Voters are crying out for better government but have mixed views on how to achieve it



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When government policy turns out to be a dud and goes off the rails, no one is happy.
Shutterstock

Nicholas Biddle, Australian National University and Matthew Gray, Australian National University

Support for democracy and trust in politicians is falling. We hear a lot about evidence-based policy as a way to stem this decline, but less about how that evidence should be generated.

One idea that may generate the type of evidence that will help make more informed decisions appears, paradoxically, fairly unpopular with the punters.

Perhaps the problem is that not enough has been done to explain to the public what this idea – carefully testing new policies on small groups first – might mean in practice.

In a new paper just released, we show that we may still be a long way off adopting this practice.

The rollout of the National Broadband Network has been plagued by delays, changes of plan and consumers unhappy with the end result.
Mark Esposito/AAP

There is an emerging view that there should be much greater use of evaluations of public policies, including randomised controlled trials (RCTs), to test the effectiveness of new policies before they are rolled out. This applies particularly to policies or programs for which there is limited or no evidence about their likely impact.

RCTs have been around for years in medicine and other sciences, and are increasingly being used by small and large companies to test products and services. Conceptually they are simple, although implementing one can be complex. A RCT involves selecting a sample from a population of interest and randomly dividing them into two groups (using the equivalent of a coin toss). One group is given an intervention (that is, a program or policy) and the other is not. If the RCT has been done properly, the differences in the outcomes of the two groups tells us the impact of the intervention being trialled.




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There are other ways to try to measure causation, and some are necessary when an RCT isn’t possible. However, Shadow Assistant Treasurer Andrew Leigh argues in his new book Randomistas that:

Researchers have spent years thinking about how best to come up with credible comparison groups, but the benchmark to which they keep returning is the randomised controlled trial. There’s simply no better way to determine the counterfactual than to randomly allocate participants into two groups: one that gets the treatment, and another that does not.

Our study

While there is strong support within the policy and research community on the important role of trials and evaluations, we know far less about what the general public thinks about how policies should be implemented and to what extent they should be trialled before widespread introduction.




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In a survey undertaken as part of the ANUPoll series, we ran an online survey experiment that measured the level of support for trials in general and RCTs in particular. We also looked at the factors that influence that support, and whether there is a causal relationship between expert opinion, party identification and support for an RCT.

That is, we ran an RCT on RCTs.

As part of the survey, we asked respondents to “consider a hypothetical proposal to reform” in one of five policy areas (school education; early childhood education; health; policing; support for those seeking employment). We then asked “which of the following approaches do you think the government should take?”:

  • Introduce the policy for everyone in Australia at the same time
  • Introduce the policy to everyone, but do it in stages
  • Trial on a small segment of the population who need it most, or
  • Trial on a small segment of the population chosen randomly,

We found that more people want new government policies rolled out without testing – except for jobless support.

Some key findings emerge:

  • There is a roughly even split between those who think a new policy should be introduced to everyone at once and those who think it should be trialled on a small segment of the population.

  • Respondents support trials for employment policies the most strongly but are most likely to support an RCT for a policy related to school education. They are least likely to support it for health service delivery and employment support.

  • Those who live in disadvantaged areas and those with low levels of education are the least supportive of RCTs.

What influence do experts’ views have?

The type of policy that is being proposed clearly matters for whether the general public thinks it should be trialled as part of an RCT. However, the views of those outside the political system also matter. We tested this potential effect by randomly varying the wording of the question across respondents.

One “treatment” that we applied to the question was to vary what respondents were told on whether experts generally support the policy, are generally opposed to the policy, or are divided on the policy (with one-third of respondents given each of the options).

Randomised controlled trials are commonplace in the area of medical products – after all, we all feel better knowing a new product has been thoroughly tested.
AAP

The greatest support for a trial in general or an RCT in particular occurs when experts are generally opposed to the policy. Conversely, the least support for a trial or an RCT comes when experts are generally in support of the policy, implying respondents believe sufficient evidence must already exist. Support is somewhere in between when there is variation in support.

This has implications, we think, for researchers engaged in policy debates. One potential effect of arguing publicly for a different point of view to policymakers or other researchers is to increase the level of support for trials among the general population. We should make a case for uncertainty when it does exist, as that would appear to increase support for future gathering of evidence.

Indeed, this advocacy for uncertainty has underpinned the push for greater trials and evaluations in policy (and the social sciences).

Building support

It is clear that RCTs are likely to be increasingly used by policymakers to test the effect of policy interventions. However, to be truly effective and to avoid a backlash, RCTs need to be supported not only by researchers and policymakers but also by the general public. At first glance, this buy-in is a long way off.The Conversation

Nicholas Biddle, Associate Professor, ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences, Australian National University and Matthew Gray, Director, ANU Centre for Social Research and Methods, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Newsflash. The government doesn’t need to break up power companies in order to tame prices. The ACCC says so



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Victoria’s Loy Yang brown coal power station at night. Breaking up generation companies might do little to bring prices down.
Shutterstock

Tony Wood, Grattan Institute

Who wouldn’t want cheaper power?

And who wouldn’t enjoy a bit of a stoush between the big bad generators and the government, trying to break them up on our behalf?

Even if it was largely tangential to keeping prices low.

The “big stick” of forced divestiture, where the government through a court could order an energy company to sell off bits of itself, never made it to a vote in the final chaotic fortnight of parliament just finished.

It will be the subject of a Senate inquiry that will report on March 18. After that, parliament is set to sit for only seven days before the election, so its possible it’ll never happen, under this government.

The government’s bill is good in parts

Parts of its Treasury Laws Amendment (Prohibiting Energy Market Misconduct) Bill are uncontroversial.

The main trigger was the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission’s June report, Restoring Electricity Affordability and Australia’s Competitive Advantage.

It found against forced divestiture, but thought along similar lines to the government in some respects.

The legislation presented to parliament this month bans three types of misconduct:

  • electricity retailers’ failing to pass on cost savings
  • energy companies’ refusing to enter into hedge contracts (agreements to buy and sell at a particular price) with smaller competitors
  • generators’ manipulating the spot (short term) market, for example by withholding supply.

It imposes civil penalties for the first, forces companies to offer contracts for the second, and provides for divestiture orders for the third, after they have been recommended by the government and approved by the Federal Court.




Read more:
Consumers let down badly by electricity market: ACCC report


There are good reasons for the government to act on the three behaviours, although each of the its proposed solutions raises concerns.

The ACCC wants something similar but different

Firstly, the ACCC did not identify the legislation’s first target as a major cause of high prices. They did observe that it is complicated to shop around and the offers are confusing, and sometime next year Australian governments will force retailers in some states to offer fairer default offers at an affordable price.

