Twitter is a relatively recent communications tool and its affect on mass media and politics is still evolving in rapid and sometimes unpredictable ways.
There are already very lengthy and serious research papers being written on the subject and I don’t claim any particular research experience or expertise. However I have enjoyed watching the evolution of this new communications conduit and I’ve made a few mistakes myself along the way. Some funnier than others!
For the purposes of this short article my views and learnings (briefly) are:
1. Journos are learning how important Twitter is, but a few dinosaurs remain. The younger and hipper ones are clearly much better at it. The smart ones understand how to use lists and hashtags to monitor developments and also answer legitimate questions. They also aren’t afraid to block anonymous trolls.
2. Twitter now drives breaking news in mainstream media. The good journos get this. Many mainstream media stories are now peppered with pictures, videos and eyewitness accounts ripped straight from Twitter, often without any investigative or precautionary fact-checking.
3. Twitter is a good comms tool for insiders, sadly no soft or swinging voter’s minds will ever be changed on twitter,
4. The block key is great for anonymous trolls. Don’t feed the anonymous trolls.
The story below is an interesting yarn from the US via Campaigns and Elections magazine (a great resource for campaigners and journalists alike). I recommend subscribing to them for regular updates as well as following them on Facebook and Twitter.
Read the full article online here: http://www.campaignsandelections.com/magazine/us-edition/446907/is-twitter-ruining-young-press-operatives.thtml
It’s a great warning for young, enthusiastic (and sometimes inexperienced) digital campaigners (of which there are many in modern campaigning).
Key learnings from the article above include:
1. Here’s just one example: a snarky tweet from our opponent’s communications director ended up being retweeted a dozen times (I assume entirely by his friends and family), and this suddenly constituted a communications crisis for our campaign. It wasn’t. Not even close.
2. As all encompassing as Twitter seems in the Beltway Bubble, many voters, especially older voters who are your most reliable voting demographic, don’t use it. Some have no idea what Twitter is. And those who do are probably tweeting about the score of the latest baseball game, not the negative attack ad on TV.
3. Campaign communication plans need to be balanced with both traditional and new media, which means we need operatives who are balanced, and most importantly, know how to filter out the noise. Young operatives have come up in a world where everyone is on Twitter and everyone uses their Facebook accounts. In their world, much of public life is transacted online. The reality of life for most voters is far different. They’re reading news stories, in many cases online, but still a good portion in print. They’re also listening to talk radio and watching live broadcast television. A good hit in any of these mediums is far more likely to move voters than a tweet.
4. If Twitter is your only news source, which too often it is for many political reporters, some random malfeasance would appear to have seismic repercussions when survey research would show 80 percent of voters are unaware of the issue at all.
5. Now, this isn’t to say that social media sites like Twitter are useless to campaigns. They can be great ways to communicate with supporters, opinion makers, and drive action, but social media alone, or even primarily, does not move popular opinion or shape the discussion the way a print story in the major local daily does.
That said, Twitter does drive many mainstream stories, simply because of its speed and accessibility. Take for examples our (current) Federal Treasurer’s recent statements about poor people not owning cars or driving far. The explosion of memes and jokes on twitter (in which mainstream journalists shared and participated in the online furor) resulted in this joke even being carried the next day in conservative newspapers like the Herald Sun. It’s a good example of a story spreading initially through twitter and then the mainstream media. The MPs and candidates who were paying attention were able to participate in the conversation and in some cases help spread the wildfire which the conservatives are still trying to extinguish two days later.
There were some more hilarious tweets and memes the following day and then a further wave of very funny cartoons in the mainstream media after that (and online) .
here is a small sample found via google and twitter:
Anyway, don’t just take my word for it. Go to twitter and type “#auspol Hockey” into the search field …and enjoy the visual spectacle yourself.
If all this talk about Joe Hockey is a bit confusing (maybe you’re reading this via Pandora in a few years time) … this article by Lenore Taylor might help to make some sense out of it: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/aug/14/dumb-ways-to-sell-a-budget-a-singalong-guide-for-joe-hockey?CMP=twt_gu
While I’m typing this up poor old Joe Hockey is getting an absolute shellacking on ABC PM radio in Australia. I’m listening to a Vox Pop where every person is describing him as arrogant and out of touch. Will try and find a transcript later and add it to this post.
In 2002 I wrote a short report report summarising observations made during my participation in a NZ election study tour sponsored by the Australian Political Exchange Council (APEC). The delegation from Australia included representatives from the Labor, Liberal, National, Democrat and Green Parties. Participants were invited to construct their own itineraries focussing on personal and political interests. I must begin by thanking APEC and Gary Gray, who was then one of the Labor representative on the APEC Board, for this opportunity – I am sure that other participants will agree it was an extraordinary journey into New Zealand politics and culture.
