How the South Was Won: Inside the 2014 SA Labor Campaign

The next speaker at CMPM2014 is Neil Lawrence, CEO of Lawrence Creative, which executed the Kevin07 campaign as well as Anna Bligh's campaign for Queensland State Premier and Jay Weatherill's campaign in South Australia; he is alongside his colleague Tony Mitchellmore.

Neil suggests that through the federal election campaigns before 2007, Labor had been comprehensively outcampaigned – the Liberals had imported US techniques from the Republicans, and nobody in the Australian Labor Party understood issue framing.

The first question to ask candidates in any election is whether they actually want to win. Labor at some point decided that it did want to win the 2007 campaign, and therefore selected Kevin Rudd as its candidate, even in spite of some misgivings; the same was the case with Jay Weatherill's in South Australia, against the preferences of the Labor right. In the latter case, especially, there was a need to counter a strong mood for change in the electorate – and Weatherill, rather than Labor's opponents in the Liberal Party, could be positioned as change from inside the party.

The Current State of Australian Campaign Funding Regulation

The next speaker at CMPM2014 is Graeme Orr, whose interest is in the legal frameworks for political campaign funding. The law focusses mainly on accounting and auditing aspects of this, but indirectly affects a great deal more – campaign aesthetics, styles, strategies, staffing, and much more.

The law regulating political finance hasn't changed much overall, but the way in which it is being administered tends to swing between different states. Such concerns have a long history – even in pre-modern times there were concerns about vote-buying, porkbarrelling, and overwhelming an electorate with campaign materials.

Restrictions were gradually introduced over the past 100-odd years, focussing first on candidates (before parties were recognised as legal entities), though in 1970s Australia a more laissez-faire regime on funding was prominent for a few years. Since the 1980s, Australia has laws on disclosing at least larger donations, however.

Importing US Approaches into Australian Political Campaigning

We start the second day of CMPM2014 with Jennifer Rayner, whose interest is in the extent to which American campaigning innovations are being imported to Australia (and whether this makes sense). Some US approaches simply don't work elsewhere, due to different laws on advertising and funding, and the different electoral laws.

So in truth this is more of a process of hybridisation of campaigning, rather than a straight-out importing of US approaches. Any such approaches need to be adapted and filtered through local contexts, even if the Australian media appear to be obsessed with the "Americanisation" of Australian political campaigning.

How Cathy McGowan Won Indi

The final speaker at CMPM2014 today is Campbell Klose, and adviser on the wildly successful Cathy McGowan campaign which managed to unseat Liberal shadow minister Sophie Mirabella in the electorate of Indi in the 2013 Australian federal election. Indi is a very large electorate (roughly the size of the state of Massachusetts), with some 100,000 voters.

Early on, the Voice 4 Indi campaign began by holding some 55 kitchen table conversations with 425 participants, covering local and national issues. The results of this process were taken to Mirabella, who fundamentally disagreed with them and suggested Indi-ans cared only about cost of living issues; in response, the campaign vetted several candidates and finally settled on Cathy McGowan.

V4I then attracted volunteers, with each volunteer having to sign up to a shared value statement. These volunteers covered the entire political spectrum from the left to the right, and represented all the geographical areas covered by the electorate. Social media was used extensively to break down the geographical boundaries (such as mountain chains) separating these different areas – and the campaign conducted significant social media training with its diverse group of volunteers.

Spin as a Symptom of the Crisis of Liberal Democracy

Next up at CMPM2014 is Mark Triffitt, again via Skype, whose focus is on political spin. He suggests that the battle of spin versus substance has become increasingly complicated, and that the basic system of liberal democracy simplify can no longer function in the present environment as it was meant to do. Over the last twenty years the combination of globalisation and changing communication technologies mean that the functionality of political systems has been eroded, leading to other means being used for political contestation.

How Can Australian Labor Campaign like Obama?

The final session at CMPM2014 starts with Mike Smith from Ethical Consulting Services, who has worked with the Obama campaign in the past. He suggests that the Australian Labor Party can campaign like Obama, but only if there is considerable culture change in the ALP. However, he also notes that there are significant differences between the US and Australian system.

Voting in the US is voluntary, so there is a need for campaigning to generate a preference for one or the other side which is strong enough to motivate people to go to the polls on a regular working day; in Australia it is compulsory, so there is only a need for a mild preference which is expressed in a Saturday poll.

Market-Oriented Communication Strategies for Political Leaders

The next speaker in this CMPM2014 session is Edward Elder, whose interest is in how leaders may maintain public support once elected. Political leaders in recent decades have tended to gain power through market-oriented behaviour, but maintaining such market orientation once in government becomes a lot more difficult, due to the pressures of office – including time constraints, the public desire for leadership, contradictory negative reactions to expressions of leadership which go against public opinion, and the communication strategies of government.

Voter/leader communication changes markedly after election, therefore. Edward compared post-election communication strategies used by Barack Obama and John Key, and explored what elements of their public persona they were trying to promote. He found that such strategies varied by issue type, communication medium, and the timing of the communication in relation to when a decision was made. Communication of leaders' personal features was also backgrounded substantially once in government.

Impacts of Regulatory Fit

The next speaker at CMPM2014 is Daniel Laufer, whose interest is in regulatory fit. Is creating such regulatory fit always beneficial for candidates, parties, and governments? Research shows that persuasion is enhanced when a person's goal orientation and the manner in which the goal is pursued are in line with each other; in this, regulatory orientation may be focussed on promotion (aiming for awards for achievements) or prevention (avoiding punishment for failure).

In a political context, it may be assumed that conservatives are more focussed on prevention-, and progressives on promotion-style regulatory orientation. Targetting promotion-oriented voters would therefore use messages about improvements, while targetting prevention-oriented voters would highlight preventing the deterioration of the current situation. Creating such matching messages is creating regulatory fit.

The Demographics of Australian Voters in 2010

The next speaker at CMPM2014 is Gavin Lees, via Skype link (uh-oh). His interest is in the segmentation of political supporters in Australia, and the political targetting strategies which emerge from this; and this builds on Roy Morgan data on the demographics of some 42,000 Australian voters covering the periods before and after the 2010 election.

Amongst the variables examined by this study were gender: National voters were slightly biased towards men, Green voters slightly toward women; age: National biased toward older, Greens towards younger and against older voters; income: National biased towards low-income, Greens slightly biased towards higher income groups; socioeconomic groupings: National biased towards E, F, G (lower socioeconomic) and Greens towards A and B (higher socioeconomic) groups; and education: Greens strongly biased towards higher degrees, Nationals slightly biased against higher degrees. There were few clear differences between Labor and Liberal voters on these variables.

Understanding the Swinging Voter

Next up at CMPM2014 is Edwina Throsby, whose focus is on swinging voters. These are important figures in Australian politics, and seen as determining party policies and deciding elections; the fact that Australia has compulsory voting also makes their position very special in an international context.

There are plenty of assumptions about who these swinging voters are, and how they might be targetted by political campaigning – and indeed most campaigns are squarely focussed on this group. But such targetting has become increasingly difficult in recent years: while campaigners continue to believe that they can be targetted as a bloc, they also acknowledge that to define and target this cohort is now very difficult.

Such swinging voters are sometimes seen as unprincipled, apolitical and disengaged, or at best as calculating or capricious; conversely, they are also acknowledged as the group which ends up deciding who will govern the country, and who are therefore important and critical. Political operatives in Australia still largely hold negative views, but also acknowledge the substantial diversity within this group.


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