But it not clear why the energy sector has been singled out as an industry whose retailers have to pass on cost savings, and not supermarkets or banks or airlines or petrol stations, or any other kind of industry.

Secondly, the ACCC most certainly did raise concerns about dominant generator-retailers preferring not to enter into hedge contracts with competitors, particularly in South Australia.




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It recommended that the Australian Energy Market Commission impose a “market making obligation” forcing large, so-called gentailers to buy and sell hedge contracts.

Its recommendation has the same intent as the one proposed by the government, although it has the advantage of being administered by a regulator that already exists.

Thirdly, the ACCC also concluded that concentration in the wholesale market means higher prices. Its report focused on the bidding activity of the Queensland government owned generator Stanwell Corporation.

Manipulation isn’t a major price driver

The Grattan Institute identified market manipulation by generators as a contributor to higher prices in our July 2018 report Mostly working: Australia’s wholesale electricity market.

But we found it made a much smaller contribution than high gas and coal prices and the closure of ageing coal generators.

We recommended a rule change to constrain generators’ bidding practices in specific circumstances.




Read more:
Why the free market hasn’t slashed power prices (and what to do about it)


The ACCC recommended giving powers to the Australian Energy Regulator to investigate and fix such problems.

It considered a divestiture mechanism of the kind in the government’s leglislation, but rejected it as extreme.

Its own less extreme recommendations would “if implemented, be a better means to restore competition to a level which serves consumers well”.

Breaking up corporations is a broader question

There may well be a case for breaking up corporations whose size prevents or substantially lessens competition. It happens overseas.

The government cites the example of the United States Sherman anti-trust legislation. It has been in place since 1890 and has been famously used to break up Standard Oil and AT&T. The ACCC does not have this power.

There is debate about whether it would work in the much smaller market of Australia.




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Allan Fels, a former head of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission a believes it would.

But quite sensibly he argues it should apply across the board, including sectors such as banking in light of the findings of the royal commission.

Ian Harper, who led the government’s 2015 competition review, is less convinced. However, he says if a divestment power is introduced, it should be introduced broadly.




Read more:
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It’s worth considering divestment powers broadly, rather than rushing to introduce them in one sector of the economy in what was to have been the leadup to Christmas because of a concern that its prices were too high.

The ACCC has already delivered a comprehensive report on the means to bring them down.

The government would be better served acting comprehensively on its recommendations.The Conversation

Tony Wood, Program Director, Energy, Grattan Institute

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Australians’ trust in politicians and democracy hits an all-time low: new research


Mark Evans, University of Canberra; Gerry Stoker, University of Canberra, and Max Halupka, University of Canberra

Over the past four years, we have conducted a range of attitudinal surveys with the Social Research Institute at Ipsos on the relationship between trust in the political system and attitudes towards democracy in Australia.

Our latest research, conducted in July 2018 (prior to the Liberal Party’s leadership spill), includes a quantitative survey of a representative sample of 20 focus groups and 1,021 Australians from a wide range of demographic backgrounds. We understood political trust in this survey as “keeping promises and agreements”.

Our findings should give all democrats pause for thought. We continue to find compelling evidence of an increasing trust divide between government and citizens. This is reflected in the decline of democratic satisfaction and receding trust in politicians, political parties and other key institutions (especially media). We also found a lack of public confidence in the capacity of government to address public policy concerns.

Democratic decline and renewal

Australians should rightly be proud of their hard-won democratic traditions and freedoms and the achievement of stable government, which has delivered social and economic well-being for its citizens.

The majority of Australians dislike the conflict-driven politics of the federal parliament, but don’t dislike democratic values or democracy as a system of government.

When asked to select three aspects of Australian democracy that they liked the most, the top three in 2018 were (in order):

  1. “Australia has been able to provide good education, health, welfare and other public services to its citizens”
  2. “Australia has experienced a good economy and lifestyle”
  3. “Australian elections are free and fair”.

Respondents were least likely to choose features that praised (or showed engagement) with current democratic politics. The findings suggest that Australians are happy with the underlying democratic infrastructure of Australian society that allows them to achieve a high standard of living, but are less positive or engaged about day-to-day political operations.

Australians are deeply unhappy with democratic politics

Fewer than 41% of Australian citizens are satisfied with the way democracy works in Australia, down from 86% in 2007. Public satisfaction has fallen particularly sharply since 2013, when 72% of Australian citizens were satisfied. Generation X is least satisfied (31%) and the Baby Boomers most satisfied (50%).

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At a time of the “#Metoo” movement, women are generally less satisfied with democracy and more distrusting of politicians and political institutions.

In general, levels of trust in government and politicians in Australia are at their lowest levels since time-series data have been available.




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Just 31% of the population trust federal government. State and local governments perform little better, with just over a third of people trusting them. Ministers and MPs (whether federal or state) rate at just 21%, while more than 60% of Australians believe the honesty and integrity of politicians is very low.

The three biggest grievances people have with politicians are:

  1. they are not accountable for broken promises
  2. they don’t deal with the issues that really matter
  3. big business has too much power (Liberal and National Party voters identify trade unions instead of big business).

The continued decline of political trust has also contaminated public confidence in other key political institutions. Only five rate above 50% – police, military, civic well-being organisations (such as Headspace or community services), universities and healthcare institutions.

Trust was lowest in political parties (16%) and web-based media (20%). Trust in banks and web-based media has significantly decreased since the last survey. This reflects the impact of the banking royal commission and the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data scandal.

People who are more likely to feel satisfied with the status quo include those aged over 55 (Baby Boomers), those earning more than $200,000 a year and those who vote for the National or Liberal parties. They are more likely to be male and an immigrant, because those born overseas tend to be more satisfied with Australian politics than native-born.

Those who are most likely to be unhappy are Australian-born, female, aged in their 40s (Generation X) and struggling on less than $50,000 a year. They are more likely to identify with minor political parties like One Nation, Centre Alliance or independents.

The perfect storm for independents

Levels of social trust are also in decline. Social trust between people has fallen below 50% for the first time to 47%. A majority, though, still believe that people in their neighbourhood would help others out – except for the very rich (47%).

Four attitudinal shifts are on display here.

First, many voters care more about effective and competent government than promises of more dollars in their pockets.

Second, there is a group of voters who are completely disconnected from traditional politics. They are deeply distrustful not just of politicians but almost every major institution and authority figure listed in the survey, except for their local GP.

Third, we can identify an increasingly large group of Australians who are deeply critical of the main political parties and are looking for an alternative across the ideological spectrum.

And fourth, there is a group of Australians who vote independent for tactical reasons, either to secure greater resources for their communities or to register a protest vote against the two-party system.

