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.
Tanya Plibersek is the Deputy Leader of the Australian Labor Party and also the Federal Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs. She’s also a great role model for aspiring political activists across Australia as well as in her home state of New South Wales. Her statement below about feminism was published in Australian newspapers on Thursday 13 November and I’m adding it here as a reference for future comments on this issue, and also to show my daughters as they each grow up and are old enough to read it and understand it.
Tanya Plibersek: Why I’m a feminist
I am a feminist. Not because I’m a whinger, or a victim, but because I understand how very fortunate I am. And I’m grateful to the women (and men) who’ve made that possible.
If a footballer runs onto the field to a barrage of racist abuse, should he ignore it? Or should he call it out as unacceptable? What is the braver thing to do?
Ignoring racism or sexism doesn’t make it go away.
I am a feminist because I am grateful to be able to combine motherhood with a career that is intellectually and emotionally rewarding.
I am a feminist because I understand that the 18 per cent gender pay gap is not there because women are less competent at work than men.
I am a feminist because I know that the number of older women retiring with less superannuation than men is not because they are worse savers.
I am a feminist because I know it’s unacceptable that one in every five Australian women will experience sexual assault and one in every three Australian women will experience domestic violence in their lifetimes.
I am a feminist because I want my daughter to be safe walking home; because I want her to feel any profession is open to her, and that she is valuable for her intellect, her kindness, her sense of humour – not her looks.
I am a feminist because I want my sons to know the deep rewards of an equal relationship with their life partner, the satisfaction of being a hands-on father, and the limitless opportunity of rejecting unhealthy stereotypes.
I am a feminist because I recognise that it is the struggle of previous generations that have given me the opportunities I have. Bella Guerin, who back in 1883 became the first woman to graduate from an Australian university; Edna Ryan who fought for equal pay for men and women; Vida Goldstein who fought for women to be allowed to vote and stand for Parliament; and Jeannette McHugh, the first Labor woman to be elected to the House of Representatives from NSW.
I am a feminist because I know that having so much joy and satisfaction and home and at work, it would be completely unacceptable to say to other women, the young women I meet, so full of potential, “you’re on your own”.
If you don’t see the structural problems in society, you can’t fix them.
Tanya Plibersek is the Deputy Opposition Leader.
Haven’t had much time for blogging lately due to a new job but have given it a lot of thought with so much material to read and absorb. Will hopefully find more time over coming weeks for posts on the recent election in New Zealand, US mid-terms, by elections in NSW as well as current contests in Victoria and the ongoing saga of a federal budget whose passage seems to be the political equivalent of the 80s classic ‘Never-ending Story”.
Today I feel compelled to put some thoughts on paper (or keyboard?) following two recent culturally significant events that had some personal meaning: Remembrance Day and the funeral of Gough Whitlam.
I’ve previously mentioned the importance of cultural context in campaigning techniques. Last night I noticed our PM was copping a bit of flak on twitter (nothing unusual there) regarding his recent threat to “shirtfront” Vladimir Putin as well as his recent commitment to send Australian troops back into the Iraq. Yes, that same quagmire created by Bush/Blair/Howard when they invaded and destroyed a largely functioning nation in 2003. I recalled Mr Abbott was also recently found guilty by the Insiders panel of conflating crimes in Western Sydney and the threat of Terrorism from “ISIS’, or “Daesh” as they are called by their local enemies. So following the twitter ruckus I was keen to see what recent statements he may or may not have made that were embarrassing to him or the nation. Disappointingly there didn’t seem to be any recent zingers or clangers. In fact the video statement he released for Remembrance Day was well-written and relatively-speaking, well-delivered.
It was a big improvement on his last video about past wars when he inexplicably conflated the anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy with his economic fight “to cut tax” and “open Australia for business” on big projects (obviously ignoring recent raises in petrol tax, the implementation of a new tax on the sick, and decisions to prevent foreign investment in Australian business).
There’s a good write up including some of the more memorable tweets here.
It’s also a shame the Remembrance Day statement seemed to be overshadowed by his recent decision to cut wage increases for the Australian armed forces. Tasmanian PUP Senator Jacqui Lambie even botched together a meme of sorts (presumably using powerpoint?). Despite the poor layout, it conveyed an effective message about the PM’s attitude to the wages and conditions of the service men and women that were often tasked to join him in Putin-like photo opportunities.
There were also no shortage of anti-Abbott memes quick to take the opportunities presented by numerous public photos of the often media-shy PM. Just google (images) Abbott+Putin+meme for big laughs, especially if you’re a Trekky.
What is most disappointing though is that there have been more memorable Remembrance Day speeches made in the recent past. PM Abbott is yet to capture the vision for our nation or pride in the Australian people that is expected from a national leader. Compare and contrast Keating’s speech from the 2013 Remembrance Day about Australians who have lost their lives in war. Sadly the video has been removed on this website.
