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. 😉
Victorians have voted to put people first. Thank you.
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.
For perspective on the difference between Democratic and Republican midterm strategy, you really have to read Derek Willis’s NYT Upshot post “Democrats Are Spending More on the Ground in Key Senate Races.” The centerpiece in his post, quite a jaw-dropper really, is a chart, “A Democratic Edge in Key Senate Races,” which graphically depicts how much of the midterm outcome is riding on Dem’s GOTV spending.
In Alaska, for example, Dems are spending $1.9 million for “local staffers; get-out-the-vote efforts and other field operations.” to re-elect Mark Begich, vs. less than $225K for the Repubican candidate. In Colorado the difference is even greater, with Dems spending $4.4 million on staff and voter contact operations, compared the the Republicans’ spending a paltry $556K for their candidate. In North Carolina Democrats are spending $3.2 million on ground game efforts to re-elect Sen. Kay Hagan, compared to less than $836K for her GOP opponent. In Iowa it’s $1.3 mill for Democrat Rep. Bruce Braley against $105K for his adversary.
Willis adds that outside groups, such as super PACs, environmental and reproductive rights groups “working on behalf of Democratic candidates have extended the advantage.” Republicans, lacking the ground troops, have for the most part opted for investments in more traditional methods, such as media and postal ads.
Much depends on how good Democratic high-tech voter targeting efforts like the Bannock Street Project really are, vs. the GOP’s ad saturation strategy. But Dems are not withdrawing from the ad wars in any sense, explains Willis:
In Alaska, Colorado, Iowa and North Carolina, the number of network television spots is split roughly evenly between the two sides, according to data compiled by Echelon Insights, a Republican digital consulting firm…Spending on field operations is still a fraction of the amount that goes to television and other forms of advertising, and campaigns are reluctant to take money away from trying to reach mass audiences, even if it’s unclear in many cases how many persuadable voters broadcast advertisements reach.
Democrats clearly recognize that they have to remain competitive in fronting strong television ads, matching the Republican investment. But they also believe they can target swing voters better than can the Republicans, and they can put more trained canvassers on their front porches– and with a better message.
It’s a big gamble. But credit Democrats with the realization that getting different midterm results requires a different GOTV strategy. So far, dozens of better-than-expected snapshot polls suggest they may be right.
This interview is the first in a series which I had originally planned to title “Meet a psephologist” and use as a series of interesting articles about people who study, work in and write about elections. However not everyone agrees with me that there is a psephologist in all of us (or that there is a foodie in all of us), so in order to avoid scaring away potential interviewees it is now titled “Meet an election specialist” but I still have a list of psephologists (professional and amateur) as well as academics, practitioners and writers on my to-do list!
I recently had the pleasure of catching up with Australia’s second-most-famous psephologist while he recovered from some hip surgery at Canberra Hospital. Malcolm Mackerras is one of Canberra’s living legends. Anyone who is even slightly interested in politics and elections would be familiar with his writing and his famous federal electoral pendulum, which has had many imitations and which he has himself adapted for many other elections. Malcolm’s first published work on Australian politics was written in 1965, while he was working as a research officer for the Liberal Party. In 1970 Malcolm became an academic and had various posts at UNSW, RMC Duntroon, ADFA and now at the Public Policy Institute, Australian Catholic University.
Malcolm’s Wikipedia entry reminds us that he is “famous for making predictions about election results” and “he claims a ‘win’ ratio of ‘two in three’ and adds “at least I’m not boring”!
Malcolm is certainly anything but boring! He is happy to discuss just about anything related to democracy and elections and has a wide-ranging expertise on Australian politics.
I asked Malcolm a series of questions and his unedited answers are listed below:
Tell me about yourself Malcolm. Who are you in a nutshell? In academic parlance I’m a political scientist. Although I’m semi-retired I currently work at the Australian Catholic University in Canberra as a Visiting Fellow. I’m also still writing about elections and have appeared regularly to discuss politics on “Switzer” which is on SkyNewsBusiness. I had seven siblings, including a fraternal twin Colin Mackerras, a leading China specialist at Griffith University. I was born in 1939, worked on my first campaign handing out How-To-Vote cards at a referendum in 1951, joined the Liberal Party when I was 16 in 1955 and have followed every election and by-election in Australia ever since. My academic career started when I became what was then known as a “Research Scholar” at ANU in 1970. By-elections are fascinating. Did you know we had 10 by-elections in Australia between 1951 and 1954? Nine were caused by the death of the local member. These days healthcare has improved so much that we rarely have deaths in political office and most by-elections are caused by resignations.
