2 January 2005

Labor's election loss cannot be blamed on the fear of interest rate rises

However, when we rank the correlations, and run further, more sophisticated statistical modeling, to see which variables were simply descriptive, or ecological, and which highlighted stronger, underlying behaviour, we see the swing took place amongst formerly rusted on Labor voters - those in lower to middle income, unskilled or blue collar trades jobs, who just happened to be paying lower to middle sized mortgages.

Many of these migrated to the Coalition via Family First preferences. They didn't swing to Labor because they didn't want to, and they haven't wanted to, since John Howard won in 1966, although Kim Beazley did well among some of the lower income groups in 1998.

The swing to Labor took place amongst groups disaffected with the Coalition since 2001, like the well paid and the better educated, or professionals in medicine, architecture and commerce, who just happened to be paying higher mortgages and carrying the largest total household debt.

NATSEM's study showed this group was smart enough to pay off their high-interest credit card every month, so they're smart enough not to waste a vote on a party they think will cost them money.

Surely, if any group was motivated by concern about interest rates, and educated about economic management and the economy, it would be this one - and it swung to Labor, not to the Coalition.

Labor's real problem lies in the fact that the Howard Government has continued to whittle away Labor's diehard supporters since 1996, through effective economic management and better election campaigning.

Which gets back to the reason for the creation of the myth about interest rates in the first place: The Labor leadership now rationalising the loss is simply not prepared to take responsibility for it.

Perhaps Labor should campaign for aspirations, not aspirationals. The group that swung to Labor sound a lot like the vaunted 'doctors' wives' (a disastrous name for a potential swing demographic if ever there was one) who were moved by Labor's superior social policy and approach to human rights and the environment. Pity Labor's only effort on those issues was the forest policy Latham announced too late to win seats on the mainland but just in time to lose seats in forest districts. Labor needs to start talking to people who care about social issues and needs to start telling it's blue-collar vote that social change is not a threat.

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