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How Labor Won the 2012 ACT Election

Next up at CMPM2014 is Elias Hallaj, the ACT Labor Party Secretary, who reviews the 2012 ACT election campaign. Every campaign is different, of course, but it also adds to the collective knowledge about campaigning. ACT elections are further complicated by the fact that they use the Hare-Clark electoral system, too.

The political environment for Labor in 2012 was very tough, party due to federal factors. In response, Labor began its campaign twelve months earlier than in previous elections; it needed to reestablish the ACT Labor brand after the leadership transition away from John Stanhope, and distinguish it from federal (and NSW) Labor. This included early candidate preselections and created long campaign lead-ins, but also created a risk of burnout.

Labor tried some strongly localised strategies, therefore, but the Hare-Clark's system of multiple members per electorate also created some internal competition and conflict between candidates and required additional coordination. The emergence of new parties, some of which ran on progressive policies, also complicated the electoral landscape for Labor and Greens candidates.

Throughout the campaign, Labor polling suggested the election was too close to call. This created a tense environment, especially in the final weeks. In the end, the election resulted in parity between Labor and the Coalition, with a sole Greens member holding the balance of power (and now serving as a minister in the Labor government).

There was very strong voter cynicism about politics, not least because of the public service-heavy demographics in Canberra. But Labor was able to cut through on some of its key messages, especially relating to jobs, schools, and hospitals. Personal attacks on Labor leader Katy Gallagher by the Liberals, as well as a scare campaign, were only marginally effective. With fracturing mass media, grassroots campaigning was effective. Social media was useful with insiders, including mainstream media journalists.

Coordination and targetting across multiple Labor candidates in the same electorate worked well. It enabled candidates to share the campaigning load, and candidates who were able to adjust to this environment did well (others less so).