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Observations, Opinion, Politics

Can Gillard win the keys to The Lodge?

My first attempt at political punditry. Let’s see if practice improves the exercise.

Back in December last year the excellent Mr Denmore tweeted a link to a great article by Paul Bedard and Lauren Fox about American academic Allan Lichtman and his predictions for the 2012 US election. Read it here.

Lichtman has managed to correctly call every election result in the US since Ronald Reagan in 1984 by applying 13 tests to the incumbent.

Each test offers a Key to the White House and, according to Lichtman, if six or more go against the party in power, then the opposing party wins.

Simple.

I thought at the time it would be interesting to apply Lichtman’s 13 keys to Australia and see if it’s possible to determine just as accurately whether Julia Gillard gets to keep the keys to The Lodge in 2013.

Well, I’m not one to rush things but I finally got around to having a go.

I fully expect some of these keys to move, probably quickly, once the political year gets underway and I intend to keep a watch on them as events progress.

Below are each of the keys and how they fall for Obama, a straight lift from the Bedard-Fox piece, followed by how I think they might fall for Gillard.

It’s highly subjective and, as far as possible, I’m trying to use what appear to be Lichtman’s own principles, assuming of course that I’ve interpreted them correctly from that one article.

Key 1 – Party mandate

Lichtman on Obama:

After the midterm elections, the incumbent party holds more seats in the U.S. House of Representatives than it did after the previous midterm elections. Says Lichtman, “Even back in January 2010 when I first released my predictions, I was already counting on a significant loss.” Obama loses this key.

Baxter on Gillard:

An early loss for the Prime Minister.

Last year’s last minute Slipper Manoeuvre put her in a stronger Parliamentary position, but not enough to win the first key. And it could yet turn around to whack her.

Key 2 – Contest

Lichtman on Obama:

There is no serious contest for the incumbent party nomination. Says Lichtman on Obama’s unchallenged status, “I never thought there would be any serious contest against Barack Obama in the Democratic primary.” Obama wins this key.

Baxter on Gillard:

She can’t have this one either.

The best you can say is that the ALP was stupid to dump Rudd in her favour when it did and would be even stupider to do anything similar this year. Which is not to say it won’t, and even if it doesn’t the speculation won’t be going away, so no key.

Key No 3 – Incumbency

Lichtman on Obama:

The incumbent party candidate is the sitting president. Easy win here for Obama.

Baxter on Gillard:

Likewise for Gillard, except for the ongoing charge of illegitimacy which isn’t going to go away either. But she is the incumbent, so she gets the key.

Key No 4 – Third Party

Lichtman on Obama:

There is no significant third party challenge. Obama wins this point.

Baxter on Gillard:

Oh dear, she loses this one too. The Greens are a challenge for both major parties but right now they’re Gillard’s problem.

Key No 5 – Short term economy

Lichtman on Obama:

The economy is not in recession during the election campaign. Here Lichtman declares an “undecided.”

Baxter on Gillard:

Easy win. Surely this is an easy win.

We’ve got the most enviable numbers in the world and officially its Greatest Treasurer. It seems a very Australian habit to regard an accolade like that with disdain, but the cold fact is, our economy is doing great.

For the purposes of this exercise, let’s stick with reality and give her this key.

Key No 6 – Long-term economy

Lichtman on Obama:

Real per capita economic growth during the term equals or exceeds mean growth during the previous two terms. Says Lichtman, “I discounted long term economy against Obama. Clearly we are in a recession.” Obama loses this key.

Baxter on Gillard:

The only real threat to our long-term economy is a slowdown in Chinese demand for our resources. Oh, and maybe the small matter of looming economic Armageddon in Europe.

Undecided. We weathered the GFC brilliantly but the next round is going to be worse and dealing with it effectively will be unpopular for the government. I withold this key, pending developments.

Key No 7 – Policy change

Lichtman on Obama:

The incumbent administration effects major changes in national policy. “There have been major policy changes in this administration. We’ve seen the biggest stimulus in history and an complete overhaul of the healthcare system so I gave him policy change,” says the scholar. Another win for Obama.

Baxter on Gillard:

She gets this one. And if they were my keys she’d get a bonus one for the relentless slog she put in. Two major policy wins in 2011 with the carbon price and the mining tax, plus numerous smaller ones.

Note: Lichtman doesn’t take into account the perceived popularity of policy change and so I don’t either.

It looks like we’re counting the ability to get the big things through, not what the electorate thinks about them in the heat of the weekly polls.

Those 150-plus pieces of legislation and some historic policy achievements in the face of pretty tough odds stand up well on this measure.

Key No 8 – Social unrest

Lichtman on Obama:

There is no sustained social unrest during the term. Says Lichtman, “There wasn’t any social unrest when I made my predictions for 2012 and there still isn’t.” Obama wins a fifth key here.

