One of commentors on a Slashdot article (somewhat tangentially to the question's topic, discussing a Liberal Democratic party Senate win) noted that the main reason Labor lost the nation-wide election[1] was "intra-party" fight - e.g. Rudd/Gillard issues.

Random Googling shows that at least one rag agrees:

Party infighting and the [Rudd's] battles with Julia Gillard played right into the hands of the Liberals, setting up Tony Abbott for a victory

Is there a rigorous evidence (e.g. polls that ask whether voters were turned off for that specific reason, or some other line of questioning allowing what-if analysis of what'd happen if that fight didn't happen from polling data) that this was indeed a main or important factor in Labor loss in 2013?

[1] As clarification:

  • Australia's Liberal Democratic Party is a minor party that is expected to win one seat in the federal senate for Political-Science-very-interesting but off-topic-to-this-question reasons. They are only mentioned since the article where I saw the Labor-related comment was about LDP's Senate win
  • Independetly, overall, the previously-ruling Labor party (led by Rudd) lost the national election to a coalition of the Liberal Party of Australia (led by Abbott) and the National Party of Australia, generally called the "Coalition".
  • Liberal Party of Australia is unrelated to Liberal Democratic party despite name similarity (one is more rightish, one is more classical liberal/libertarianish, from my understanding)
  • I added specific-elections tag to match a similarly-spirited tags elsewhere on SE (e.g. meta.SFF has specific-question tag)
    – user4012
    Sep 10, 2013 at 20:13
  • To be clear - an answer I expect would be an analysis on the level of a typical 538 post, not random blaming/guessing.
    – user4012
    Sep 10, 2013 at 20:16
  • 1
    As clarification, Australia's Liberal Democratic Party is a minor party that is expected to win one seat in the federal senate. Overall, Labor lost the election to a coalition of the Liberal Party of Australia (unrelated, even though a similar name) and the National Party of Australia, generally called the "Coalition".
    – Golden Cuy
    Sep 11, 2013 at 3:35
  • @AndrewGrimm - edited it in. I figured that anyone with expertise to be interested in the question would know these basics so didn't include them initially :)
    – user4012
    Sep 11, 2013 at 4:21

3 Answers 3



It was a symptom of a decades' long deeper problem: A broken base due to lack of democratic input into the party's direction and leadership.

A large portion of Labor's traditional blue-collar base was alienated from the party's priorities and moved their votes either across the aisle (Liberal) or sideways into new populist third-parties (Palmer/Katter). This simply repeats the earlier alienation and movement of the party's white-collar urban left into the Greens. So Labor ends up with a haemorrhaging base.

In a political system with full proportional representation, natural coalition governments occur for both classical ideologies; so you can simply let the various viewpoints (and their sponsoring parties) hash it out to form each coalition government. But as Australia's House of Representatives induces a two-party system, society's policy and priority differences are partitioned into two mostly arbitrary camps; each which must reconcile its internal policies and priorities if it is to have any hope of holding power on a regular basis.

Until recently, Labor had no democratic forum for members to create a coherent social narrative that would unite blue and white-collar workers.

So while the left could be said to have united and voted the Liberals* out of power in 2007; this was not a conscious and permanent consensus of core values but simply a temporary reactionary consensus. No one made any serious attempt between 2007-2013 to create a core democratic consensus at the membership-level, as factional king-makers would have lost their power. If Labor's base hadn't been broken for many electoral cycles beforehand, it wouldn't have mattered that Rudd was a tyrant and Gillard was a wilting flower - the party would have held power for the usual duration of the left-right equilibrium in Australian politics.

Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard were symptoms of the underlying lack of consensus in two ways:

  • Their coups were not democratic. The membership, let alone the general populace, had no say. This isn't a new phenomena in Australian politics, but the democratic bar is progressively raising and this isn't as acceptable as it once was.
  • Rudd better reflected the blue-collar membership; Gillard better reflected the white-collar membership. While this is a generalisation - it is a sound one as Rudd's reintroduction just before the 2013 election did slow the pace that blue-collar workers bled from the Labor party ("saved the furniture").

The internal party conflict simply proved that back-room king-makers are no healthy long-term substitute for democratic consensus, no matter how slow or painful this consensus is**.

* The semantic dissonance between the party Liberal=Conservative and the concept Liberal=Progressive gets tiresome very quickly.
** See the Queensland LNP for an example of how establishing a previously missing consensus improves electoral prospects.

  • Good timing - read today's Stratfor article on American switch from party bosses to primaries (as it pertains to government slimdown)
    – user4012
    Oct 9, 2013 at 0:42

Almost certainly not. The electorate moved a uniform 4-10% rightwards, flowing out of the conservative coalition (The Liberal National Party / Coalition) into far right groups.

Even in terms of the specific distaste for labor, other factors such as the nature of carbon pricing, mining taxation, or the decision to roll out major infrastructure against the interests of two market monopolists seem significant. On all three of these factors they faced a concerted campaign from media monopolists, including deliberate new entrant monopolists.

So no, internal infighting hasn't been described as a significant causative factor in credible sources, and generally hasn't been portrayed as such. It has, however, been used to zhush into place some long anticipated reform in Labor's processes.


It was a foregone conclusion that we would have a liberal government.

  • The labor party didn't get voted in with a majority in the previous election. There were alliances made between the major parties and the independents that were needed to form a government.

  • Australia, historically swings between the two parties. The elections can, generally be predicted by the performance of the previous election.

The leadership challenge was just another issue to be used as political fodder and a National embarrassment.

The carbon tax did not play a part in the change of government either, as the swing against labor had started before the election previous to this.

Australian's are not very politically discerning. There are core sets of voters, that stick with their party. Then there are swinging voters, the name speaks for itself. Occasionally core party supporters will change voting habits. Much of the party support within Australia is historical and social. There are areas that will always be blue belt Liberal and others that will be staunch Labor.

The Australian economy fared well through the last economic crisis (well it is still going really). The government (whether by skill or accident) managed to keep our economy well stimulated in spite of global forces. The average Australian (as do many people elsewhere) tends to be insulated from this style of reasoning and will be inflamed by the net result. Not considering, perhaps the other party may have handled the crisis badly. The global economy is deteriorating and has been for some time. The cost of living is rising. People are feeling it. So, they, naturally, blame the government with no real logic, that often, the government has little control over some of these conditions.

This is the reason behind the continual shift between parties within the Australian Federal and State governments.

  • " The elections can, generally be predicted by the performance of the previous election." - FiveThirtyEight recently had a blog article destroying such a conjecture for US elections.
    – user4012
    Oct 8, 2013 at 17:34
  • Also, I'm not quite sure how this answers my question?
    – user4012
    Oct 8, 2013 at 17:35
  • @dvk I am not commenting on the US gov at all. You asked, was it the dissention within the labor party that caused it's loss of election. I am saying, no it had nothing to do with it, it was a foregone conlcusion and have stated CLEARLY why, as the gov would have switched party any way Australia and the US are poles apart, politically and in many ways socially.
    – user7484
    Oct 8, 2013 at 17:36

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