The papers are full of stories, but they’re all missing the point. This is what the election really shows us.
So, looks like we got the ‘messy’ election result I was calling for on Friday. Up you go Aussies, you’ve done yourself proud. Seems you got the result you were calling for: none of the above.
Looks to me like political parties could be on the way out. A lot of people are talking about how it’s going to be impossible to get anything through parliament now. Won’t somebody think of business confidence?
It might be true. Canberra might become a difficult place to get anything done, but that’s it’s mostly because whoever is in opposition will line up in a unified block and try and frustrate the governments attempts to do anything. Since Abbott gave us a lesson in how to ‘no’ like a boss, it’s the new playbook for oppositions.
So what’s the problem here? Is it that there isn’t a majority government? Or is it that there is an obstructionist opposition? If there wasn’t a opposition party, and rather just a bunch of individuals representing their electorates, would it be as difficult to get stuff done?
It wouldn’t be easy. Each policy would have to be played on its merits. But even if you didn’t get everything through, you’d still get more than you would with an opposition determined to be a turd.
So the solution to me is to ban political parties. Force parliamentarians to represent their constituents and nobody else (you know, as if we were living in a representative democracy.)
Then let them thrash it out. If a majority agree, then go for it. If not back to the drawing board. It’d be messy and exciting. Maybe a little unpredictable.
You might not like those things, but what choice have you got now? The current system isn’t working. We woke up on Monday without a Prime Minister.
And it looks to me like we just don’t like the parties anymore. They’ve lied to us, ripped us off, diddled us into wars or construction contracts that benefited their mates. They suck.
In fact, the only thing we like about them is that they keep the other party on some sort of leash.
And so all we get are protest votes. All we get is big “F-you”’s written on the ballot papers. And no sooner than power changes from one party to another, we remember that, actually, we hate this party too.
Protest votes are the new normal. Big swings are the new normal. Hung parliaments are the new normal.
We’ve got to get used to it.
The other factor here is something no one is talking about: the science of persuasion.
I’ve been reading a lot of stories. Pundits all over the shop have lovely stories helping explain the result we’ve got. The Mediscare campaign worked. People didn’t trust the government. Voters were disillusioned with divisions in the Liberal party.
But its all bullsh!t.
Seriously, it’s all just stories.
Ever wonder why parties hand out how to vote cards? If people are making rational decisions based on an objective evaluation of the policies, why would you need to stick pieces of paper in the hand at the last minute?
But people aren’t rational.
I once knew a fellah who was involved in the Greens in the early days, back when they didn’t have enough vollies to staff every booth.
That meant they had a natural little experiment on how effective the HTV cards are. The result? HTVs would increase the Green primary vote about 2 percentage points – from like 6% to 8%.
That might not sound like a lot, but that’s a 33% increase. And you know, it’s a pretty big step. It’s not like the Greens are all that similar to Labor and the Coalition. It’s not a jump I’d imagine most rational people would take lightly.
But we tend to imagine people to be more rational than they actually are. And the truth of it is, a lot of people haven’t decided who they’re going to vote for until they’ve gotten into the booth.
And the real story of this election is at the level of persuasion, not the level of rationality. (I can say this because I’m a person and I know that I’m not purely rational).
And at the end of the day, both campaigns came back to identity plays.
It didn’t matter that the Coalition didn’t have plans to privatise Medicare. Medicare wasn’t the issue. Mediscare worked because it reminded people that it was the kind of thing the Coalition would do. It reminded people of the hollow baby-hating darkness that lies in the heart of the Liberal party.
Likewise with Bill Shorten’s “War on the economy”. It didn’t matter that there was no such war. It reminded people that Labor has a good heart but gets a bit muddled in the head when it comes to the economy.
And it doesn’t matter that neither of these characterisations hold much water over any length of time. They’ve become a heuristic. It’s just how busy people think about politics.
And in that sense, you can’t combat them. The more the Coalition shouted down Mediscare, the more it reminded people how they’re the baby-hating party.
The major parties know this. They’re trialling messages on target groups all the time. They know what works. And they know it’s not reasoned arguments about the facts.
And what happens when you have two, more or less equally resourced parties, working the persuasion angle?
You get what happens in any competitive system – you get a knife-edge equilibrium. (Remember Giaan's Law of Knife Edge Equilibriums? Go back and read that in light of the weekend’s result.)
Hung parliaments and dead-heats are exactly what you should expect. Because it’s not about who’s got the best policies. It’s about who is most persuasive – and both parties have the exact same set of tools.
But everyone’s freaking out because we keep getting these ‘no results’.
I keep telling ya people, the system’s broken.
What’s your take on the election result? What’s it mean for Australia? For Property?