Baxter on Gillard:

Wow, Lichtman can’t see any social unrest in the US. On whatever rating he’s using, I guess there’s none in Australia either.

We heard some incredibly vicious language during 2011 and a few violent suggestions involving chaff bags and the like. There was also an upsurge in political protest, from the anti-carbon tax rallies to the Occupy movement, to name two indicators of social unrest.

Nevertheless, I’m agreeing with Lichtman and giving Gillard this key because while there’s been a lot of noisy anger in some quarters, there hasn’t been general social unrest. If this key doesn’t belong to Gillard, perception has finally trumped reality.

And that’s a prospect too depressing to contemplate for this space cadet.

Key No 9 – Scandal

Lichtman on Obama:

The incumbent administration is untainted by major scandal. “This administration has been squeaky clean. There’s nothing on scandal,” says Lichtman. Another Obama win.

Baxter on Gillard:

Whether you think the Great Carbon Tax Lie was the worst political crime in our history or just politics (see backflips passim), it sticks to her wherever she goes.

Unfortunately for Gillard, if she overcomes that one there’s still the small matter of the knifing of her predecessor, plus a long litany of real (some) and confected (mostly) scandals and missteps that have dogged both this and the Rudd government, from pink batts to Craig Thomson.

She loses this one.

Key No 10 – Foreign/military failure

Lichtman on Obama:

The incumbent administration suffers no major failure in foreign or military affairs. Says Lichtman, “We haven’t seen any major failure that resembles something like the Bay of Pigs and don’t foresee anything.” Obama wins again.

Baxter on Gillard:

I nominate the Malaysia Solution here.

The whole asylum seeker issue is wrapped up, inevitably, in our relations with our neighbours, who have been given pretty good reason in the past 200 or so years to think that we don’t really like them very much.

This adds a complexity to the issue for the government of the day which is rarely appreciated within the Australian debate, where it is seen largely as a domestic matter.

The issue of asylum seekers will continue to tear this country apart until a solution can be found. A solution is only possible if it involves our entire region.

So far, the only deal Gillard’s been able to negotiate with the neighbours on this issue has been unacceptable at home.

And the things we’ve been saying about it have probably hardened regional attitudes against us too, making an acceptable solution even harder to find.

No key.

Key No 11 – Foreign/military success

Lichtman on Obama:

The incumbent administration achieves a major success in foreign or military affairs. “Since Osama bin Laden was found and killed, I think Obama has achieved military success.” Obama wins his eighth key.

Baxter on Gillard:

When Gillard said she wasn’t very interested in foreign affairs, I think she believed it would win her points with an insular electorate which wasn’t very interested either.

This is a country after all that seems to think it’s a bad thing when the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister visit foreign countries or even welcome foreign heads to our shores.

It’s funny that we spent more time worrying about whether she should have curtseyed to the queen (who doesn’t matter) and far less about the obvious warmth between her and Obama (who does).

Last year saw a major policy shift from the Americans for our region and it will have deep and ongoing implications for Australia and our relationship with China.

Gillard gets this key from me for handling the Obama visit with aplomb and for making the right noises about it for regional consumption.

Key No 12 – Incumbent charisma

Lichtman on Obama:

The incumbent party candidate is charismatic or a national hero. Explains Lichtman, “I did not give President Obama the incumbent charisma key. I counted it against him. He’s really led from behind. He didn’t really take the lead in the healthcare debate, he didn’t use his speaking ability to move the American people during the recession. He’s lost his ability to connect since the 2008 election.” Obama loses this key.

Baxter on Gillard:

I don’t think anyone would argue that Gillard loses this key. There’s been enough said about her charisma. You don’t need my two cents’ worth.

Key No 13 – Challenger charisma

Lichtman on Obama:

The challenging party candidate is not charismatic or a national hero. Says Lichtman, “We haven’t seen any candidate in the GOP who meets this criteria and probably won’t.” Obama wins, bringing his total to nine keys, three more than needed to win reelection.

Baxter on Gillard:

Tony Abbott is charismatic, no doubt about that. And while his stamina has been heroic, his negativity is definitely starting to play against him.

There’s been a lot written about how he needs to turn that boat around in 2012 but can he get his head out of the dress-ups box long enough to do so?

I’m guessing he can’t and therefore I’m giving Gillard this key.

Keys to the Lodge – 6

Well, according to my attempt to channel Lichtman, Julia Gillard loses The Lodge. She needs at least seven keys and her grip on some of the ones she currently holds is… um… slippery (seems a good word for the year ahead).

I fully expect some of these keys to be changing hands in the months ahead and, whatever happens, it promises to be another highly charged year in Australian politics so I’m looking forward to having another go at the exercise down the track.

And of course, in the meantime, seeing if Lichtman can do it again and correctly predict the US election outcome. Fun times ahead!

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About Sally Baxter

Once I was a girl reporter. Now I'm an interested observer covering the past, present and future of journalism and whatever else takes my fancy. All views my own.

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