The mood altering effect of the new paradigm
As a social researcher, you always try to keep your mind open and your ears alert to any slightly change in public sentiment.
While it’s rare to hear anything new when you are listening to voters talk about politics, you have to allow yourself the opportunity to be surprised.
The week after Labor secured the necessary support to form government, we were in field conducting research for our bi-annual Mind & Mood report.
Unlike conventional focus group work, we bring together people of the same age and gender who are close friends.
We don’t have any prepared questions but invite them to speak on their own terms about whatever has occupied time, thought and conversation over the last four weeks. (Our work is purely qualitative and while the mood of the groups we listen to is illustrative of broader trends, extensive quantitative work has to be done to complement the findings.)
Going into this fieldwork I wondered what the verdict would be about the extraordinary election and post election period. Would people be angry? Excited? Anxious? Bored? Would it even come up as a topic of conversation? It was football finals week mind you …
While there were the predictable gripes about politics and politicians aired in these groups, there were three insights we took from the fieldwork that proved surprising, or at least interesting.
The first was that there was little evidence people were dead against going back to the polls.
If forced to make an educated guess prior to the fieldwork, I would have assumed that Australians were over politics and were relieved to be free to focus on football and forthcoming holidays. To some extent that was true.
Certainly the drawn out reasoning of the Independents and Mr. Oakeshott’s famous 17 minute speech had worn their patience thin. That being said, the sentiment was that if the ‘new paradigm’ was faltering then a new election was inevitable and a way to achieve some certainty.
As one voter put it: “The sooner something gets sorted out in another election the better. At least we will get something that is definite”. Another voter, while frustrated at the ‘drawn out election’ nevertheless felt insecure about a government “elected by only half the population”. “I know it costs money to go back to the polls but I think we should do it”, she said.
The next valuable insight was that while consumers were worried about the ‘instability’ of the new political arrangements, they were just as worried about the possibility that the Federal Government would be hamstrung and inactive.
Would this new form of government find decision making, particularly on important and contentious issues, difficult given the amount of negotiation required? Consider a few of the following comments made in our fieldwork on this question:
Man 1: It’s a worry what’s going to happen. What damage is going to be done or more likely what isn’t going to get done? What direction are we going in or not going in?
Man 2: It might be the case of what is not going to be done because no one will be game enough to test it.
Man 3: They will sit on the fence.
No-one will pass anything for the next few years. They’re too scared. No-one is mentioning anything.
Gillard can just bide her time because she’ll be too scared to do anything. So she’ll do nothing just so she can stay in power.
The final useful insight from the research relates to sentiment about the Prime Minister. In our April Mind & Mood, consumers seemed to hold great expectations for Julia Gillard the deputy PM. They saw her claims to the top job as legitimate.
However there have been a number of blows to her legitimacy since then.
The ousting of Kevin Rudd was still raised by some in our groups. For those who believed Gillard instigated the coup, she was viewed as disloyal and power hungry. For those who believed she was merely a puppet of the ALP’s faceless men, they were disappointed she didn’t show greater strength and independence.
Woman 1: I still think what they did to Kevin Rudd really stunk.
Woman 2: They treated the leader of our country in very, very poor way.
It wasn’t Julia. She was pushed into it. Julia is just a puppet. She is being used. That Shorten guy, he wants the job. He was the instigator.
While there was unease about how she became PM before the election, there were similar concerns about how Julia Gillard became PM after the election, namely by wooing the Independents rather than convincing the majority of the electorate.
It’s Gillard but we didn’t actually vote for her.
She’s had to bend over backwards to get in.
Julia got in because of the Independents. To be honest with the people of Australia we should have another election.
Gillard became PM via a coup, headed a disastrous campaign that resulted in a tied election and weeks of uncertainty and then became PM a second time via a deal.
It all amounts to a somewhat tentative hold on power. And yet the way she manages the job now, her proven capacity to negotiate and communicate outcomes, may well give her leadership the solid foundations it needs.
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