The COVID Delta strain has made campaigns and elections a fraught exercise, with no simple pathway to victory, writes Ben Hindmarsh, Principal Consultant.
Gone are the halcyon elections of 2020 and early 2021 that delivered thumping wins for incumbent governments in New Zealand, Western Australia, Queensland and Tasmania.
The delta wave has hit public confidence across the globe and made for a tired, wary and cynical electorate.
Take the case of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who was riding high in the polls before calling an election last month for September 20 – two years early to capitalise on his popularity and secure an outright majority. But a cynical electorate, facing a fresh wave of delta and new restrictions, is harshly marking his rationale. CBC News combined poll tracker shows that the Trudeau Liberals have dropped almost 5 percentage points since calling the election, while the Conservatives have gained that same amount to now lead the race in a 10-point turnaround.
So, what does this mean for Australia with a federal election due by May 21 next year?
Aussie voters are cynical and wary bunch at the best of times. Now a fatigued electorate is desperately looking for a pathway to recovery – firstly to end lock downs and return to something like a normal life but secondly for economic recovery and security.
Ultimately, the election will come down to timing, the choice, and a pathway to victory.
On the question of timing, clearly the Prime Minister will not go to the polls this year. There is still much work to do to get the nation vaccinated and back to some normality.
This makes picking a date in 2022 a delicate task.
The federal election polling day has never been held in January and February. And not since 1951 has an election been held in April, largely due to Easter and Anzac Day. In 2022 this period takes up 10 days from Good Friday on April 15 to Anzac Day on April 25, which will also impact an early May election due to the associated public holidays reducing campaign momentum to a deadly standstill.
An election in March will conflict with the South Australian fixed election date of March 19, however the SA Constitution Act provides for their state election date to be delayed by up to 21 days should a federal election be held in the same month. Therefore, the odds are shortening for March as the most likely month with late May a rank outsider.
If the PM goes to the polls in March, it means a pre-election Federal Budget is unlikely. If he chooses late May, then we can expect an early April Budget like in 2019.
This brings us to the choice. Australian elections are invariably fought on economic management and this election will be no different – just with a sharper focus on recovery and rebuilding. The public will be switched on and tough markers on government and opposition alike. Voters will be looking at who they can trust to deliver the economic recovery to keep the nation secure and strong.
You can bet that once the campaign starts and becomes about the choice, polls will tighten and the contest will come down to targeting individual electorates to get the numbers to govern.
The Coalition Government parties and the Labor Opposition will have a pathway of target electorates mapped out that they see as their path to victory. As the campaign progresses this pathway will take some twists and turns. But faith in that pathway and the targeted local campaigns in each of these key electorates on that path will be where the election is ultimately won.
In the 2019 Federal Election, commentators joked that the Coalition’s pathway to victory was more like a goat track. That election showed that all you need is a goat track to get you home. For both the Government and Opposition, delta just made that track far more fraught.