Appetite for democratic reform is extremely strong

Our survey revealed a significant appetite for reform. Nine out of 15 proposed reforms received net agreement rates above 50%. The top five reforms favoured in the survey were:

  1. limiting money donated to parties and spent in elections
  2. the right for voters to recall ineffective local MPs
  3. giving all MPs a free vote in parliament
  4. co-designing policies with ordinary Australians
  5. citizen juries to solve complex problems that parliament can’t fix.

Reforms aimed at improving the practice of representative politics were the most popular, followed by reforms aimed at giving citizens a greater say. There was also strong support for reforms aimed at creating a stronger community or local focus to decision-making. Only reforms aimed at guaranteeing the representation of certain groups failed to attract majority support.

Remarkably, accessing more detailed information about innovative reforms led to greater support for those reforms. This is an important finding, revealing the importance of strategic communication in winning the war of ideas.

We are at the tipping point

Liberal democracies are founded on a delicate balance between trust and distrust. Our survey findings suggest we may have reached a tipping point due to a deepening trust divide in Australia, which has increased in scope and intensity since 2007.




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Yet citizens still appear to value the overall stability of their political system, even if the lack of political trust means they doubt its ability to deliver, especially on more challenging policy issues.

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Australians imagine their democracy in a way that demonstrates support for a new participatory politics but with the aim of shoring up representative democracy and developing a more integrated, inclusive and responsive democratic system. In the light of this discovery, we believe an effective path to reform is not about choosing between representative and participatory democratic models, but finding linking arrangements between them.The Conversation

Mark Evans, Professor of Governance and Director of Democracy 2025 – bridging the trust divide at Old Parliament House, University of Canberra; Gerry Stoker, Fellow and Centenary Professor, Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis, University of Canberra, and Max Halupka, Research Fellow at the Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis, University of Canberra, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

View from The Hill: Malcolm Turnbull and his NEG continue to haunt the government



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The former PM via twitter effectively inserted himself into Question Time – in real time.
Dan Himbrechts/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

If anyone needs further evidence of the self-defeating weird places
the Liberals seem to find themselves in, consider what happened on
Tuesday.

Malcolm Turnbull made another intervention in the political debate,
this time talking about the National Energy Guarantee, when he spoke
at an energy conference on Tuesday morning.

“I’ve strongly encouraged my colleagues to work together to revive the
National Energy Guarantee. It was a vital piece of economic policy and
had strong support, and none stronger I might say, than that of the
current Prime Minister and the current Treasurer,” he said.

This and the rest of Turnbull’s observations on energy policy provided
abundant material for a question time attack by a Labor party bloated
from dining on the unending manna that’s been flowing its way from
some political heaven.

As Scott Morrison sought to counter this latest attack by concentrating on
Labor’s substantial emissions reduction target (45% on 2005 levels by
2030), suddenly a tweet appeared from Turnbull.

“I have not endorsed “Labor’s energy policy”. They have adopted the
NEG mechanism,“ Turnbull said – adding a tick of approval – “but have
not demonstrated that their 45% emissions reduction target will not
push up prices. I encouraged all parties to stick with Coalition’s NEG
which retains wide community support.”

Here was the former PM effectively inserting himself into Question
Time – in real time.

Morrison quickly quoted from the tweet, but it couldn’t repair the
damage done by Turnbull’s earlier comments.

All round, it was another difficult day for the government on the energy front.

The Coalition parties meeting discussed its controversial plan
providing for divestiture when energy companies misuse market power,
with conduct that is “fraudulent, dishonest or in bad faith” in the wholesale market.

The government has put more constraints on its plan than originally
envisaged. Notably, rather than a divestiture decision resting with
the treasurer, it would lie with the federal court (although precisely what this would mean is somewhat unclear).

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told a news conference: “This power will be on the advice
of the ACCC [the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission] to
the Treasurer, and then the Treasurer will make a referral to the
Federal Court. The Federal Court will then be empowered to make that
judicial order.”

There had already been backbench criticisms of the divestiture proposal expressed to Frydenberg last week; the changes dealt with some of these.

But the plan is still leaving some in Coalition ranks uneasy.

According to the official government version, in the party room 18
speakers had a say, with 14 supporting (though a couple of them were
concerned about the interventionism involved) and four expressing
varying degrees of reservation. No one threatened to cross the floor.

Backbench sources said the strongest critics were Jason Falinski,
Russell Broadbent, Tim Wilson and former deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop,
while milder criticisms came from Craig Laundy, Scott Ryan and Jane
Prentice.

There were two main worries about the measure – the potential negative
impact on business investment and its inconsistency with Liberal party
free market principles.

Bishop – who, it might be recalled, was recently saying there should
be a bipartisan deal with Labor on the NEG – highlighted the
investment implications and the issue of sovereign risk.

She said: “This is not orthodox Liberal policy. We need to do more
consultation with the industry and we need to be cautious of
unintended consequences of forced divestiture”.

Addressing the concerns, Morrison told the party room that a variety
of principles were at play.

The energy sector was not “a free market nirvana” but rather “a
bastardised market,” he said. The law was targeted at situations where
sweetheart deals came at the expense of consumers.

Energy minister Angus Taylor said governments of the centre-right,
including the Menzies and the Thatcher governments, had acted to
ensure markets operated for consumers.

Taylor invoked an example of the beer drinkers against the brewers,
when Thatcher had been on the side of the beers drinkers.

Frydenberg produced a quote from Menzies’ “Forgotten People”
broadcasts about the need to balance the requirements of industry with
social responsibilities.

The legislation, which is opposed by Labor even with the changes, is
being introduced this week. But there is no guarantee that it can be
passed by the time of the election – not least because there are so
few sitting days next year.

So the most controversial part of the government’s “big stick”, which
has caused so much angst with business, may never become a reality.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Liberals adopt new rule to stop the revolving prime ministership


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Scott Morrison has announced a major change in Liberal party rules to
ensure a prime minister who wins an election serves the full term,
unless two thirds of the party decides otherwise.

Morrison said the Liberal party had heard the public and was responding.

The entire party understood “the frustration and the disappointment
that Australians have felt when governments and prime ministers that
they have elected, under their authority, under their power, have been
taken from them through the actions of politicians here in Canberra,”
he said at a joint news conference with Liberal deputy Josh Frydenberg
on Monday night.

This had happened with the Liberal party as well as Labor, Morrison
said. “We acknowledge it and we take responsibility for it.”

The Australian people were “sick of it and we’re sick of it and it has to stop,” he said.

The Liberal party was “willingly and enthusiastically putting this
constraint to return the power of these decisions about who is prime
minister in this country to the Australian people.”

