Addressing Mr Shorten’s unpopularity with voters, Dr White said it might have been a factor that influenced those who decided how they would vote late in the campaign but hit out at “disgusting” and “selective” leaks of his research since the election that had “a clear intention of putting the result at his feet”.
He acknowledged at the end of the nightly tracking of voter intentions Mr Shorten had twice as many voters with a negative view of him as a positive view (net -20) while Scott Morrison’s image was “relatively benign” (net -4).
“While it would seem naive to dismiss this as a possible contributor to the discrepancy between the polls and the result on election day, to blame the result on a single individual is unfair and will not help us turn this around,” Dr White wrote.
“The latter half of the campaign did see a slight improvement in Bill Shorten’s favourability rating while there was a decline for Scott Morrison. I was encouraged by this.”
Dr White said researchers were never given a “seat at the table”, which denied him the opportunity to “diagnose” where the campaign was failing.
He wrote he was frustrated when he put forward questions to include in the tracking but was told this was “unacceptable” and should not happen again. “For this reason, I never added these questions again to the track, despite my clearly expressed view that they were measuring something critical to the success of the campaign,” he wrote.
“I hear that internal folks were presenting selected portions of the research and providing commentary, but the campaign missed an opportunity to convey the seriousness of the challenges it was facing.”
He said it was a “massive contrast” to how other campaigns were run and experienced researchers could raise “red flags” and get a message to key decision makers that “we’re losing and things need to change”.
The report, cited in the official review that came out last Thursday but not itself released, identifies a “clear relationship” between voters with a tertiary education and those without in the size of the swings in seats across the country.
Dr White said the number of “double unsures” – voters who would not give pollsters a voting intention – were “unusually high” at 11 per cent on the final night of the campaign.
“It’s important to point out that the double-unsures were especially common among young voters with no tertiary education. In the final week, 16 per cent of 18 to 59 year olds without any tertiary education were double-unsures.”
He warned Labor must take its failings in the 2019 campaign seriously and not blame individuals or single policies for the loss.
“From a party point of view, I don’t believe we can afford to accept that we’re only going to appeal to educated voters in our capital cities and surrender the blue-collar suburban or provincial heartland to the Coalition. We should be starting now to explore how to turn this around so that such weighting by education become unnecessary in 2022,” he wrote.
Rob Harris is the National Affairs Editor for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based at Parliament House in Canberra