Monday, August 23, 2010

Aussie cuppa Tea Party?

Get ready for it. Republicans and the Tea Party more particularly will be crowing with accomplishment in this political season, claiming victory for their efforts to clean House and Senate alike, along with plenty other state and local institutions.

But are their "victories" cause or coincidence?

To put this in context, consider the claims made by many of that same political persuasion that the credit crisis in the US was caused by a profligate Fannie and Freddie, as set loose on the otherwise virgin real estate markets by the Community Reinvestment Act.

Barry Ritholtz has taken apart those arguments with a number of posts to his excellent Big Picture blog, most recently this and this.

But the post most pertinent, by way of analogy, to the observation about the elections is this one, with its chart providing a thousand words of "point taken". His challenge is this:
Any explanation of the Housing boom and bust should be able to explain why it was global in nature.
Without saying so, the importance of this challenge is to explain how Fannie, Freddie and the CRA were uniquely responsible for the housing credit crisis when no country in the rest of the world had any Fannie, Freddie or CRA of their own yet produced this similar result, with data from the IMF:

The Australian analogy for the US elections is that Australians have turned away from both ruling parties in almost record amounts, yet have no Tea Party, just a "maverick", populist and failed Prime Ministerial candidate who has been seized upon as the sole reason for such a result.

But, before going to the story, a bit of background info for those unfamiliar with Australian voting rules: There, voting is mandatory, so even if you don't want to vote, you must. And if you don't like your choices, you must do something to register your displeasure which effectively voids your vote. The resulting ballot is referred to as an "informal vote". Quaint, isn't it?

Huge support for 'none of the above'
The Australian Electoral Commission yesterday said it would review the abnormally large number of informal votes cast after counting concluded to determine the cause.

Around 20 per cent of votes have not yet been counted, but early estimates indicate the final number of informal votes could be the highest in 25 years.

Adelaide University politics professor Clem Macintyre said the high level of informal votes and support for minor parties indicated widespread disillusionment with Labor and the Coalition.

"There's no question for some people, they cast a vote for `none of the above'.

"It was a very dispiriting campaign with two relatively inexperienced leaders. I don't think anyone captured the imagination of the voters.

"There was a sense of frustration and people turned up saying `I can't be bothered'."

"I wouldn't call it the `Latham effect', that just encourages Mark Latham," he said.

Informal voting hits record high
Overall, informal voting appears to be on the rise, running at 3.2 per cent for the House of Representatives in 1996, 3.8 per cent in 1998, 4.8 per cent in 2001, 5.2 per cent in 2004 and four per cent in 2007.

The AEC (Australia Election Commission) defines an informal vote as an unmarked ballot paper, one not initialled by a polling place official and which may not be authentic, onenot filled out correctly or one where the voter identifies him or herself.

That includes ballots marked with just the figure one or with ticks or crosses.

Ballot papers featuring the voter's political wit or wisdom are not necessarily informal, provided it's numbered correctly. The AEC advises voters that it's unwise to run the risk of having their vote excluded by writing on the ballot paper.

Mark Latham, always one to draw little polite criticism but much impolite outrage, has been the lightning rod of those upset at the reticence of the public to play along with the system.

Lock up the knives for loony Latham's poll dancing routine T
he bilious Mark Latham is no more a "reporter" than I am George Clooney, but in this brave new world of blogging and tweeting etc, any mug lair can call himself whatever he likes. Many do.

His descent upon the election campaign was like Looney Uncle Festus turning up unwanted at the wedding with his fly undone. Eyeballs burning, Latham radiates menace. You feel yourself hoping the knives are locked away and there's not an AK-47 or a chainsaw in reach. I never know if this in-yer-face aggro is an artfully contrived act to instil fear or whether he is just plain gaga.

But journalism it ain't. It's entertainment for dummies, as surely as if 60 Minutes had put on a pole dancer, a keg and '70s covers band.
Latham is a 'turkey'
Mr Kennett said he was concerned about public complacency on the election.

