Our election too will be decided on key battlegrounds
Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott will be closely looking at how Barack Obama won the US election as they lock in their strategy for next year’s federal poll. It is not about winning the most votes as Kim Beazley found out the hard way in the 1998 GST election.
It is about winning enough votes in the right seats.
The key to Obama’s victory over Mitt Romney was winning the battleground states, such as Ohio. Not by big margins but by enough. In Australia, it’s battleground seats that matter. Abbott’s focus is on specific seats in Victoria, NSW, Queensland and Tasmania. Gillard’s targets are in Queensland and Western Australia and to hold what she’s got in Victoria, NSW and Tasmania. The focus will be on less than one-third of the 150 seats being contested.
There’s no benefit on election day for Gillard winning more votes in her electorate of Lalor or other super safe seats.
Abbott doesn’t require more votes in heartland areas such as Kooyong, Higgins and Wannon.
He needs to lure and secure the swing voters, who were John Howard’s “battlers” and Kevin Rudd’s “working families”.
Abbott calls them the “forgotten families” a phrase he road tested yesterday on his sixth visit since the election to the marginal Victorian seat of Deakin.
He’s also been a frequent visitor to the nation’s most marginal seat of Corangamite in southwest Victoria where the Liberals fell short by 771 votes last time. He has been there eight times since that defeat.
The seat has become trickier for Labor after their MP Darren Cheeseman advocated a return to Rudd and said the ALP would be decimated with Gillard as leader.
In the US, battleground voters were bombarded with advertising and phone calls. The ‘Columbus Dispatch’ said Obama and Romney and their VP running mates made a record 86 visits this year to Ohio. All this attention because it has picked the winner of the last 13 elections.
Australia’s equivalents are the bellwether regional NSW seat of Eden-Monaro which since 1969 has been won by the side that forms government, and the western Sydney seat of Lindsay - won by the party of government at every poll since it was created in 1984.
Lindsay was a symbolic seat in Howard’s 1996 victory and he rewarded the MP Jackie Kelly by making her a minister. Abbott’s failure to win it in 2010 was a reason he did not become PM and he’s been there 10 times since then.
Both sides are studying US trends where Obama polled strongly with women and young voters. They’re looking at the impact of the Tea Party and if strong conservatives might help or hinder Abbott.
Vice President Joe Biden campaigned on the phrase “Bin Laden is dead, General Motors is alive”. A reason for Obama winning Ohio was his bail-out for car makers. It is prompting questions whether Liberals, who want to slash taxpayer support for Australia’s car industry, will scare voters worried about manufacturing jobs.
Unlike any election for 70 years, nobody starts 2013 in front.
Labor holds 72 of the 150 lower house seats but Craig Thomson moving to the crossbench reduces its starting number to 71 as it can’t rely on holding his marginal NSW Central Coast seat of Dobell.
Gillard has to gain a net five seats to get the 76-seat majority she failed to secure last time.
The risk for the ALP is that in Victoria and NSW it already holds a large number of seats on small margins that will be vulnerable. In Victoria the Labor vote is at historic highs and it is often overlooked that Gillard won two seats in the 2010 election _ McEwen and LaTrobe _ without which she would not be PM.
Liberals say the switch from Rudd to Gillard before the election was worth four seats in Victoria as it also saved Corangamite and Deakin.
In 2013 Labor’s strategy is to regain the seat of Melbourne lost to the Greens.
While Abbott has a focus on Labor’s marginal seats in Victoria, Gillard has not been anywhere near as active in the Coalition’s most marginal seat of Dunkley on the Mornington Peninsula.
Labor will focus on picking up seats in Queensland and WA where its vote is very low and there are several Coalition seats with small margins that could be stolen, although the PM’s support in these states has been rock bottom.
On Labor’s must-win list are the Queensland seats of Brisbane, Forde, Longman and Herbert and the WA seats of Hasluck, Canning and Swan.
Apart from Lindsay and Eden-Monaro, the Liberals have western Sydney seats of Greenway, Banks and Reid and the central coast seats of Robertson and Dobell in their sights.
Their strategy also includes trying to win the Brisbane seats of Moreton and Petrie and have a crack at Wayne Swan’s marginal seat of Lilley, while they hope to win one or both of the Tasmanian seats of Bass and Braddon.
Earlier this year Labor MPs were in despair about polls which suggested the ALP on track for its worst election result since the 1930s. But recent Newspolls showing a 50-50 deadlock in two party terms has put a spring in their step and started mumblings in Opposition ranks about changing strategy, although some Liberals insist they are still strong in the marginals that matter.
Labor MPs don’t believe they are doing that well but have been buoyed by polling research that has become known as “BC and PC” - before carbon and post carbon.
Gillard promised the polls would improve after the “lived experience” of the carbon tax rather than the scare campaign of the unknown.
The research is a breakdown of Newspolls taken between March last year, just after the announcement Labor would do a deal with the Greens and break an election promise, and August this year, a month after the tax started.
It shows in the BC period, Labor’s primary vote averaged an awful 30 per cent and fell below that level 12 times. The two-party average was a crushing 55 to 45 per cent lead to the Coalition and four times it was a humiliating 58-42 or greater.
But in the PC period, the past two months, Labor’s primary vote has climbed to 36 per cent.
And for Gillard, who needs to convince Labor MPs to stick with her rather than switch to “Kevin Everywhere”, there’s also been a rise in her support as preferred PM from being virtually level with Abbott to an 11-point lead.
Labor can’t hope to attract the votes it needs from the Greens and the Coalition unless it claws back its own base supporters who fled during the BC period.
Insiders believe that’s now happening and next year will see a ding-dong struggle between Gillard and Abbott for the hearts and hip-pockets of the battleground voters.
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