Morrison described the rule change as historic and the biggest in the
74 years of the party’s history.

Frydenberg said: “The changes in Australian prime ministers over the
last decade has diminished the parliament and its representatives in
the eyes of the public. The Liberal party has listened to the
Australian people and the Liberal parliamentary party has responded
tonight.”

Earlier, Liberal members of the ministry approved the new rule, before
it went to an evening special meeting of the Liberal parliamentarians.

Morrison discussed the proposed change with former prime minister John
Howard, but not with Malcolm Turnbull.

He briefed Tony Abbott who was the first speaker from the floor.
Strongly supporting the proposal, Abbott – who lost the prime
ministership before he had served a full term – thanked Morrison for
bringing him into his confidence.

Morrison said the change was carried by consensus. He declined to be
drawn on differences expressed within the meeting.

He said he had asked the party whips, Nola Marino and David Bushby, to
work up a proposal. He’d had a view for some time that something
needed to be done.

The party meeting discussed whether the threshold should be two thirds
or three quarters. There was some questioning about the position of a PM who had the weight of the party against them but was just under the threshold for change.

But speakers who had differences on the detail made it clear they would swing in behind what was finally decided.

The Labor party already has rules that restrain leadership changes
including of an opposition leader, although they could be altered by a
simple majority of caucus.

In August after the ousting of Turnbull, Kevin Rudd urged the Liberals to
follow Labor’s example “to prevent rolling political chaos.”

Howard said then “I don’t think changing the rules is a good idea”, adding “What’s the point of bringing in rules if, in any event, they can be set aside?”

Morrison said the Liberal rule on prime ministers was tougher because
it would take a two thirds majority to alter it. But it does not cover
opposition leaders.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

View from The Hill: Craig Kelly triumphs in the ‘outwit, outplay, outlast’ game of Survivor


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Rebel right wing Liberal Craig Kelly is a paradox – a man who
chronically lacks the numbers but possesses the power to force prime
ministers to protect him.

On Monday, fresh from a G20 where he was less than feted, Scott
Morrison heavied a few moderates on the NSW Liberal executive. A
wobbly cross-factional deal to preserve Kelly held together.

In the process former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull’s nose was
bloodied. Turnbull had tried to persuade the moderates to veto the
endorsement – which would have pushed Kelly to a preselection ballot he’d have lost.

Turnbull’s foray was counter-productive, for the party and himself.
Moderate backbencher Trent Zimmerman told the ABC that “Malcolm’s intervention made it hard for the executive to do anything other than what they did”.

Though once Morrison’s authority was on the line, the executive could do little but what he wanted.

It was very different from 2016 when Turnbull urged support for Kelly,
writing that he had “a fine reputation for standing up for his local constituents and was unafraid of taking on controversial issues”.

Back then, pressure from Turnbull led Kelly’s opponent Kent Johns to
agree not to stand for the preselection.

Johns kept up his branch numbers and prepared for another tilt. But
lightning struck twice.

In a tweet on Monday that seemed remarkable for its restraint Johns,
who is a NSW Liberal vice-president, said, “While disappointed, I
respect and accept the Party’s decision, and will continue to serve
the Party and proudly campaign for the re-election of the Coalition
Govt”.

Before the last election supporters of Kelly were quoted as warning “a
challenge against him would send the message the party is becoming a
version of the Labor Party.” Kelly’s backers never let up on referring
to Johns’ Labor background.

This year, the times suited Kelly. The right is strong within the
party. And with the Morrison government now dealing with a hung
parliament, the risk that a disendorsed Kelly could defect to the
crossbench, and run as an independent, loomed large.

Morrison asserted on Thursday that the possibility of Kelly going to
the crossbench had “never been the subject of our conversations.”

It didn’t have to be – the threat has hung in the air for months –
although Kelly has been all over the place in his comments.

For example in May the ABC reported Kelly was “understood to have told local members that he will resign from the Coalition and sit as an independent, if the ‘higher powers that be’ do not secure his
nomination’. But he’s now told Sky News he will remain a Liberal no matter what happens.”

Kelly is a favourite of the right wing commentariat.

In 2016 Alan Jones said: “Let me say to Kent Johns and anyone else who’s thinking of standing for the preselection out there and to put a torpedo under this bloke. You’d better pull your head in, Kent Johns. Because I’ll tell you what: if you put your head up, there’ll be a hell of a story that’ll be told about you, Mr Johns.”

On Sunday night Sky’s Paul Murray went through Turnbull’s tweets on the Kelly preselection, branding them “lies”.

Kelly has had a special place on Sky, with so many appearances his
colleagues joke he must have a sleeping bag there.

As chair of the Coalition’s backbench energy and environment
committee, a spruiker for coal, and close to Tony Abbott, Kelly ran a
constant and unhelpful commentary on the Turnbull government’s attempt
to get an energy policy together.

He helped kill the NEG (and thus Turnbull’s prime ministership) – he
was one of those threatening to cross the floor if the associated
legislation on emissions went ahead.

Turnbull is correct when he says that overriding a local preselection
contradicts the recent push by the right of the party for a more
democratic structure.

This point isn’t negated by the fact that the preselection panel Kelly
would have faced was a transition one – changes that have been made to
the system are not fully operating yet. It would have been a more
democratic preselection than the executive deciding to have no ballot
at all.

It is reasonable for some Liberal women, and others, to compare
the treatment of Kelly with that of Jane Prentice, a moderate from the
Queensland LNP.

When she lost a preselection in May, there was no special fix, despite
the fact she was an assistant minister. Prentice did not threaten to
go to the crossbench. She’s now quietly on the backbench serving out
her term.

There are multiple messages in the Kelly affair. They are about the
power of the right; the willingness to abandon process (the closeness
to an election is no excuse – the Kelly preselection should have been
held months ago), and the desperation of the Prime Minister.

Postscript: In the Senate on Monday Labor’s Glenn Sterle asked members
of the public observing proceedings, “How many people in the gallery
respect your politicians? Put your hand up if you do.” No hands went
up.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Grattan on Friday: Hokey-pokey politics as the government is shaken all about


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

In the topsy turvy Liberal universe, just when the right is trying to
tighten its grip on the throat of the party, the government is haring
off to the left, with this week’s legislation to allow it to break up
recalcitrant energy companies.

As former deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop – who as a backbencher
has become very forthright – said in the Coalition party room on
Tuesday, “this is not orthodox Liberal policy”. Bishop canvassed the
danger of sovereign risk.

To find a rationale for a frolic into what in other circumstances the
Liberals would no doubt denounce as “socialism”, one might see it as
driven by the veto of the so-called conservatives.

