It’s the cost of living, stupid. This is what Bill Clinton’s former campaign strategist, James Carville, would be telling Australia’s political leaders if he was on their payroll today.
In 1991, Carville famously hung a sign in Clinton’s presidential campaign office, reminding campaign workers to focus on “the economy, stupid”. The phrase became the strategic centrepiece of Clinton’s victory over George H.W. Bush and is political folklore on the centre-left.
In truth, economic considerations are material at most elections. But, the economic challenges change from cycle to cycle. And, after almost two years of rising interest rates and rents, as well as spiralling grocery prices, the central economic issue for many voters is cost of living.
The political challenges of a cost-of-living crisis are pervasive. Financially stressed voters are more reliant on public services like health, education and housing. They pay closer attention to both budget surpluses and discretionary government spending, wondering if that money could be better spent helping them. And, when people are feeling worried about worried about putting food on the table, they have less mental energy to think about other important issues, such as climate change.
In WA, we’re fortunate that almost everyone who wants a job, has one. But, if your wages aren’t keeping up with prices, you’re going backwards. Another reason why, as Carville might say, it’s the cost of living, stupid.
This article also appeared in The West Australian newspaper.