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All Politics Is Local? The Twitter Performance of Local Candidates in the 2013 Australian Federal Election (ASMC 2014)

Social Media and the Transformation of Public Space (ASMC 2014)

All Politics Is Local? The Twitter Performance of Local Candidates in the 2013 Australian Federal Election

Axel Bruns

The phrase “all politics is local” is especially appropriate in the Australian federal electoral context, where all 150 Members of Parliament are elected on the basis of their success in the electoral contests in their local electorates and no adjustments are made to account for their parties' nationwide vote shares. Media coverage, however, tends to focus squarely on the national party leaders, with local contests receiving media attention only in exceptional circumstances. This paper examines the extent to which social media are able to address this gap. During the 2013 Australian federal election, we tracked activity around the Twitter accounts of some 350 MPs and candidates; here, we examine the extent to which candidates and voters use this medium to supplement insufficient local media coverage.

The Changing Rules for Political Campaigning in Japan

The next session at AoIR 2015 starts with Leslie Tkach-Kawasaki, whose focus is on the use of social media in the 2013 upper house election in Japan. Online campaigning has been studied for some time already, with considerable focus on the impact of technological innovation; such research has found that online practices often mirrored offline practices. Online political marketing in particular has been an extension of traditional offline marketing techniques, and the use of social media for campaign involvement has also been explored recently.

Post-war electoral reforms in Japan set up multimember electoral districts where members of the same party would vie for the same seats. The law also distinguishes between political and campaign activities, and governs the distribution of campaign materials (including geographical distribution, the means and content of messages, and the distribution channels).

Professionalisation in Political Campaigning

The final speaker at CMPM2014 is Stephen Mills, whose interest is in the question of professionalisation in political campaigning. But what is being professionalised here? Individuals, institutions, systems? Does professionalisation occur when a cohort of professionals replace a previous non-professional cohort, or is this a more comprehensive institutional change through which new cultural norms are being adopted?

Since when does such professionalisation happen? Is it already over, is it continuing, or is it yet to happen? Does it happen quickly or slowly, disruptively or in an organised manner? And what is it caused by – exogenous factors such as technological change, or endogenous dynamics of adoption, adaptation, hybridisation?

The Early History of Australian Opinion Polling

The next session at CMPM2014 starts with Murray Goot, who takes us back to the ALP's pre-election study in 1961. The common view is that Labor first conducted a professional opinion poll in South Australia in 1968, and nationally in 1971, but this is incorrect: NSW Labor conducted a survey in the 1940s, and federal Labor did so in 1961, focussing on a selection of seats across the various states. It examined respondents' issues agendas and perceptions of parties, as well as their perceptions of local candidates. Interviews also explored the key issues which drove voters.

This first large-scale piece of political research was a benchmark against which subsequent polls can be measured. It focussed mainly on NSW and Victoria, with Queensland dropped due to costs in spite of the potential for changing seats there. The seats were largely marginal ones, or seats where there was significant interest in outcomes. 100 respondents in each electorate were chosen in city seats, 200 in country seats, and the response rate was above 50%.

Twitter Activity in the 2013 Australian Federal Election

My own paper was next at CMPM2014, presenting our work on the Twitter activities by and directed at candidates in the 2013 Australian federal election. Here are the slides, with audio to come:

Twitter in the 2013 Australian Election from Axel Bruns


Candidates' Twitter Use in the Western Australian Senate Re-Run Election

Up next at CMPM2014 is Stephen Dann, whose focus is on the use of Twitter by Australian political parties. He followed the 31 of the 77 candidates in the Western Australian Senate re-election who were present on Twitter (27 of whom actually posted any content), and found, in short, that what they were posting was not authentic communication.

Stephen's approach was to examine what candidates were doing in Twitter before, during, and after the election campaign. This may include original content, reactions to other people's tweets, or sharing material from outside of Twitter. Overall, then, tweets fit five broad categories: conversation (through @replies), news updates (sharing newsworthy content), passing along other people's content, maintaining a social presence, and broadcast of experiences and opinion. And spam is another possibility, sadly, often hijacking hashtags or conversations or replaying the same message from multiple accounts.

A New Way Forward for NSW Labor

The third Labor speaker at CMPM2014 is Kaila Murmain, NSW Labor's Assistant General Secretary. She begins by outlining the current political environment in NSW, which has been difficult for Labor following the 2011 landslide towards the Liberals; at the next election Labor would need to regain some 27 seats to win. There has been a need to rebuild with the help of strong local candidates.

One focus of this rebuilding is to attract strong small local donors for the Labor campaign. This is difficult given the considerable lack of trust Australians have in politics and politicians, and the lack of attention now being paid to political messaging in the mainstream media. Volunteers are therefore now the party's biggest asset, and the branch structure has become a crucial tool again.

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.

Australian Labor's Digital Strategy

From the two Coalition speakers at CMPM2014 we now move on to an ALP-themed panel, starting with Skye Laris, the Director of Digital for the Australia Labor Party. She says that in 2013 Labor used online media to push power down and out, trying to engage with a new supporter base and increasing its email address base tenfold over the course of a year. It has also amassed a strong following on Facebook, and used Facebook advertising extensively during the campaign.

This has resulted in a 1000% in online donations (to $800,000) from 2010 to 2013, and a 1500% increase in donors (over 10,000). 15,000 signed up online to become Labor volunteers. Such contacts were also used to source real stories about how Liberal policies would affect them, and to disseminate these stories through social media. Photos and other media generated by supporters were collected and curated online.

Once advertising is comparatively cheap and has a wide reach; it is also easier to target effectively at specific demographics. It leverages organic networks, and can build on organic user-led distribution by reinforcing stories which are already being disseminated widely. This also provides better opportunities for participation in campaigning, especially for people who are time-poor and cannot engage in other ways; it also generates immediate feedback on policies, agendas, and campaigns.


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