Our activities focused primarily on the New Zealand Labour Party’s campaign. The study tour included visits to Wellington, Auckland and a day at Rotorua. Our itinerary included (amongst other events and meetings listed in the report): Prior to departure, a briefing at the New Zealand High Commission in Canberra; In Wellington, several meetings with Mike Smith – General Secretary, New Zealand Labour; In Wellington – briefings from Jenny Michie – Women’s Organiser and Communications Officer New Zealand Labour; Labour ministerial staff election campaign briefing – led by Heather Simpson – Chief of staff for Prime Minister Helen Clark; Meeting with David Burchett – IT/Communications Manager for Prime Minister’s office; Meeting with Dot Kettle – Senior Advisor to PM Helen Clark; Meeting with Tony Timms – Advisor to PM Helen Clark; Meeting with Marian Hobbs MP – Environment Minister and Member for Wellington Central and Electorate Representative Jordan Carter; Attended a very entertaining old-school town-hall-style ‘Meet the Candidates’ function at Kiora Community Hall (for Wellington Central candidates); Attended fundraising performance by ‘Hen’s Teeth’ for Ohariu-Belmont Campaign; Visited Te Papa National Museum Wellington; Attended Televised Candidates Debate (front row seats!); Lunch meeting with Chris Eichbaum – Senior Advisor to Hon Steve Maharey MP, Minister for Social Services, Employment, Tertiary Education; Meeting with Mike Williams–New Zealand Labour Party President and Campaign Manager; Meeting with Stephen Mills – Managing Director, UMR Research Ltd.; Attended Labour Campaign Launch – International Wharf Wellington; Accompanied General Secretary Mike Smith and Assistant General Secretary Murdo Macmillan at official briefing by Mark Johns, Manager of Operations Electoral Enrolment Centre, New Zealand Post; Briefing with Labour Auckland Regional Organiser Andrew Beyer and Labour Maori Organiser Jason Ake; Attended Campaign Meeting for Maungakiekie campaign (Mark Gosche MP); Meeting with Chris Carter MP at his electorate office; Meeting with Jonathan Hunt – Speaker of the New Zealand Parliament; Assisted with preparations for Helen Clark visit to Manakau Westfield shopping centre; Met Prime Minister Helen Clark at Manakau Westfield (and have a bad photo as proof!); Visited Waitakere Campaign Office in Glen Eden; Meeting with Labor candidate for Waitakere Ms Lynne Pillay; Meeting and briefing with Waitakere campaign manager Don Clarke; Sign Painting, door-to-door canvassing, billboard construction in Waitakere; Campaigning in Atoa Markets – campaigning/leaflets; Briefing with John Utting and visited UMR polling centre in Auckland; Attended Auckland Labour Party campaign directors meeting; Meeting with NZ Engineers Union organisers and activists at Auckland office; Going door-to-door to get out the voters on election day; Scrutineering during the election and in the evening during the count; and (on one day of rest) visited Whakarewarewa Thermal Valley and Maori village at Rotorua.
MMP – New Zealand’s Parliamentary system
The Mixed Member Proportional (MMP)* system was adopted in New Zealand in 1996 via referendum as a solution for the electorate’s frustration with the existing first-past-the-post system. Voters were fed up by the behaviour of previous governments, which abused the unchecked mandate delivered by a first-past-the-post system. MMP effectively ensures that no single party can rule in its own right. The election on Saturday 27 July 2002 was the third election under the MMP system. Under MMP each voter receives a single ballot paper on which they choose (by placing two ticks on the paper) a local representative candidate (from the list of candidates for the local seat), as well as a party vote. The New Zealand Parliament has 120 MPs. 61 MPs represent 61 general electorates. 6 MPs represent 6 Maori electorates (elected by voters on the Maori electoral roll only). 53 MPs are elected from the party lists in a manner that ensures their party’s final proportion in the parliament reflects their party’s ‘party vote’. In order to be represented in parliament, a party must either reach a 5% threshold in its party vote or hold at least one local electorate seat (in which case 2% of the Party vote will get you a friend elected as well from your ‘party list’). As far as the major parties are concerned, MMP necessitates that the focus of the election campaign is maximising your ‘party vote’, even at the local campaign level. A high party vote ensures that the maximum number of candidates from your ‘party list’ is elected and you are more likely to be part of the inevitable coalition Although Labour won three quarters of local electorates it still needed coalition partners to form a government. As it only won 41% of the party vote it only received 52 MPs in total.
Campaigning is campaigning: The NZ election campaign in a nutshell.
The New Zealand election showed that successful election campaign methods are universal: Assess the environment; define your strategy and implement appropriate However, despite the complicated calculations when counting the MMP ballot – the basic political tactics during this campaign remained the same as under any electoral system. Electorally successful parties (Labour, New Zealand First, United Future) increased their popular vote by: having a simple message that resonated with voters, repeating that message ad nauseum in their campaign material, maximising the coverage of their message in free-to-air media and canvassing for votes. Electorally unsuccessful parties (the Nationals and the Alliance) never had a fighting chance because their original strategy was flawed. They targeted the same constituency (with the same message) that had got them elected in 96 and 99, despite all the signs that the political landscape had seismically shifted around them. The leaders of both the Nationals and Alliance spent the last two weeks of the campaign in damage control.
Labour won almost three quarters of the local electorates and ended up with three extra seats – enough to form a minority Coalition Government with Jim Anderton (a reliable ex-Labour coalition partner) and another minor party. The National Party was decimated, receiving only half of the Labour popular vote. Traditional National Party voters deserted in droves to other conservative parties who had stolen their traditional message (and constituency) during the campaign.
The full report can be found here: AusPol Exchange Hallaj report (apologies for any typos in this 12 year old pdf version of this report).
I’ll come back to this post or a linked post to give a run-down of the current New Zealand electoral landscape as well as some coverage of interesting events and observations from the 2014 NZ election campaign, due later this year.
In the meantime, here’s the best place to start if you’re an aspiring psephologist: http://www.elections.org.nz/events/2014-general-election