Voter fatigue won’t dull Labor’s chances of Griffith victory

If anyone in Australia can lay claim to a solid case of voter fatigue, it’s the good burghers of Griffith.

On Saturday, many in the electorate will be voting in their fifth election in less than two years.

”Intuitively, it must fatigue voters,” said Paul Williams, a Queensland political expert and senior lecturer at Griffith University.

”It must … have a dampening effect on people’s enthusiasm to engage electorally.”

Granted, two of those elections – the 2012 Brisbane City Council poll and the byelection in retiring premier Anna Bligh’s seat of South Brisbane – fell on April 28.

But both those came hot on the heels of the March 2012 state election and, since then, there has been last year’s federal election.

”Given that areas within Griffith are generally heavily populated with university students, people with at least one degree and possibly double degrees, or have high incomes, you’d expect voter fatigue to be less of a problem than it would be in more outlying areas on the fringes of the city,” Williams said.

”There’s no doubt there will be some people in Griffith who won’t turn out on polling day, despite having turned out last year in the general election, simply because they’re over politics.”

The Griffith byelection will be the first real test of leadership for both Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten.

But it is also a hard electorate to pigeonhole, with a demographic ranging from young, broke share-houses to some of Brisbane’s most wealthy.

Based on last year’s election results, the north-west of Griffith is Glasson heartland. He easily outpolled former prime minister Kevin Rudd in the affluent suburbs along the eastern stretch of the Brisbane River, such as Hawthorne, Bulimba and Balmoral, despite (or perhaps because of) Rudd’s signature appearances along the famed Oxford Street cafe strip. That is offset by the southern and western parts of the electorate, such as Dutton Park, Carina and bohemian West End, which are firmly in the red column.

Williams is hardly Robinson Crusoe in predicting a Labor victory.

With Labor winning each of the aforementioned elections, not many are rating the LNP’s chances. Indeed, one online booking company has Labor’s Terri Butler at almost even money to win, with an ALP victory paying just $1.08 last week.

History suggests those odds are justified.

The last – and only – time a federal government has gained a seat from an opposition in a byelection was in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia, in 1920. This, coupled with some missteps by the new government has many observers thinking Glasson’s best chance came and went last September.

”The Abbott government hasn’t got a record to run on. It’s got four months of accidents,” Williams said. ”It hasn’t got anything it can point to, to say ‘This is what we’ve done since the election.”’

But don’t tell Glasson’s supporters that. Campaign insiders point to Griffith’s moderate nature and are predicting a very close race, perhaps even a narrow Glasson victory, by as much as 1.5 per cent.

”Griffith isn’t a Labor or a Liberal electorate, it’s a moderate electorate,” said a source on the Glasson campaign.

It was that moderation, he said, that made Rudd, a member of the middle-of-the-road Labor Unity faction, so popular with voters within the electorate.

”When all is said and done, I think this is a toss-up. It won’t be the walkover that’s been suggested by many.”

While Williams agrees the final margin may be tighter than expected, he pours water on the Glasson optimism.

”Clearly the Labor brand is not as damaged as people suspected and that’s been reflected in a couple of federal polls,” he said.

”My argument has long been that the Labor brand wasn’t the problem. It was the Gillard/Rudd feud that was the problem. Take those two actors out and a lot of the damage has been repaired.”

Williams is tipping a swing towards the ALP that, given the party’s existing 3 per cent margin, would result in a solid victory for Butler – and Shorten.

But Glasson isn’t going down without a fight. It was hard to fault his performance in the general election, or his impressive grassroots campaign.

But there have been some subtle differences. LNP headquarters has taken more control of this campaign. Media queries are directed through party HQ, which is a departure from last year when the candidate handled most queries himself. That increased control of head office has also been felt by campaign staff and volunteers on the ground.

Things have changed on the Labor side, too. The ALP is taking the fight to Glasson much more aggressively that it did last year. And having a candidate on the ground for the duration of the campaign, as opposed to Rudd who jetted across the country in his role as prime minister, does tend to sharpen a campaign’s focus.

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