September 14: Will it be ‘Don’t Know ‘or ‘None’ who gets the voters’ Number 1?

In March 2013, we asked 1047 Australians which political party they thought was most capable of managing 19 issues for Australians.

Reflecting current polls, the Liberal/National party were well ahead on all measures with the exception of the ‘the Environment’ which was lead by the Greens.  However, and perhaps more interestingly, a substantial proportion either didn’t know who was most capable of managing each of the issues, or determined none of the parties to be capable.

The perceived capability of the Liberal/National party was strongest in relation to financial issues, namely ‘the Economy’ (41% nominating them as the party most capable) and ‘Cost of Living’ (36%).   These align closely with the priorities of Australians, and were the second and fourth most important issues according to the most recent Issues Monitor.  While the strongest areas for the Labor party are ‘Education’, ‘Unemployment’, ‘Poverty’ and ‘Healthcare’ they still trail the Coalition considerably on each of these.

While these results, political polling and general discourse suggest that the Coalition are a shoo-in for the upcoming election, there was a significant and consistent proportion of respondents who said they did not know which party was most capable of managing these issues.  Importantly, around one-fifth of survey participants responded ‘don’t know’ when asked which political party was most capable to manage our top five most important issues.  While one would expect this to reduce in the lead up to September as we become more engaged with each party’s policies, this portion of the community is substantial and should be seen as an opportunity bank from which the more effective party can draw.  Further to this, an additional fifth were dissatisfied with all the options – citing that none of the major parties were capable of managing the issues facing Australia.

Beyond the numbers, our qualitative research provides several insights into the reasons behind these high levels of disengagement and dissatisfaction.  Recent Ipsos Mind and Mood research around the upcoming election found that many people were turning away from politics because of the continual bickering between the government and opposition, or dissatisfaction with available candidates.   Many felt that it was difficult to tell the difference between the two major parties, and that a change of government therefore would not have a significant impact.  Participants also complained that rather than making their policies clear, politicians are spending most of their time and energy criticising the opposition.

Just to round it up, yes there will be a change, yes they all talk bullshit and no, it will virtually stay the same there will just be a change of government.

Further, while participants felt that a change of government was inevitable, there was minimal excitement about the prospect of a Coalition government led by Tony Abbott.  This is in stark contrast to research conducted prior to the 2007 Federal Election where we witnessed considerable enthusiasm for the prospect of a change to a Rudd Labor Government.

[Labor] are cactus. They are gone. That’s not necessarily a good thing…. It depends on their policies. We have yet to see what they are.

I could run this country better than Julia Gillard. But the alternative isn’t any better.

As we continue to track community perceptions of each political party’s capability to manage issues for Australians in the lead up to the 2013 Federal Election, it will be fascinating to see if the proportion of the unsure, unengaged and unimpressed changes as the political parties either bring policy to the fore or recycle the divisive tactics observed through 2012.

Julia Knapp

Senior Project Manager

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