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Australian Election 2019: How to keep your perspective

Here are 13 of the lines Australians are swapping in the wake of the weekend’s election surprise. Most of them are wrong.

Australians have entered the world of the Post-Election and it’s a weird place to loiter; gangs of Coalition supporters dancing on the ceiling in their RM Williams boots; bitter clusters of Labor and Greens voters tweeting that Australians are a hopeless, rotten mob. It’s not pretty.

Meanwhile, media pundits are mostly replacing old pre-election wisdom with fresh-baked new wisdom straight out of the oven. Some of these insights would cave in like an overcooked soufflé at the sound of one simple question: “Were you saying that on Friday”?

Don’t get conned. Elections change the country but it’s a mistake to see every one of them as marking some huge change in the national soul. Most are decided by a tiny percentage of the country. And they’re mostly decided by many issues, rarely by one.

Yet there’s a small industry trying to divine the importance of Australia’s latest election right now.
Keep your perspective. Here are the lines Australian voters barely heard before 6pm on Saturday night, but which they’ll now hear all this week and beyond.

  • “Morrison is a political genius.”

    The current prime minister has just won his first election. Bob Hawke and John Howard won four each; Robert Menzies won eight. Reserve judgement on Morrison for now.

  • “The Coalition understands middle Australia.”

    The Liberals and Nationals have won an election, not a mind-reading contest and they won it by 1.7 per cent. After every election, partisans claim that one side has deep insights about the voters that the other side cannot understand, and that ordinary people have “had enough” of the losing party. This is almost always daft.

  • “All polls are rubbish.”

    They’re not, but the pollsters do seem to have emerging problems to solve. For at least a little while, polls seem to be growing less accurate.

  • “Queensland and Victoria are different countries.”

    They’re not, but the two states have often been at the extremes of Australian politics (anyone remember the days of John Cain Jr and Joh Bjelke-Petersen?) and Labor needs to be able to speak to both regions.

  • “Labor is losing the working class.”

    This is a problem for labour and left-wing parties the world over; it is probably not solvable as manual and industrial work declines. All the same, Labor members may feel pressured to choose a leader who can talk to everyday workers; which may favour Anthony Albanese.

  • “Imputation got the Coalition across the line.”

    Talking about imputation and franking credits probably helped the Coalition; such measures are best implemented from government. But raising money through imputation savings also acted as a sign of Labor’s economic responsibility; they had to do something to generate the funds they were planning to spend.

  • “The difference was Adani.”

    The controversial coal mine clearly cost Labor some votes in rural Queensland, and the party’s mixed messages weren’t reassuring. That doesn’t explain why it suffered an almost equally damaging swing more than 2,000 kilometres away in Tasmania.

  • “The baby boomers did Labor in.”

    This is, in one sense, obvious: voters tend to swing towards the Coalition as they age. But this happens at every election. It may have had more effect in this poll, but no-one has yet brought forward figures to prove it.

  • “If we couldn’t win this time, we’re stuffed.”

    Labor voters said this in 1969 and the party stormed into office three years later.

  • “Labor’s been comprehensively rejected.”

    Now being said by Coalition supporters. Remember, the Coalition won by just 1.7%.

  • “I can’t believe Morrison won. No-one I know voted for him.”

    In US political legend, this was the puzzled cry of 1968 New York Democrats, but with Nixon replacing Morrison. Moral: your own political experience is rarely typical of the larger population and you’re a fool to believe it is.

  • “Queensland should secede.”

    You’ll know you’re talking to a Labor supporter if you hear this; the party’s Queensland primary vote will end up at about 26%.

  • “Labor should have been a small target.”

    Sadly for good democratic politics, this one seems to be right. The two opposition leaders who offered the most detailed programs in recent decades – John Hewson and Bill Shorten – both lost. In contrast, Tony Abbott (who had worked for Hewson) romped into office emphasising short slogans such as “stop the boats”. Labor made the absolute most of Hewson’s openness in 1993 and celebrated “the sweetest victory of all”; now they’re on the other end.

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