm not about to open the link you're warning against, but presumably you have. What's the story, in polite terms? Today sees continued confusion amongst the Opposition about how to respond to asylum seekers arriving by boat.

Ad astra reply

15/10/2009BB Offending post deleted.

Ad astra reply

15/10/2009monica I'm glad you enjoyed it. Tomorrow i'll post [i]The folly of resurrecting the dead[/i], which deals with the asylum seeker issue.
How many Rabbits do I have if I have 3 Oranges?