Where do you live/work/study/teach? I live in Campbell (Canberra’s inner north) and work mainly from home. I have an office at ACU where I still teach occasionally.
What motivates you to write and research about politics? It fascinates me! I’ve also been fortunate to be in the middle of many interesting political contests. In 1975 I had an article published in the Canberra Times which I’d written 10 days before. I had speculated in the article that the political stand-off in the Senate was getting to the point where Kerr may have to sack Whitlam to break the deadlock. 10 days after I wrote the article it was published. Later that morning Kerr sacked Whitlam. I was actually on radio at 11am prior to the dismissal answering questions about the article and heard afterwards what had happened. That afternoon I was flown to Melbourne to be interviewed about the article and the dismissal an appeared on the TV news that night. It was my best prediction ever! I was also the only psephologist who predicted Howard would lose Bennelong.
I also believe that our Constitutional Monarchy is a unique and beautiful democratic process. Australia has been very fortunate to inherit such a good system of government and also fortunate that it has been modified and evolved so well. Our system is one of the best in the world and I still believe the Republican argument lacks a compelling case. Both our houses of parliament are relatively well populated with good representatives and both function well. The senate is genuinely semi-proportional and serves an important role as a house of review. We have a symbolic head of state (the Queen) and a constitutional head of state (the Governor General). Since 1930 when Jim Scullin established the current rules, the Prime Minister effectively selects the Governor General. This system allows an unsatisfactory Governor General to be replaced easily, as has happened, and this is a model of common sense. A popularly elected President or even one elected by a Parliament, would be very difficult to replace. Australian democracy has worked very well compared to other democracies and we shouldn’t change too much without very good reason.
Is there anything you don’t like about modern politics? There is far too much excessive partisanship in modern Australian politics, with the current Prime Minister being most to blame for it. He is in my opinion the most partisan PM we’ve ever had. Abbott is far more partisan than Howard or Fraser and has damaged the office as a result. The PM’s position should be statesman-like and it should not be as partisan as Abbott has made it.
Compulsory or voluntary voting? Definitely compulsory voting. It makes the results more reflective and representative and if it aint broke why fix it?
What’s the first thing you do each morning? I’m an early riser. I read my newspapers after I pick them up off the driveway. The Canberra Times usually arrives about half an hour before the SMH and Australian.
What is your one recommended must-read for aspiring psephologists? Read Mumble. Peter is good as a psephologist and he also does political commentary well. Peter calls a spade a spade and his dry cynicism can be entertaining.
What’s your favourite political movie/book/documentary/TV series?The Victory was entertaining. The Stalking of Julia Gillard by Kerry Anne Walsh was also a very good book. I recommend both. The book Battlelines exposes Abbott’s dishonesty. He’s clearly a centralist, yet he used federalist arguments to recently argue against and abolish the mining super-profits tax.
What are you currently reading or working on? I’m working on a book collecting all my writing, beginning in 1957 and I’m about a quarter of the way through. I also wrote two recent articles (in the Australian and Canberra Times) opposed to the Electoral Matters Report on Senate Elections. I disagree with the recommendation to do away with party tickets. The Senate system currently works quite well and I think the main arguments are being made by the government because it doesn’t like the result of what happened in the Senate race in 2013. In the 2013 federal election Labor lost 17 seats, all of which went to the Liberal or National parties. However in the Senate there were six seats lost. Of the seven Senate seats lost in 2013, three went to PUP (one each in Qld, Tasmania and WA), one went to Family First in SA, Rickey Muir picked up a Liberal Senate spot in Victoria (which was meant to be won by Kroger), one Liberal Democrat was elected in NSW and one Green in Victoria.
Thank you for your time and frank answers Malcolm Mackerras!
If you’d like to read more from Malcolm then check out some of the links below:
In coming days I’m planning to add some historical information about the most recent ACT Assembly election, which was held on 20 October 2012. The first item is a submission made by one of our member’s Chris Monnox to a post-election report compiled after the campaign. Chris is an author and academic, who also recently wrote a very comprehensive history of ACT Labor.
I’ll begin by attaching a pdf copy of Chris’s submission.