You are here

National Party Campaigning in Regional Seats

The next speaker at CMPM2014 is Nathan Quigley, Director of Communications for the NSW National Party; his focus, unsurprisingly, is on campaigning in regional seats. Key elements differentiating such seats are population density, autonomy, and demographics.

The largest seat in NSW, Barwon, is slightly larger than Germany, for example, but only has some one per cent of that country's population. Such seats are highly autonomous, with local media including local papers, local radio stations, and some local television playing an important role. These seats are self-contained in that residents may rarely travel outside the area of the seat (very different from inner-city seats), and have local government structures which similarly focus on the seat's geographic area.

Demographics are also different from the cities: they have large elderly, indigenous, Christian, and lower-income populations, and few inhabitants who were born overseas or have tertiary qualifications. This suits the National party's "red Tory" positioning very well.

Regional voters are strongly political – for farmers, "everything is political", but other residents too see themselves as disadvantaged compared to city residents, and this results in higher levels of party membership in regional seats. (This is true for the Liberal Party, too.) As a result of this, the Nationals are now experimenting with community preselection of local candidates in some of their electorates.

Any successful campaign must harness this potential source of volunteers, then (as the independent Voice 4 Indi campaign in 2013 also showed). Party messaging must be designed to be regional, therefore – it cannot just reflect the Coalition head office material, but must distinguish itself from both Labor and Liberals. This is something the Nationals have historically struggled with.

Nationals electorate messaging is ruthlessly local, therefore. The focus is on the local candidate, not state or federal leaders. Federal politicians of all stripes are unpopular – but local candidates are often well-liked. This also means addressing local issues and putting local angles on state and federal messages rather than just passing on the standard slogans; and working with local endorsers, who often hold significant local influence. The Nationals barely run a state-wide campaign at all (and regional Labor candidates do this quite well, too).

Using TV advertising in the regions can be complex, because a single regional seat can intersect with a wide range of local television markets. This can also allow some tight targetting of different areas within the same large regional electorate; but it can be expensive. Mailouts can also be difficult due to the reduced rate of mail delivery in regional areas, and volunteer-based letter delivery is similarly impossible outside the towns, given the large distances between residences.

Ground campaigning needs to focus on where people congregate, therefore. There are no train stations, and a low density of passers-by in the streets – so campaigning sometimes focusses on sporting matches, pubs, and shopping centres, and enlists key opinion leaders in the local area. And candidate campaigns are also depending on transport support – often, campaigning is possible only by plane or helicopter.

Because of the limitations of local media, paid advertising media is crucial. Twitter and Facebook are also becoming important – contrary to popular perceptions, social media are being used in the bush, and the geo-targetting functions of Facebook, YouTube, and Google Ads are indispensable.

In remote areas, things become even more difficult. TV channels are virtually non-existent and cover very large areas beyond the electorate, and mail-outs are even more difficult than in regional areas.