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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.

There are various paths towards such motivation: that of respect, empowerment, and involvement, and that of using big data on electoral preferences – and the Obama campaign is using them both.

Every voter had a set of number against their name, from both direct contact and statistical extrapolation. Such "microtargetting scores" show the likelihood of a voter's support for the Obama campaign, as well as of their voting in the first place, as well as of the likelihood of the campaign to be able to persuade them to do either. These data were used like a business does – with one unified national database which drove targetting decisions and campaign strategies.

On the other hand, the campaign also worked with an army of volunteers at the local level, and fine-tuned its messaging at the hyperlocal level. Respect, empower, involve were not just empty statements, but reflected the structure of the entire campaign. Volunteers had clear career paths, for example – they were able to attain higher positions in the campaign machinery by proving the commitment to the key principles of the campaign.

In 2012, Obama had some 813 national field offices and 5177 staging locations which organised the local campaigns. But this was not just a change in numbers from previous campaigning models, but also a qualitative change as it enabled a much stronger local connection.

Such campaigning isn't possible in Australia unless there is the right message, the right candidate, and real, ethical commitment to the message. In the post-2010 election review, the ALP made some commitments to such approaches, but the culture of the party at present is not compatible with the idea of "respect, empower, involve". These values are not being applied consistently – and the voters realise this as well. Leaders and candidates must model these values if they want to be able to campaign like Barack Obama.