Electorate’s concerns not always what the pollies want to hear

In the next month we will have a flood of announcements including regional barriers to economic migration, education agreements and finally the date of the election.

The political commentariat want this to be seen as a presidential contest with a series of preliminary bouts between ministers and their shadows to feed their desperate desire to maintain audience interest and advertising revenues.

For small business owners the top priorities are managing the economy, improving health services and hospitals and open and honest government.

Morgan research interviewed more than 85,000 people in their homes over the last years of the Gillard government on a set of issues of most importance to respondents.

Why is this so? What we are going to see is a break up of the GAU – i.e. a monochrome Great Aussie Uninterested transformed into the rainbow range of FAC – the Flood of Angry Campaigners pushing political barrows that maximise interest in the most marginal seats across the nation and seek preferences above the line in the race to grab the balance of power in the next Senate.

What business will not have is last year’s sense of certainty of the outcome of the election we all want to have had. In particular, the struggle over cuts in taxes, cuts in the cost of boat people and cuts in courtesy will not be known until the third seat in the Senate is finalised as the nation’s Chrissie present.

We will see the flurry of government ads replaced with an avalanche of party political advertising that will crowd out commercials and drive us to distraction from the realities of European recessions, a managed collapse of the US bond market and the confusion of a volatile gold market.

Consumer confidence, like business confidence, will be down from the previous year reflecting the changing expectations of a number of groups of electors who are trying to work out the implications of a 50:50 two-party result in what is not really a two-horse race.

Morgan surveys that asked electors to indicate their three highest hopes, rewards and opportunities (the Abbott slogan) and expectations for issues related to jobs and growth (the Swan song) over the past couple of years indicate a much more fractured reality that suggests the issues facing the electorate will not be clear until the result of the poll that counts is out.

The significant finding is that there are a high set of common priorities between self-employed, those with unionists in the home and the two major parties on health and managing the economy; with the Greens’ environment-focused demands for attacks on business and high tax strategies being the one marching to an anti-coal industry development drum, especially in Queensland.

Gillard and Milne’s focus on improving education appears to address the needs of younger households whilst older households are addressing job security and tax reductions.

Middle Australia is likely to be more concerned with the end of the mining boom, slowdown in China, instability in the muddle-east and European austerity issues and the needs of families outside of the capital cities.

Overall, the highest priority was improving health services and hospitals followed by managing the economy and open and honest government.

For Labor voters, the highest priorities were improving health and hospital services, education and managing the economy.

For Liberal and National Party voters, managing the economy came ahead of improving health services and reducing the taxes you and your family have to pay.

Unsurprisingly, for the Greens, the top issue remains global warming and climate change followed by health and education. This may explain the drop in the Greens primary vote that is flowing back to Rudd as he seeks to reclaim his cut the taxes, turn on the attack on economic migrants, fiscal responsibility and disability care mantra.

For those rejecting all the major parties (“WinMyVoters”) the priorities are improved health services and hospitals, open and honest government and meeting the needs of families.

Of particular interest are the priorities of those upper income households with a union member in the home as against the non-unionised lower income households in regional Australia. These traditional labour households agree that managing the economy and improving education is at the head of their list followed by health services and hospitals.

Also of interest are the priorities at the bottom of most preference lists, including defence and national security, improving business in Australia, reducing unemployment, and fair workplace and employment regulations that lead to the hung parliament nobody wants to see return.

The pattern of priorities is changing as we head into the election proper, but these patterns over the last couple of years will shape both the nature of the campaign and the outcome.

The sleeper issue for the election proper is likely to be the shortages of doctors and nurses in regional communities, fed by the pressures on families with pre-boomer and boomer parents who feel neglected by the focus on migration and mining tax.

A baker’s dozen of personal priorities (Roy Morgan Research 2013)

Priorities ranked from most important (1) to least important (13)

SEW=self-employed workers; WMV=Win my vote/swinging voters; UAH=unionists at home

Total ALP Lib/Nat Greens SEW WMV UAH
Improving health services 1 1 2 2 2 1 1
Managing the economy 2 3 1 5 1 5 2
Open and honest government 3 6 4 4 3 2 5
Reducing personal taxes 4 7 3 10 4 4 4
Needs of families 5 5 7 7 9 3 7
Global warming/Climate change 6 4 12 1 8 10 6
Improving education 7 2 9 3 5 7 3
Crime, law and order 8 8 5 9 7 6 8
Ageing population 9 9 6 11 10 8 10
Fair workplace/industrial relations 10 10 11 6 11 11 9
Unemployment 11 11 9 8 12 9 11
business conditions 12 12 8 12 6 12 12
Defence/national security 13 13 12 13 13 13 13

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