Those on the right (led by Tony Abbott and his band) have long stopped
the government putting forward a sound energy policy, despite the
strong pleas from stakeholders across the board.

Instead, trying to respond to the pressing electoral issue of high
electricity prices, the government has reached for its “big stick”
including the threat of divestiture – a policy that’s being attacked
by Labor as well as business.

Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen was correct on Thursday when he said:
“this is what we see when a government’s policy agenda falls apart”.

Having to defend this draconian policy, first from critical Coalition
backbenchers (who won some changes) and then in parliament, the
government found itself tied in knots.

Given this is such a radical proposal, it was also in an enormous rush with the legislation, introducing it on Wednesday and wanting the House of Representatives to pass it by Thursday.

But that timetable was stymied by Labor. Passage through the House
will have to wait until February.

Meanwhile there will be a Senate inquiry, reporting in March. This
puts off a Senate vote until budget week in April – ensuring a lot
of noise about this controversial measure just when the government
will want all the attention on a budget crafted to appeal to voters
for a May election.

Even if the divestiture legislation gets through the Senate next year,
a likely Labor election victory would mean we’ll probably never see
this particular “big stick” wielded. It’s highly doubtful the threat
will have been worth the angst, or the trashing of Liberal principles.

The final parliamentary fortnight of 2018 coincided with the first
fortnight of the hung parliament.

For Scott Morrison, it has been an excruciating two weeks, with the
backlash from the Liberals’ trouncing in Victoria, Julia Banks’
defection to the crossbench, Malcolm Turnbull’s provocative
interventions, and an impasse with Labor over the plan to protect LGBT
students.

The government’s stress culminated in Thursday’s extraordinary battle
to prevent a defeat on the floor of the House.

This test of strength was over amendments, based on a proposal
originally coming from new Wentworth member Kerryn Phelps, that would
make it easier to transfer people needing medical treatment from Nauru
and Manus to Australia.

As both sides played the tactics, a remarkable thing happened in the
House of Representatives. Behaviour improved one hundred percent, with
none of the usual screaming and exchanges of insults. This pleasing
development was, unsurprisingly, driven by self-interest – neither
government nor opposition could afford to have anyone thrown out ahead
of the possible crucial vote.

Earlier, Morrison had shown anything but restraint when at his news
conference he described Bill Shorten as “a clear and present threat to
Australia’s safety”. Once that would have been taken as a serious
claim, which a prime minister would have been called on to justify. In
these days, it’s seen as a passing comment.

In what was a highly aggressive performance, Morrison gave us another
foretaste of what he’ll be like on the hustings.

In the end, by its delaying tactics in the Senate, the government
prevented the amendments reaching the House before it adjourned, and
so avoided a test of the numbers.

Defeat in the House would not have equalled a no confidence vote, but
it would have been a serious blow for Morrison. Looking for a
precedent, the House of Representatives’ clerks office went back to
votes lost in 1929 (which led to an election) and on the 1941 budget
(which brought down the Fadden government).

But the government may have just put off, rather than prevented, the
reckoning. Phelps said on Sky, “I am sad that we didn’t get this
through today … because I believe it would have gone through on the numbers … But you know if we have to wait until February, at least I believe that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Dodging this vote meant that legislation to give authorities better
access to encrypted messages to help in the fight against terrorism
looked like it would be delayed. Once the House had adjourned, any
Labor amendments the Senate might pass couldn’t go back there until
February.

The government had declared the encryption measure was urgent, and the
blame game started in anticipation of a hold up. Then, mid-debate in
the Senate, Labor abandoned its attempt to amend the bill, which
glided through. In an agreement which may mean something or nothing,
the government undertook to consider the ALP amendments in the new
year.

Shorten didn’t want to be open to the government’s accusations of impeding legislation the security agencies said would help prevent terrorist
acts. “I couldn’t go home and leave Australians over Christmas without
some of the protections which we all agree are necessary,” he said.

The events of this week show why the government decided to have
the minimum of sitting days before the election next year.

The new parliamentary session will open with a deadlock on the
protection of gay students, the divestiture plan up in the air, and
the Nauru-Manus vote hanging over the government.

And by that time Scott Morrison will have had his first and probably
his last Christmas at Kirribilli.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Historical fall of Liberal seats in Victoria; micros likely to win ten seats in upper house; Labor leads in NSW


File 20181205 186055 3ycxa8.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Victorian Liberal leadership hopeful John Pesutto has lost his blue-ribbon seat of Hawthorn.
AAP/David Crosling

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

While it is possible that two seats could change, Labor appears to have won 56 of the 88 seats in the Victorian lower house, up nine seats since the 2014 election, the Coalition won 26 seats (down 12), the Greens three seats (up one) and independents three seats (up two).

These results reflect changes since the 2014 election, and do not account for Labor’s loss of Northcote to the Greens at a byelection, which Labor regained at the general. Party defections are also ignored.

Labor’s unexpectedly crushing victory was capped by triumphs in Hawthorn (50.4-49.6) and Nepean (50.9-49.1). Labor had not won Hawthorn since 1952, and Nepean (formerly known as Dromana) since 1982. It also came close to winning Caulfield (a 50.3-49.7 loss), which has never been Labor-held since its creation in 1927.

The 8-10 point swings to Labor in Hawthorn, Nepean and other affluent Liberal heartland seats such as Brighton and Malvern appear to demonstrate well-educated voters’ anger with the Liberals’ law and order campaign, and the federal Liberals’ ousting of Malcolm Turnbull.




Read more:
Labor has landslide win in Victoria


Labor was assisted in Victoria by a strong state economy, and an unpopular federal Coalition government. The national economy is currently good, and this could assist the federal government if they could stop fighting among themselves.

While Labor had massive wins in Melbourne and its outskirts, and increased its margins in regional cities, it did not perform well by comparison in country areas. Labor only gained one country seat, Ripon, and that was by just 31 votes on a swing under 1%; there could be a recount in Ripon.

The Greens held Melbourne and Prahran, and gained Brunswick from Labor. In Prahran, Green Sam Hibbins was third on primaries, trailing Labor by 0.8%. On preferences of left-wing micros, he overtook Labor by 0.7%, and easily defeated the Liberals on Labor preferences. This is the second consecutive election in which Hibbins has come from third on primary votes to win Prahran.

Russell Northe, who defected from the Nationals in the last parliament, retained Morwell as an independent. Ali Cupper, who had contested Mildura in 2010 as a Labor candidate, gained it as an independent from the Nationals. Independent Suzanna Sheed retained Shepparton, a seat she gained from the Nationals in 2014.

