30 Mar 2022
Pre-election Budget unlikely to improve polls, and election result unclear
Pre-election Budget unlikely to improve polls, and election result unclear

From a political perspective, the ninth Coalition Budget hits all the marks for all of its key audiences: reaching families, self-funded retirees and older Australians.

At its heart, the budget provides short-term fiscal relief to millions of people who are seeing global events driving higher prices for everyday commodities and fuel.

Sweeteners dominating the headlines included a $250 cash payment to low income earners, fuel excise cut, mental health services, $1bn for local manufacturing, $18bn for infrastructure and a surprise increase in the Low to Medium Income Tax Offset.

In the medium term, this Budget bets that global recovery from the pandemic will continue and domestic inflation won’t soar out of control. So the government is painting hopefulness.

Will it have a lasting effect and influence the choices voters make at the ballot box? And can organisations guess who will win from the current situation? The answer isn’t clear – and for that you can thank deeply-rooted voter cynicism.
The Government’s public polling numbers are awful. But that might not matter on election day.

For many years, the impact of a Budget was measured by opinion polling, which reflected voting intentions at a particular time. Perversely, it’s hard to recall a Budget in recent memory that produced a positive bounce in any incumbent government’s numbers.

That’s because most of a cynical voting public are almost totally disengaged right now. They might not be expressing affection for either of the Prime Ministerial contenders, and they haven’t started to make their decisions.
If we’ve learned anything in recent years, it’s not to trust polling that’s based on universal swings and predictive preference flows.

Once upon a time, respondents answered landlines and even spoke with pollsters on their doorsteps. Not any longer.

Polling companies are trying a range of methodologies to keep up with societal shifts.

It is a truism that voters almost always vote through their hip pocket. The difference this time is that both major parties are trying to appeal to an electorate that’s tired, jaded and very focussed on their own backyards.
That means all meaningful politics is local and it’s likely that this election will (again) be decided in a handful of electorates with appeals to individuals via social media rather than through unwatched TV debates or staged photo opportunities.

At this time of an election campaign, organisations must be very cautious about getting caught in storm of public debate. There are three golden rules at this time:

  1. Keep all your bridges open, you never know how the election will travel until the votes are counted
  2. Respect that all candidates are in a wild public battle for their jobs and livelihood – this is not a time for coffee catch-ups or administrivia
  3. Balance any opportunity for public debate, with the risk of getting into a dog fight. Especially when the dogs are expert and bred for battle.

During election campaigns the machinery of federal government gets locked up into ‘caretaker mode’, where decisions are suspended and neutrality reigns supreme. They will not want to get involved with the Morrison government celebrating their nuanced budget, or the Albanese opposition responding with pointed brickbats.

In the coming days we will learn about the timing of this next election, so take great care of your policy positions and relationships across all sides of the political debating chamber.

Craig Regan, Senior Counsel, Government Affairs