Grassroots field campaign helps Labor win in Victoria

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I’ve been a bit busy with work (new job) and family over the past two months but will try and post more regularly in a couple of weeks after work starts winding down for the Christmas break. In the meantime here are a few interesting posts (listed below, with highlights) about last weekend’s incredible result in Victoria where a first-term government was ousted in a state election – a very unusual occurrence in Australian politics.

It has been particularly important for progressive campaigners in Australia’s largest three states, who have all recently suffered defeat at the state and federal level. There are now three Labor states/territories in Australia (Victoria, South Australia and the ACT) and renewed hope for Labor in the next federal election due in 2016. There are also important state elections due in Queensland and NSW over coming months and hope this momentum will produce better results in each of those states. The conservative majorities in both NSW and Queensland are very large and there are few signs at this stage that the swings expected in each of those states will be large enough to unseat those governments. However, lessons can be learnt from the Victorian result which can help Labor win back many marginal seats in each of those states.

One newspaper story I would recommend reading is by former Victorian ALP Secretary Nick Reece in this morning’s AGE newspaper. The article is available online here, and here are some interesting excerpts:

“The Napthine government thought the union movement would deliver it victory courtesy of an anti-union scare campaign. Instead, the unions were decisive in the Coalition’s defeat.”

The blow-back from the Liberal’s ineffective anti-union campaign was heart-warming for many progressives across Australia. At the same time that the Labor team was using “putting people first” as its slogan, the conservative Victorian Liberals seemed determined to repeatedly slander the unions and their volunteers. The Liberals refused to concede that the teachers, nurses, ambulance workers, firefighters and other workers campaigning against them actually had more in common with average Victorians than they did. The Liberal anti-union slander was confirming how out-of-touch the Liberals actually were.

Yesterday’s Guardian also had an article by Gay Alcorn with some very interesting quotes from Victorian Labor’s Assistant State Secretary Kosmos Samaras.

One of my favourite quotes from this article is “The slogan Putting People First came from the ground, that was something that was coming up, they wanted politicians to put people first. The term that continually was coming back to us.”

Kosmos also stated :“The Liberal party is not in the game. They don’t know how to run a field campaign. They lost because they refused to talk to people.”

I’ll return with more links and commentary in coming days. 😉

OK… later on Monday… I have to admit this article by Rick Wallace in the Australian (which I may buy today for the first time in an eternity 🙂 is my favourite so far…


THE secret weapon in Daniel And­rews’s campaign was made in the USA — in the Obama campaigns of 2008 and 2012 — and transplanted to the sprawling suburbs of Melbourne to snatch an improbable victory from a first-term government.

Revealed to The Australian through unprecedented access in the final week of the campaign, the secret weapon was rolled out in 25 marginal seats to unleash a phone call and doorknocking blitz.

Yesterday, Labor’s Community Action Network was credited with underpinning Andrews’s win and snatching a clutch of seats from the conservatives.

Along with a revamped advertising strategy, the so-called field program allowed Labor to outmanoeuvre the Coalition with a much smaller budget. It helped reinvent the way Labor campaigns.

The bad news for the Coalition is that the network is expected to become a permanent feature of ALP campaigns in Victoria and is likely to be deployed in NSW and Queensland next year.”

….

“Two weeks from the election, ALP assistant secretary Stephen Donnelly took The Australian behind the scenes to visit campaign operations in the battleground seats of Eltham and Monbulk.

En route to Eltham just days from the poll, Donnelly says that throughout this year, working largely in the shadows, the Victorian ALP built a network of more than 5500 volunteers and 250 volunteer leaders using a system honed by Barack Obama’s Democratic Party machine.

He says the party road-tested the system in last year’s federal campaign — without the support of then leader Kevin Rudd — and it helped sandbag the seats of Isaacs, Chisholm and McEwen amid Labor’s heavy defeat.

“Daniel Andrews saw it operate in the federal campaign for Isaacs and said, ‘Yeah I want it for next year. Let’s do this’,” Donnelly says.

Andrews was partly motivated by money, with Labor facing a cashed-up incumbent while its donation­s had largely dried up.”

“The fulcrum of the campaign was the 35 paid field staff. They were hired for their skills and experience running events or call centres or in similar roles, rather than for factional allegiance or party loyalty.

Each was assigned to recruit at least 150 volunteers and select leaders from among them to run the operations.

Donnelly says he didn’t care if they were party members or not (45 per cent aren’t) and all that was needed was to share ALP “values” and have a commitment to unseating the government.”

….

this is the funniest part I think: “With a budget half the size of the Coalition’s, Labor’s ads had only three main messages and were tightly targeted in programs swinging voters watch. Direct mail, a fixture of past campaigning, was restricted to undecided voters discovered through the field program, and mail was tailored direct­ly to the issues they cited.

“The Liberal Party is running ads really heavily in the news, but we know from our research that our undecided voters don’t watch TV news. They watch Big Brother ,’’ Samaras says.

The other tactical error by the conservatives, Samaras says, is the focus on linking Andrews to the militant Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union.

“Most people in the focus groups say, ‘What’s the CFMEU?’, or that it doesn’t have any relevance to their lives,” he says.

That Samaras and Donnelly have been briefing The Australian several days out from the poll speaks volumes about the ALP’s confidence in its new campaigning — and they are proven right.”

Not sure if I want to start watching Big Brother though 🙂

I will come back to this post over the next few weeks. Might be worth also saying a few words about how Australian parties have evolved their campaigning techniques over the past century and also about old as well as recent American influences such as Marshall Ganz, OFA and Saul Alinsky.

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