"You get that turkey Mr Latham out there saying publicly that … he'll attend a polling booth and not vote," he said. "You think of the number of people around the world who have given their left and right arms in order to have the right to vote."
Political satire provokes more than just a laugh
I was already fuming from Mark Latham's plea on 60 Minutes for Australians to hand in a blank ballot - the appearance of even more of the same, even if it was cloaked in the arch, smug sentiment you find in late-night ABC comedy - tipped me over the edge. Harsh words were bellowed at the screen. The cat went flying under the couch to hide in terror.

Yes, I understand that this election campaign has been one of the least inspiring in the last 50 years. I will give you the fact that there's been a real lack of vision on behalf of both of the major parties. But ...

Our system works.

Now, it might not work as efficiently as we'd like, or for all the people, all the time, but we're one of the most stable nations in the world. We're a success story. We're a postergirl for the will of the people actually driving the course of a nation, regardless of whatever ideology has been in vogue. This is not something to be taken lightly. We're one of a few green LEDs in a panel filled with red.

Democracy only works because it's the shared belief that every one has a voice and the ability to use it. If the media, the reflection of our society as a whole, begins to pass along the message that politics and voting doesn't matter then those most prone to those messages, the youth, will start to believe it. The last thing Australia needs is a generation of people reaching voting age who do not believe in the system, who think it doesn't work for them and isn't worth their time. They won't pay attention. Things start to get missed. And then, piece by piece, our democracy begins to weaken, fray, crack.

So guys, give it a rest. Enough already. I know that your job is to make people laugh and you're very good at that. I also understand that satire is absolutely essential to any working political system - as bacteria in the gut of the body politic. But please, don't cheapen the system as a whole.
All that said, it wasn't seriously denied that the electorate was underwhelmed by its choices.

Don't blame Latham for highlighting home truths
In a dull campaign, Mark Latham's report on 60 Minutes was one of the more interesting. But Latham had no new insight on the two party leaders

The Labor base is drifting away because it does not see this as a successful government. Labor voters feel let down by hyped-up promises that have not been delivered.
And on the other side of the isle, Coalition launch a policy-free zone
Mr Abbott offered little in the way of new policy or vision as the Liberals and Nationals gathered to officially launch their 2010 federal election campaign on Sunday.

Instead, Mr Abbott's focus was squarely on the problems facing his opponents.

With no big-bang announcements, Mr Abbott laid out his priorities for his first three months in government if he wakes up as prime minister on August 22.

High on his agenda will be a phone call to the Nauru President Marcus Stephen to begin negotiations on an offshore processing centre and a pseudo mini-budget - a statement detailing the new government's response to the risks and opportunities facing the economy.
So, if there is any significant "none of the above" result in the US this election season, that alone should not be seen as evidence of Tea Party strength. Anti-incumbency is not uniquely American; it is endemically democratic. Especially when it's the economy, stupid.

TUNE IN FOR MORE: US primaries could deal blow to anti-incumbent insurgency
Tuesday's results may predict whether insurgent candidates, especially Republicans backed by staunchly anti-government Tea Party groups, will continue to make advances over those with more moderate views.

Despite surging anti-incumbent fervor ahead of November legislative and state elections, no incumbent is expected to lose in US primary votes Tuesday, results that would deal a setback to insurgent candidates.

The Tea Party movement, which sprung up in 2009 as a grass roots revolt against Obama's tax, economic and health reform policies, has electrified the Republican Party base.

Taking its name from a revolt against British rule in colonial Boston in 1773, the group has emerged as a powerful force in nominating Republicans for November's mid-term legislative and gubernatorial elections.

Tea Party candidates have already won important Senate primary victories in Utah, Colorado, Nevada, and in other states, over more mainstream Republicans.

But Tuesday's results may show the anti-incumbent narrative has been oversold.

We shall see. Won't be long now.

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