You are here

Liberal Campaigning Strategies in Australia

Next up at CMPM2014 is Felicity Wilson, Vice-President of the NSW Liberal Party, who self-deprecatingly begins by showing some footage from Jaymes Diaz's trainwreck campaign in 2013.

The keys to winning a campaign is to have a strategy, a campaign plan, the resources, and the activities to execute the plan. Good candidates are crucial to this, especially in marginal seats – they need to have strong local connection, be well-known, viewed favourably, be seen to understand the important issues, and be seen to be able to do something about them.

In planning campaigning strategy, the different electorates are considered separately: some seats (not just marginals) are designated as "key" seats in the Liberal Party, and overall there's a distinction between "best placed to win", battleground, development, and long shot seats based on the likelihood of being able to win the seat. Such designations determine the time and focus devoted to these seats, too – but also the pressure placed on the candidates from the central organisation.

Overall, this is all about the "ground game", with a focus on key performance indicators: media exposure, database development and data gathering about the local electorate, fundraising, and outreach (doorknocking, stalls, phone calls, etc.). Seats are benchmarked against each other on these criteria, and this is used to support the candidates' activities, but also to flag when they aren't doing enough.

Local candidates and members think they know their seat very well, of course – while the party machine has a range of other data to draw on. This can create tensions, of course, but also helps local candidates; at the moment, the balance isn't right yet, and some "maverick" candidates go their own way on some issues in order to gain more personal support from the local electorate. This can become a problem when the local candidate chooses to retire, however.

A big challenge in local campaigning are gaffes and slip-ups, and the media are now concentrating (too) strongly on such issues. This can lead to more candidates being chosen from the party machine rather than from the local community, as the former are seen as safer hands; but what do voters want? Are they forgiving of gaffes from otherwise well-liked, well-embedded local candidates? Do they want real people or polished communicators?

The other big challenge is the move towards big data. This has happened already in the US, but not quite yet in Australia, for a range of reasons: current party approaches are still quite clunky and need to become more smart and efficient. For the moment, Election Day remains the big moment of every campaign, and advertising is plastered all over the paths to the polling booths – but it is far from clear whether this is still effective in changing anyone's vote.