Near-final statewide primary votes were 42.8% Labor (up 4.7% since the 2014 election), 35.2% Coalition (down 6.7%) and 10.7% Greens (down 0.8%). It is unlikely we will have an official Labor vs Coalition statewide two party count until next week, but The Poll Bludger estimates Labor won this count by 57.4-42.6, a 5.5% swing to Labor.

Final pre-election polls greatly overstated the Coalition and understated Labor, as shown by the table below. The only poll that came close to the result was a ReachTEL poll for a left-wing organisation, taken 11 days before the election, that gave Labor a 56-44 lead.

Victorian election’s poor polls.

Bold numbers in the table indicate a poll estimate that was within 1% of the results. All polls had the Greens right, but missed on Labor and the Coalition.

Micro parties still likely to win ten upper house seats

The ABC calculator currently gives Labor 18 of the 40 upper house seats, the Coalition 11, the Greens just one, and ten for all others. Others include four Derryn Hinch Justice, two Transport Matters, one Animal Justice, one Liberal Democrat, one Aussie Battler and one Sustainable Australia.




Read more:
Coalition pares back losses in late counting, as predicted chaos eventuates in upper house


The upper house has eight regions that each elect five members. The three country regions are very close to completion of their counts, while the city regions lag. In Northern Victoria, Labor will win two seats, the Coalition one, Hinch Justice one and Liberal Democrats one. In Western Victoria, Labor will win two, the Coalition one, Animal Justice one and Hinch Justice one.

In Eastern Victoria, the calculator has Labor and the Coalition each winning two seats with one for Aussie Battler. However, Kevin Bonham says that Aussie Battler is ahead of Hinch Justice at a critical point by just 0.11%, and this lead will be overturned with below-the-line votes. The Shooters will win the final Eastern Victoria seat.

In Eastern Metro, with the count at 87.2%, there will be two Labor, two Liberals and Transport Matters wins the final seat from just 0.6% (0.04 quotas). In Southern Metro, two Labor and two Liberals win. The Greens, with 0.79 of a quota, are easily beaten to the last seat by Sustainable Australia, with just 1.3% or 0.08 quotas.

While the figure used by the ABC is the rechecked percentage counted, the electoral commission has been providing actual primary counts in Word files, which are ahead of the rechecked count in Metro regions.

In South-Eastern Metro, Labor will win three seats and the Liberals one. Bonham says Transport Matters could be excluded at a critical point, and fail to take the final seat, in which case it goes to the Liberal Democrats, who had an even lower vote than Transport Matters in that region (1.2% vs 0.8%).

In Western Metro, Labor will win three seats and the Liberals one. The last seat is likely to go to Hinch Justice, which won 6.9% in that region. However, the Shooters, with just 1.9%, could win the final seat.

In Northern Metro, two Labor and one Green are certain winners. In Bonham’s more up-to-date figures, the Liberals win one seat, and the final seat is probably a contest between Hinch Justice and Fiona Patten.

Labor and the Coalition are likely to win the 18 and 11 seats respectively that the calculator currently gives them. The ten micros could be a little different from the ABC’s current projection.

The group voting tickets are excessively complex, and it would be far easier to call these seats with a more sensible system.

NSW Galaxy: 52-48 to Labor, ReachTEL: 51-49

The New South Wales election will be held on March 23, 2019. A YouGov Galaxy poll for The Daily Telegraph, conducted November 29-30 from a sample of 903, gave Labor a 52-48 lead; this is the first NSW Galaxy poll since the 2015 election. A ReachTEL poll for The Sydney Morning Herald, conducted November 29 from a sample of 1,560, gave Labor a 51-49 lead, a one-point gain for Labor since a September ReachTEL poll.

Primary votes in the Galaxy poll were 39% Labor, 37% Coalition, 9% Greens and 8% One Nation. In ReachTEL, primary votes, after excluding 3.1% undecided, were 37.7% Coalition, 35.2% Labor, 9.9% Greens and 7.7% One Nation. Labor’s primary vote is four points lower in ReachTEL than Galaxy.

After replacing Luke Foley as Labor leader, Michael Daley appears to be benefiting from a honeymoon. He trails incumbent Gladys Berejiklian 33-31 in Galaxy, and leads her 54.2-45.8 in ReachTEL as better Premier. ReachTEL’s forced choice better PM/Premier questions usually benefit opposition leaders.

State parties tend to do better when the opposite party is in power federally, and the current federal government is unpopular. It appears that the federal election will be held in May 2019, and this is bad news for the NSW Coalition, which has to face voters first. In ReachTEL, voters said by 50-36 that federal politics would play a role in their state election decision.

By 58-36, voters in ReachTEL opposed the NSW government’s stadium policy, which includes knocking down and rebuilding stadiums.

Newspoll: 55-45 to federal Labor, but Morrison’s ratings recover

Last week’s federal Newspoll, conducted November 22-25 – the same weekend as the Victorian election – from a sample of 1,720, gave Labor a 55-45 lead, unchanged since three weeks ago. Primary votes were 40% Labor (steady), 34% Coalition (down one), 9% Greens (steady) and 8% One Nation (up two).

43% were satisfied with Scott Morrison’s performance (up four), and 42% were dissatisfied (down five), for a net approval of +1, up nine points. Bill Shorten’s net approval was up two points to -13. Morrison led Shorten by 46-34 as better PM (42-36 three weeks ago).

By 40-34, voters opposed moving the Australian embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. After being told that Indonesia and Malaysia had raised concerns about the embassy move, voters thought by 46-34 that Morrison should announce the move will not take place, rather than ignore those countries’ concerns.

Newspoll was three points better for Labor than two polls last fortnight, which both had Labor leading by just 52-48. The PM’s ratings are usually a good guide to voting intentions, so the hope for the Coalition is that Morrison’s lift could soon lift the Coalition. This poll was taken before last week’s parliamentary session.

UK Brexit deal vote on December 11

The UK House of Commons will decide whether to reject or approve PM Theresa May’s Brexit deal with the European Union on December 11.

Indications are that the deal will be rejected by a large margin, with about 100 Conservative MPs set to vote against the deal. You can read my article on the probable consequences of a “no-deal” Brexit on my personal website.The Conversation

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

It’s not just Newstart. Single parents are $271 per fortnight worse off. Labor needs an overarching welfare review



File 20181201 194935 1ldqocl.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Single parents have been made worse off by the Howard, Rudd, Gillard, Abbott and Turnbull governments. It’s time to take stock.
Shutterstck

Peter Whiteford, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University; Ben Phillips, Australian National University; Bruce Bradbury, UNSW; David Stanton, Australian National University; Matthew Gray, Australian National University, and Miranda Stewart, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

Thirty years after Prime Minister Bob Hawke famously promised that by 1990 no Australian child would live in poverty, Bill Shorten has promised that, if elected, Labor will use a “root and branch review” to lift the rate of the Newstart unemployment benefit.

