The pre-election debates only go so far in helping us understand the way in which undecided voters might vote on September 7.
We need to remove some of the in-built biases which these sorts of events tend to manifest in order to get a clearer picture of what marginal voters might be thinking.
We can follow reactions from voters who follow the election debates rather than pre-determined priorities.
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There appear to be three distinct patterns that represent 20% of the electorate that are still to make up their mind at the time that they walk into the polling booth and may very well determine the outcome in a week’s time.
I have characterised these “undecided” voters into three categories:
NOTs – those who are determined not to vote for any the major parties because “None Of Them” are addressing their local concerns.
UNDIES – those genuinely undecided because their leaders of choice – Turnbull and Gillard – have been removed and they are still very upset about it
Way back in 1952, the UNIVAC correctly predicted the defeat of Adlai Stevenson by a NATO commander, Dwight Eisenhower.
This led noted science fiction writer Isaac Asimov to write a short story called Franchise about an “electronic democracy” where the computer Multivac selects a single person to answer a number of questions. Multivac will then use the answers and other data to determine what the results of an election would be, avoiding the need for an actual election to be held.
The story centres on Norman Muller, the man chosen as “Voter of the Year” in the 2008 US presidential election. Although the law requires him to accept the dubious honour, he is not sure that he wants the responsibility of representing the entire electorate, worrying that the result will be unfavourable and he will be blamed.
However, after “voting”, he is very proud that the citizens of the United
States had, through him, “exercised once again their free, untrammelled franchise” – a statement that is somewhat ironic as the citizens did not actually get to vote.
The assumption that computers can remove the burden of having to actually get people to tune in, turn up and tick the boxes leads us back to the other election on September 7. Every day we are advised by the commentarial that Tony has won and the two-party polls have given us the result already.
An entirely different but underrepresented assessment emerges from a close examination of the actions of those who participated in the Sky News forums and the audience for those events.
First off, it is interesting to compare the response bias issues. A comparison of the assessments of “who won and who lost” in the “debates” indicates a massive correlation for their determination based upon how they said they voted at the last election. Less than one in five approached their assessment without such locked-in reactions to the event.
Next, it is possible to watch the “worm”, as shown on Channel 10, based upon the Morgan Reactor to see that the average of all those recording a preference was generally unresponsive to what was going on. This is because the locked on voters for the major parties swung their vote in favour of their preferred winner before waiting to listen to their actual argument.
Only by removing these prejudgements from consideration is it possible to see what the remaining “undecideds” are actually thinking about in what is being shown in response to audience questions. There are three significant drivers of elector concerns that then appear:
1. Emotional responses to single issue concerns – e.g. marriage equality – that transcend traditional party lines.
2. Economic responses to outcomes of the election – e.g. jobs and growth – which suggest benefits to be gained by support for candidates.
3. Education, health or housing issues that relate to lifestyle preferences – Gonski, NDIS – which the major parties have already neutered as issues by agreeing with each other’s position.
Removing these “campaigned” questions from the analysis leaves the “Ian” and “Julie” type questions about such characters as “the blokes from Penrith” and “the pretty little lady lawyer on the North Shore earning a hundred grand” to identify elements of concern to the marginal electorates.
Following the reaction of the NOTs as the questions are asked and avoided by “our finest men” (Peter Seeger), we see that on issues that have locked-in party patterns, there is a slight bias towards Rudd that may yet be significant.
People who say they were undecided before the debates and remain undecided afterwards are slightly more oriented to Abbott on the economy and Rudd on PPL (paid parental leave) and social issues.
Dr Colin Benjamin OAM is the chairman of Cultural Infusion Ltd and director general of the Life: ‘Be in it’ Australia charity.