Incompetent oppositions have often prolonged the life of unpopular governments
It’s an difficult argument to mount, but I reckon in recent decades anomalies in the Australian political cycle have been more common than the normal cycle itself. Can something be a cycle if the anomaly is more common than the norm? I’m not sure but I’m sticking with it anyway.
To place this somewhat bizarre claim in context, I think the electoral cycle normally works more or less like this: A moderately competent government will tend to enjoy a fair bit of goodwill from voters for a certain period of time, after which the electorate will countenance voting for the opposition. This is probably driven by the following logic; governments are elected to “achieve something” to execute a vision of some sort. At the end of reasonable time the government should have achieved that vision and therefore have fulfilled their purpose and are therefore no longer needed. If they haven’t fulfilled this purpose well then they’re incompetent, either way the voter has little desire to keep them around. I reckon in Australia that time period is about four years.
After the four year mark governments have tended to spend most of their time clocking undesirable opinion poll figures. Yet the last federal government lasted 11 years, the one before than 13 years and the one before that almost eight years. This is where my anomalies conundrum kicks in, certain events can disrupt the cycle, the most common of which is a seemingly erratic opposition leader. Twice in the past thirty years unelectable oppositions have delivered unpopular governments extra terms, once in 1993 and again in 2004. Significant events can also distort an election result, take the September 11 terrorist attacks and the arrival of the MV Tampa for example.
As a result of these anomalies we’ve tended to have unpopular federal governments kicking around for about five years longer than anyone wanted them, entrenching voter resentment and ensuring the next government a fairly easy go of re-election down the track. But what happens if the anomaly doesn’t occur? This federal Labor government appears en route to get a good shellacking in about twelve months time but it’s opinion poll stakes only dropped in 2011. By contrast, last time Labor lost the popular vote in 1990 and hung around for another six years. John Howard was deeply unpopular in 2000 but didn’t leave office until 2007. The Labor party wouldn’t have that kind of problem if they lost the next election, and as far as newly elected Prime Ministers go Tony Abbott would have to be one of the less loved ones this country will see.
In short if Tony Abbott doesn’t enjoy the benefit of a long serving government preceding him, and if the new Labor opposition conduct themselves reasonably well, it is within the realms of possibility that Abbott might be a one term Prime Minister.