Two crossbenchers, Cathy McGowan and Rebekha Sharkie, want to go further.

They have introduced a private member’s bill that would create an independent commission to examine the adequacy of all social security payments other than family payments and payments to veterans.

It would make recommendations, rather than set rates.

The Government opposes it. Labor has opposed such proposals in the past. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said he would like to increase payments, but they would be ones of his choosing – he would lift the pension before lifting Newstart.

But the pension is already much higher than Newstart, and other benefits have fallen behind by more.

What’s wrong with Newstart?

Newstart is inadequate and getting worse.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development raised “concerns about its adequacy” as long ago as 2010.

In a report on Australia it suggested that not only it might be insufficient to live on, it also might be insufficient to enable those on it to look for work.

The relatively low net replacement rate in the first year of the unemployment spell raises issues about its effectiveness in providing sufficient support for those experiencing a job loss, or enabling someone to look for a suitable job.

The main reason why it is inadequate is that it hasn’t increased by much more than inflation since 1994. General living standards have soared during those two and a half decades, as has the pension which is linked to them by being set as proportion of male wages, and which was increased substantially in 2009.



ACOSS

Newstart is now only A$275.20 per week. The pension is A$417.20 per week (A$458.15 with the pension supplement and energy supplement).

Unless it is better indexed, Newstart will slide even further relative to other payments and living standards.




Read more:
New budget standards show just how inadequate the Newstart Allowance has become


Since 1994-95 the buying power of the median household disposable income has climbed 55%. The buying power of Newstart has barely budged.

It has pushed people on Newstart further down the income ladder.

In 1994-95 a single person on Newstart received A$24 per week less than a low-earning household at the top of the bottom tenth of the income distribution.




Read more:
Will a Newstart boost actually deter jobseekers?


By 2015-16 that single person on Newstart got A$175 per week less than the low earning household.

The Australian Council of Social Service, the Business Council of Australia and a wide range of other community and business leaders including the former prime minister John Howard and most of the parliament’s crossbench have called for a lift in Newstart and a better method of setting it.

There’s more to it than Newstart

The relative decline in Newstart was the result of neglect. It was left indexed to the consumer price index when, over the long term, it should have been indexed to a measure that moves with community living standards.

But in other cases, governments under five prime ministers over the past twelve years have made explicit decisions to cut assistance, most severely for low income single parents.

In 2006 the Howard government made substantial changes to the Parenting Payment Single (PPS) and the Parenting Payment – Partnered (PPP) as part of what it called a welfare to work program.




Read more:
How can the government justify a policy that penalises working sole parents?


Single parents claiming the PPS after July 1, 2006 would lose it when their youngest child turned eight. They would go onto the much lower Newstart unemployment benefit, and be expected to look for work.

Partnered parents claiming the PPP would lose it when their youngest child turned six, but for them it made little difference because their parenting payment and Newstart were about the same.

For single parents it meant a significant cut in benefits at the time, and a harsher income test.

Those receiving PPS before July 1, 2006 were “grandfathered” meaning they could continue to receive it until their youngest child turned 16.




Read more:
Prejudiced policymaking underlies Labor’s cuts to single parent payments


But in 2013, the Gillard government removed grandfathering, requiring all single parents with older children to be moved onto Newstart or other payments if eligible.

At that time the maximum rate of Parenting Payment Single was $331.85 per week. The maximum rate of Newstart was $266.50.

And a change introduced by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made the parenting payments themselves less generous.

For many decades, the basic rate of payment for most single parents was the same as the pension.

In 2009 the Rudd government delinked them and lowered the wages benchmark so that PPS was set at 25% of male total average weekly earnings instead of 27.7%.

The 2009-10 Budget also changed the link between levels of the maximum rate of Family Tax Benefit Part A and the married rate of pension, a link originally established following the Hawke government’s child poverty pledge.

These changes have shrunk Family Tax Benefit payments per child from 16.6% – 21.6% of the married pension rate to 14.5% – 18.9%, a difference now of $13 per week for each younger child and $17 per week for each older child – with more shrinkage to come.

In 2014 the first Abbott budget attempted to further wind back Family Tax Benefits.

After a tough time in the Senate, several of his measures finally passed, under Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in 2016 and 2017.

Family Tax Benefit B has been closed to couple families with children aged 13 years or older and the Family Tax Benefit B income test tightened, the size of the payments to large families has been wound back, the Family Tax benefit A end of year supplement has been withdrawn from families earning over A$80,000 per annum and rates have pay have been temporarily frozen, so that they don’t even increase with inflation.

What’s been the total of cuts since 2006?

The cumulative effects of the policy choices since 2006 on the disposable incomes of single parent families are substantial.

We have compared how much low-income parents currently receive, compared to what they would be receiving if these changes had not been made.

Our calculations are conservative.

We have ignored a number of changes including payments that have come and gone such as the Schoolkid’s Bonus and the Energy Supplement or changes that affect high income families. Nor have we taken into account the loss of payments to families with with four or more children due to the phasing out of the Large Family Supplement from July 2016.

Single parents still on Parenting Payment Single with two younger children have lost nearly $85 per fortnight; about 6% of their disposable incomes. For families with older children, the loss is about $271 per fortnight; a cut in disposable income of nearly 19%.




Read more:
One in four children from single-parent families live in poverty


In total there are around 360,000 families with children, Australia’s poorest, who are getting considerably less financial support.

It has happened as a result of actions by both sides of politics under prime ministers Howard, Rudd, Gillard, Abbott and Turnbull.

As with the decision to link Newstart to the consumer price index rather than wages, the effects of their decisions will widen over time. The poorest families, and their children, will increasingly fall behind the rest of the population.

This process is already strongly entrenched.




Read more:
Housing affordability stress affects one in nine households, but which ones are really struggling?


Research by Peter Saunders, Bruce Bradbury and Melissa Wong for the joint ACOSS-UNSW report on poverty finds that the transfer of 80,000 sole parents to Newstart in 2013 was associated with an increase in the rate of after-housing poverty among unemployed sole parents from 35% to nearly 60%.

Have the cuts got single parents into jobs?

The stated purpose of the cuts to Parenting Payment Single was to get them into jobs.

First impressions suggest that they have.

In 2005-06 51% of single parent households had social security benefits as their main source of income. A decade later this was 42%.

In 2005 around 49% of lone parent families with a youngest child under 15 were employed. By 2009 the proportion had grown to 59%.

But in both cases the changes started before the changes to benefits, from the middle of the 1990s.




