With local candidates, there’s always a snag
Local candidates are the political equivalent of sausages – we might accept they are part of the democratic process, but we don’t really want to know what goes into making them.
And like sausages, local candidates come in all shapes and forms, from the top-shelf gourmet that you would be happy to eat at a Hat restaurant to a sad sack of something that reeks of fat and sawdust.
But in an era of presidential politics, do local candidates really matter? To stretch the sausage metaphor to breaking point, it really depends on what they’re made of, how they’re cooked and what else they are served with.
Have a look at the following table of results around the November 2007 election.
* actual vote
** final public poll before election
It’s a bit complicated, but a neat way of summarising the range of factors that go into deciding a local seat.
Primary vote: The number of people that put the Party first – genuine wisdom that no one can win an election with less than 40 per cent of the vote. If you are below this point, then you could have Nelson Mandela door-knocking and it would still be a waste of time.
Two party preferred: This is dependent on the ability of your party officials to broker alliances with other parties; and then the ability of those partners to deliver (a solid vote) and (b) the preference flow promised – which is ultimately decided by voters’ preparedness to follow the how to vote cards thrust at them as they enter the ballot box.
Preferred PM: With Presidential campaigns, debates and branding, leaders matter. Strong leaders will have higher support than their party, great leaders will actually embody their party’s values. When Bob Hawke was at his peak, local candidates were encouraged to stay in the shadows.
Party ID: The simple question ‘Regardless of who you intend to vote for, which party do you feel closest to?’, is effectively a gauge of a Party’s ‘brand’. Successful leaders can shift brand – Howard had started moving a base of traditional Labor voters into Liberal ID until he over-reached on WorkChoices. Party ID is still the main indicator of how a party will perform on election day.
Redistributions: Shifting demographics play a big role as the shape of electorates and the profile of populations change. One of the big factors in John Howard’s demise was actually that Bennelong has been shifting into a lower socio-demographic for a decade; many pundits actually think his quality as a high-profile local member was the only reason it remained Liberal as long as it did.
Local Factors: And then there is the local contest, the ground warfare in the 20 or so voting booths that collect the bits of paper that determine the seats that determine the government of the nation. All sorts of local factors, debates and controversies can cut through this white noise. When Ross Cameron lost Parramatta in 2004, every other indicator was going swimmingly for the Libs; it was just that he decided to confess publicly to infidelity a few months out from the poll.
In short, every mix of factors, in every election, in every electorate will be slightly different.
But clearly, local candidates can make a difference, depending on how they are, eh, processed.
The gourmet duck and pistachio: The celebrity candidate who is known for things other than their sausage-ness. Maxine McKew was a gourmet, she had a profile, a following and an immediate point of connection with locals which few candidates possess. After all, she had been on telly. When taking on a big guns, a gourmet candidate can make a difference. But sometimes they carry baggage as well, especially when they have a back-catalogue.
The organic local produce: Made from the region’s finest. A well made organic local can be a real asset, reinforcing their party’s appeal by looking exactly like the voters they are targeting. Good locals can enhance a demographic shift and reinforce a Party’s campaign pitch. Jackie Kelly, the trackie-wearing Penrith mum, was a great example of this snag.
The perennial sizzler: Another asset, always on the barbie, given away for free at sporting events, street stalls or volunteer drives. Essential in marshaling the troops who hand out on election days. Because people’s expectations are low, all they really need is bread and sauce and people seem satisfied. Once they know how to set up the grill, they can keep a seat safe for decades. For an example look no further than Labor’s John Murphy, an MP for 12 years, few people would have ever heard of him. Unless they live in Lowe – where they are likely to have eaten a sausage served by him.
The six in a bunch: Bland thin sausages, indistinguishable from the others in the bunch. Tend to have nice dental work and a background in local government. Mere vehicles for the national campaigns; currently clustered on the Liberal front bench.
The chippati: Young political hacks who find a way of standing for public office, often before reaching puberty. Usually in impossible seats and merely running for the experience or CV. But beware, from little sausages, big things can grow, as king chippati Paul Keating showed when he won Blaxland at the age of 25.
The exploding ball of hot fat: These are the dangerous ones, which if they have not been carefully pricked and tended to can blow up in the cook’s face, causing untold damage. They tend to have strange interests in automatic weapons or very particular views on race relations. Once they catch fire, parties have to decide whether to serve them raw or take them off the barbie altogether. If there is any consolation, these local candidates nearly always do make a difference.
Read all about it
Up to the minute Twitter chatter
The latest and greatest
Good morning Punchers. After four years of excellent fun and great conversation, this is the final post…
I have had some close calls, one that involved what looked to me like an AK47 pointed my way, followed…
In a world in which there are still people who subscribe to the vile notion that certain victims of sexual…