Next Saturday’s State Election in Western Australia will produce an unprecedented result if polling and anecdotal evidence are to be believed.
Mark McGowan and his Labor team look certain to build on the landslide victory he won in 2017. At that election, Labor won 41 of the 59 seats in the Legislative Assembly, with a 2PP vote of 55.5%.
On 20 February 2021 Newspol recorded a further 12.5% swing to Labor, giving a projected election 2PP vote of 68% – 32%. If repeated uniformly on Election Day, WA Liberals would be reduced to two seats and would lose Opposition Party status and resources. Of course, that won’t happen, partly because electoral polling has recently lost some of its accuracies and because swings are rarely uniform, but Leader of the Opposition, Zac Kirkup, would lose the seat he currently holds with a margin of less than 1%.
There are three primary reasons why this is shaping as the most one-sided electoral contest in Australian history.
Firstly, Mark McGowan has assumed rock star-like popularity with the electorate. He is trusted as totally committed to keeping West Australians safe during COVID-19 while keeping the economy and jobs strong at the same time. We all know that WA has been the best place to be for a near-normal life when severe restrictions, death and disease were the norm for the rest of the world.
His discipline and wry sense of humour at daily press conferences, while under unimaginable personal pressure, has left hardened political observers in awe. His personal satisfaction rating is now 88%, down marginally from the 89% he enjoyed at the height of the pandemic. Approval of his handling of the pandemic reached a stratospheric 94% in May last year.
But it didn’t start with COVID-19. He was able to convince the population that the debt and deficits he inherited from Colin Barnett’s Liberals in 2017 required a fiscally prudent approach – he had the populace onside with his narrative. He was backed up by a strong Cabinet, with his Deputy and Health Minister, Treasurer, Attorney-General and Planning Ministers standing out.
Secondly, the Liberal Party in WA has been a lot more than a train wreck.
Four leaders in as many years, with no emerging talent being preselected is just the beginning.
The State’s two leading Federal Liberals have caused enormous brand damage to the once-powerful WA Liberals.
Christian Porter and Linda Reynolds involvement in and handling of different rape allegations has not been good for the Liberal brand in WA.
Porter’s earlier decision to have the Commonwealth intervene in support of Clive Palmer’s High Court challenge to WA’s COVID-19 hard border was totally disastrous and ultimately proven wrong. But the political damage was done.
The first-term Liberal leader, Zac Kirkup, tried to inject some attention-seeking energy into the campaign by endorsing things Liberals in WA don’t believe in. His renewable energy policy to shut all coal-fired power stations by 2025 and achieve zero emissions by 2030, while laudable, was roundly criticised by his Federal colleagues as a “lemon” and his local candidates affected by the decision denounced it.
Arguably, he has failed to do what Donald Trump taught us – the need to energise your base and get them to vote for you. His early policy announcements were pitched at progressive left voters and would have alienated traditional conservative voters.
But it was the rising influence of socially conservative evangelical churches in the Liberal Party that caused a procession of disendorsements and embarrassments. Some Liberal candidates drew links between COVID-19 and 5G technology. Others supported unproven treatments (think of Craig Kelly). Others were connected with views highly offensive to the LGBTQ community.
Thirdly, the Liberals will not be able to call on many of their usual supporters at this election for either votes or money.
Pauline Hanson’s One Nation will likely lose their three Upper House seats and exert minimal influence in Lower House battles as their leader has not made an appearance in the West this year and their vote is falling.
Clive Palmer likes to spend millions campaigning for the conservative side of politics. That has been absent from this campaign. Because of the odium attached to him following his unsuccessful legal battles against the State Government over the “hard border”, his $30 billion damages claim against the State and defamation action against the Premier, any Palmer advertising blitz would certainly be counterproductive anyway.
Labor has also done an astute preference deal with the Fishers and Shooters Party.
Every political party needs money to run an effective campaign. Cashed up Liberal Party members are very publicly attending Labor fundraisers, making significant financial contributions to Labor and are openly critical of the State Liberal Party.
Faced with this reality, the Liberal leader pivoted in the last few weeks from supporting progressive policies to a scare campaign designed to save some of the furniture, warning of the consequences of giving Labor absolute control via a landslide.
But, with about 70% of voters expected to vote early, the signs are that the public has made up their minds and are not engaging in the political debate usually associated with an election campaign. The public wish to overwhelmingly support good government.