Read more:
For single parents, it pays to work


And the proportion of single parents employed went backwards during the global financial crisis, sliding to 53% and only recovering to 55% in 2017, despite the move of families from Parenting Payment Single to Newstart.

It’s time for a proper review

The “root and branch review” promised by Bill Shorten and the ongoing commission proposed by crossbenchers are not mutually exclusive.

An immediate review could be used to increase payments in the shorter term, while an ongoing commission could examine longer-term priorities.




Read more:
For richer or poorer: the delicate art of messing with middle class welfare


The scope of these inquiries should not be limited to Newstart.

Parenting Payments and Family Tax Benefits are also a fundamental component of the social safety net.

There is case for going further and examining the entire structure of the social security system.

The most comprehensive examination was the Henderson Poverty Inquiry commissioned by the McMahon government and extended by the Whitlam government more than four decades ago.




Read more:
Whitlam’s forgotten legacy: a voice for the poor


A comprehensive review of Australia’s social security system, undertaken in an integrated fashion and including tax as well as payments (including those for childcare and to support people who study and work) is overdue.

We need such a review to consider the design of our safety net in the light of economic, demographic, technological and social changes, and those to come.

It ought to be a key priority of Australia’s next government.

It ought to set up our support systems for the future.The Conversation

Peter Whiteford, Professor, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University; Ben Phillips, Associate Professor, Centre for Social Research and Methods, Director, Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR), Australian National University; Bruce Bradbury, Associate Professor, Social Policy Research Centre, UNSW; David Stanton, Honorary Associate Professor, Crawford School of Public Policy, ANU, Australian National University; Matthew Gray, Director, ANU Centre for Social Research and Methods, Australian National University, and Miranda Stewart, Professor, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How a candidate’s looks may be swinging your vote (without you even realising it)



File 20181129 170232 1aogmk1.png?ixlib=rb 1.1
Compiling images from real American politicians with the help of the Victoria Police Criminal Identification Unit, the authors built six “ideal” candidates to test how attractiveness shifts votes.
Rodrigo Praino, Daniel Stockemer/Social Science Quarterly, Author provided

Rodrigo Praino, Flinders University

If someone asks you why you chose the election candidate you voted for, you will likely have a good answer. Maybe you agree with the candidate’s policy stances. Maybe you support his/her party. Maybe you are tired of the corruption, bad policies, or inaction of the people in power. These are all perfectly acceptable answers. One reason you probably will not mention is that you voted for this person because he or she is good-looking. Certainly not. This is not an acceptable answer.

Yet you probably did.

In a study just published by myself and Daniel Stockemer with the help of Victoria Police in Melbourne, we used data on elections to the US Congress to create the faces of six fictional candidates who were “ideal-looking” in terms of physical appearance. We then used statistical modelling and real election results to simulate what would have happened if the loser of some key races looked like one of our “ideal candidates”, but was otherwise identical to the real losing candidate.

In two-thirds of cases, the loser becomes a winner if he/she simply becomes better-looking. To put it simply, we find that if an election is competitive, candidate attractiveness can actually determine the result.

Research shows that candidate appearance travels across cultures, ignoring even racial and ethnic differences. It appears that there is a fairly standard idea around the world of what is an attractive candidate, and voters everywhere prefer good-looking politicians. Research has shown that beautiful politicians are advantaged in Australia, Germany, Finland, the United Kingdom and the United States.

But the story doesn’t end there. Scholars are still trying to understand all possible ramifications of the relationship between physical attractiveness and electoral success. But we know that ideology, institutions and voter behaviour all play a role in this fascinating relationship.

When it comes to ideology, recent research shows that conservative politicians benefit more from physical attractiveness. In other words, right-wing politicians are better-looking than left-wing politicians and, therefore, benefit more from the “beauty premium” at the ballot box.

In terms of institutions, a study published by Daniel Stockemer and myself last year shows that the electoral system plays a role in whether or not candidate attractiveness matters in elections.

In brief, candidate attractiveness matters in majoritarian electoral systems – that is, systems where voters cast their vote for a specific candidate. The impact of candidate attractiveness fades in list-based proportional systems, where voters are asked to cast a ballot for a political party.

We find no evidence that attractive candidates are placed higher in party lists, which means that political parties and their structures appear to be immune to the appeal of candidate attractiveness. The conclusion is that institutions play an important role in determining whether or not candidate attractiveness affects voters’ decision-making.

Finally, when it comes to voter behaviour, the “beauty premium” doesn’t manifest itself only as extra votes gained at the ballot box. In a study published last May, we found that attractive politicians get a “break” when they are involved in scandals. In particular, voters forgive attractive politicians involved in sex scandals, while politicians involved in financial scandals such as bribery or misappropriation of funds have a harder time at the ballot box after the scandal becomes public. Either way, this shows that voters not only generally vote for the most attractive candidate, but also are more willing to forgive those who look better.

So how about Donald Trump? This question pops up a lot, especially from people arguing that Trump is not the most physically attractive candidate to run for office. If we think hard enough, we can all think of numerous unattractive politicians who have been very successful at the ballot box all over the world. The key to understanding how this works is to focus on information.




Read more:
President Trump will change the United States and the world, but just how remains to be seen


A few years ago, we ran an experiment using thousands of Canadian students at the University of Ottawa as research subjects. We found that if voters have adequate information about the candidates running for office, they tend to cast their ballot based on this information.

If, on the other hand, voters possess little or no information, then the better-looking candidate wins the election. We concluded that, in high-information elections, candidate attractiveness plays a smaller role than in low-information elections. This answers the Donald Trump question, in the sense that American presidential elections are high-information contests and, therefore, voters know more things about the candidates than their physical appearance, and thus vote accordingly.

The problem is that research also shows that voters all over the world have become less and less informed about politics. For instance, Australians seem to be incapable of answering basic questions about Australian politics; American university graduates in the 2000s knew less about politics than high school graduates in the 1950s; and European citizens do worse than chance in answering true-or-false questions about the European Union.




Read more:
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it: Australia should stay away from electronic voting


In other words, we should expect that candidate attractiveness will determine more and more electoral outcomes in the near future. Of course, the major issue with people voting for good-looking candidates is that physical appearance is completely devoid of any policy content. Voters have no guarantee whatsoever that they will end up with policies that they agree with and support if they vote for someone just because that person is attractive.

After years engaged in this line of research, I have never met someone who confessed to having voted for someone else because he/she was good-looking. At the same time, I am also convinced that people do exactly that, even if unconsciously.

The only solution to this problem is to educate voters about politics, institutions and current issues.The Conversation

Rodrigo Praino, Senior Lecturer, College of Business, Government and Law, Flinders University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.