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The Current State of Australian Campaign Funding Regulation

The next speaker at CMPM2014 is Graeme Orr, whose interest is in the legal frameworks for political campaign funding. The law focusses mainly on accounting and auditing aspects of this, but indirectly affects a great deal more – campaign aesthetics, styles, strategies, staffing, and much more.

The law regulating political finance hasn't changed much overall, but the way in which it is being administered tends to swing between different states. Such concerns have a long history – even in pre-modern times there were concerns about vote-buying, porkbarrelling, and overwhelming an electorate with campaign materials.

Restrictions were gradually introduced over the past 100-odd years, focussing first on candidates (before parties were recognised as legal entities), though in 1970s Australia a more laissez-faire regime on funding was prominent for a few years. Since the 1980s, Australia has laws on disclosing at least larger donations, however.

Importing US Approaches into Australian Political Campaigning

We start the second day of CMPM2014 with Jennifer Rayner, whose interest is in the extent to which American campaigning innovations are being imported to Australia (and whether this makes sense). Some US approaches simply don't work elsewhere, due to different laws on advertising and funding, and the different electoral laws.

So in truth this is more of a process of hybridisation of campaigning, rather than a straight-out importing of US approaches. Any such approaches need to be adapted and filtered through local contexts, even if the Australian media appear to be obsessed with the "Americanisation" of Australian political campaigning.

How Cathy McGowan Won Indi

The final speaker at CMPM2014 today is Campbell Klose, and adviser on the wildly successful Cathy McGowan campaign which managed to unseat Liberal shadow minister Sophie Mirabella in the electorate of Indi in the 2013 Australian federal election. Indi is a very large electorate (roughly the size of the state of Massachusetts), with some 100,000 voters.

Early on, the Voice 4 Indi campaign began by holding some 55 kitchen table conversations with 425 participants, covering local and national issues. The results of this process were taken to Mirabella, who fundamentally disagreed with them and suggested Indi-ans cared only about cost of living issues; in response, the campaign vetted several candidates and finally settled on Cathy McGowan.

V4I then attracted volunteers, with each volunteer having to sign up to a shared value statement. These volunteers covered the entire political spectrum from the left to the right, and represented all the geographical areas covered by the electorate. Social media was used extensively to break down the geographical boundaries (such as mountain chains) separating these different areas – and the campaign conducted significant social media training with its diverse group of volunteers.

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.

The Demographics of Australian Voters in 2010

The next speaker at CMPM2014 is Gavin Lees, via Skype link (uh-oh). His interest is in the segmentation of political supporters in Australia, and the political targetting strategies which emerge from this; and this builds on Roy Morgan data on the demographics of some 42,000 Australian voters covering the periods before and after the 2010 election.

Amongst the variables examined by this study were gender: National voters were slightly biased towards men, Green voters slightly toward women; age: National biased toward older, Greens towards younger and against older voters; income: National biased towards low-income, Greens slightly biased towards higher income groups; socioeconomic groupings: National biased towards E, F, G (lower socioeconomic) and Greens towards A and B (higher socioeconomic) groups; and education: Greens strongly biased towards higher degrees, Nationals slightly biased against higher degrees. There were few clear differences between Labor and Liberal voters on these variables.

Understanding the Swinging Voter

Next up at CMPM2014 is Edwina Throsby, whose focus is on swinging voters. These are important figures in Australian politics, and seen as determining party policies and deciding elections; the fact that Australia has compulsory voting also makes their position very special in an international context.

There are plenty of assumptions about who these swinging voters are, and how they might be targetted by political campaigning – and indeed most campaigns are squarely focussed on this group. But such targetting has become increasingly difficult in recent years: while campaigners continue to believe that they can be targetted as a bloc, they also acknowledge that to define and target this cohort is now very difficult.

Such swinging voters are sometimes seen as unprincipled, apolitical and disengaged, or at best as calculating or capricious; conversely, they are also acknowledged as the group which ends up deciding who will govern the country, and who are therefore important and critical. Political operatives in Australia still largely hold negative views, but also acknowledge the substantial diversity within this group.

Political Branding in Labor's 2007 and 2010 Campaigns

Next up at CMPM2014 is Lorann Downer, whose focus is on brand strategies of the Australian Labor Party in the 2007 and 2010 elections. Political branding is a consciously chosen strategy to identify and differentiate parties and instil them with functional and emotional values, and this is expressed in part in the brand architecture

Brand architecture determines the hierarchy of brands from the same producer; it determines how brand elements are used; transfers equity between brands and offerings; and creates a "house of brands" or alternatively a "branded house". In Australia, the ALP has a federal structure and operates as a branded house, repeating certain logos and other elements.

An Introduction to Political Branding

The second speaker at CMPM2014 is Andrew Hughes, whose focus is on political branding strategies. Branding is a large area within marketing exchange, of course, and aims to influence the cognition, affection, and behaviour of consumers.

Key elements in this are brand preference, brand value, brand positioning, and brand architecture, and these all have their expressions in political branding: elections measure brand preferences, voters perceptions of which parties are on the left or the right reflect brand positioning, and the perceived relations between individual leaders, state and federal parties reflect the brand architecture of political parties.

The political market isn't all that different from other markets, then: how political consumers respond to brands, and how they engage with them, is not all that different – people might have turned off voting, but not politics and political questions as such. They want to engage with parties on an equal level, and this has also led to the success of new political brands (from Kevin07 to Palmer United) which seemed to promise a new style of engagement.

Trends in the Transformation of Electoral Processes

I'm spending the next couple of days in Sydney at the Australia-New Zealand Workshop on Campaign Management and Political Marketing, where I'm presenting a paper on the use of Twitter during the 2013 Australian federal election tomorrow. But we start today with an introduction by John Keane, who is reflecting on the history of elections during the post-war period.

He suggests that there are a number of big trends in this period. First, the electoral revolution: a huge increase in the number of countries which practice elections. Second, even despotic regimes use elections to legitimise themselves. Third, elections have been indigenised: the electoral process is being adjusted to take into account local traditions, from feeding the poor to driving away evil spirits.

Mapping the Twittersphere for the EU Election

The final speaker in the ASMC14 session is Axel Maireder, whose focus is on the structure of the Twittersphere surrounding the recent European Union election. His approach is to examine the follower networks of participants in relevant discussions, and to explore which factors explain their structural patterns – such as shared national and language identity, political ideology, or other factors.

The study captured all tweets containing keywords such as European Parliament, European Election, and relevant hashtags (in the various European languages), and gathered tweets from some 440,000 users in total. Filtering these to users with at least two tweets and at least 250 followers resulted in some 11,000 core users who were retained for the network analysis.

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