My favourite parts include:“By 1915 we had no need to re-affirm our European heritage at the price of being dragged to a European holocaust. We had escaped that mire, both sociologically and geographically. But out of loyalty to imperial Britain, we returned to Europe’s killing fields to decide the status of Germany, a question which should earlier have been settled by foresight and statecraft.’ and “One thing is certain: young Australians, like the young Europeans I mentioned earlier, can no longer be dragooned en masse into military enterprises of the former imperial variety on the whim of so-called statesmen. They are fortunately too wise to the world to be cannon fodder of the kind their young forebears became: young innocents who had little or no choice. Commemorating these events should make us even more wary of grand ambitions and grand alliances of the kind that fractured Europe and darkened the twentieth century. In the long shadow of these upheavals, we gather to ponder their meaning and to commemorate the values that shone in their wake: courage under pressure, ingenuity in adversity, bonds of mateship and above all, loyalty to Australia.”
Keating’s 2013 speech was similar to his 1993 speech as PM, the audio of which is available here.
Speaking of great speeches, there was an amazing one last week by Noel Pearson at Gough Whitlam’s funeral service. Much has been written about it already.
Here’s the full text of Noel’s eulogy to Gough. And here’s the video:
Anyone interesting in politics and political craft appreciates a great speech. But what makes a great political speech? It’s worth looking at a couple more to try and see what’s in a great speech, and its often art as much as science. A favourite example is Keating’s famous Redfern Speech from 20 years ago. Here is a full transcript of the speech.
And here is some analysis that helps put it into context and explain the significance of its parts.
And here is some video to relive the moment:
Another favourite worth dissecting is Barack Obama’s famous speech at the 2004 American Democratic National Convention when he retold, eloquently, the story of his personal journey (which is described in much greater detail in his best-selling books).
The transcript of that speech can be read here along with some detailed and interesting analysis about its contents.
And here’s another favourite (sadly without analysis).
and just to get back to the original point about cultural context here’s a local favourite that every Australian child should read, listen to and learn! My Country Read by Dorothea McKellar.
I first met Jennifer Lees-Marshment over ten years ago when she was based in the UK but was working on Political Marketing and Political Science projects as a visiting fellow at ANU and presented some of her findings at seminars in the Australian Federal Parliament. We joked after one of her seminars about the defensive critiques she was receiving from some of the “practitioners” in the room. I won’t name names but needless to say our shared frustration with the overt cynicism many practitioners have for political scientists helped break the ice.
Jennifer is an international leader in political marketing which explores how politicians and government use tools like branding and market research to win and retain power. Last year she pioneered the development of a new Stage Three course at Auckland “The Practice of Politics” (the only of its kind in New Zealand), which teaches students about the diversity of career options in politics and the challenges they may face. Jennifer has a BA (Hons) in History and American Studies from Keele University in the UK, an MA (with Distinction) in Politics from Manchester and a PhD in Politics from Keele. She was a senior lecturer at Keele and Aberdeen universities before joining Auckland’s staff as a senior lecturer in 2005. She became an associate professor in 2012. Associate Professor of Political Studies Jennifer Lees-Marshment is academic adviser to New Zealand’s Vote Compass – the online election tool, hosted by TVNZ, which enables voters to find out how their views on a range of issues compare to the positions of parties in the build up to New Zealand’s 20 September General Election.
Her research and writing broadened the scope of political marketing from campaigning to behaviour and from elections to governing and has been widely cited and influential with review comments including ‘an enormous contribution’; ‘a must-have-on-your-shelf volume’; ‘authoritative and accessible’; ‘sophisticated, learned research’; ‘an important and innovative book’; ‘sagacious views’; ‘a wealth of insights’; ‘a hugely informative study on an important field’; ‘ground breaking’; ‘a timely and extremely important book’; ‘a valuable addition.’; ‘pioneering collection’; ‘a significant contribution.’ She has authored/edited 13 books and reviews have noted the practical advice within them: ‘crucial to our understanding of how this world works — not just in theory, but in practice’; ‘all those who claim to understand modern political strategy, all those pundits and government-relations experts we see on TV, should keep this volume at hand as an essential reference’; ‘this book will be a bible for political operatives to be kept close at hand for frequent reference.’ She has also interviewed over 200 political elites and involved practitioners in events and publications throughout her career. Her newest book is The Ministry of Public Input to be published in January 2015.
In July this year Associate Professor Marshment made a brilliant presentation to the 2014 Campaign Management and Political Marketing Workshop held at Sydney University in July (and I will eventually write a separate post about her presentation and a few others when I find some more spare time). In the meantime, your best understanding about her work will be derived from purchasing her latest book: Political Marketing Principles and Applications which is well worth the investment for the interview-derived case studies alone.
So tell me about yourself. Who are you in a nutshell? I am a gardener academic – I like to break new ground and nurture new ideas and people to grow into the tallest of trees people came climb and get a different view from. I produce ground breaking research that aims to change the way people think – early in my career I argued that political marketing wasn’t just about selling or campaigning; I am now arguing for new views on political leaders and public input in government. I also want to take university out of the ivory tower and connect it with the real world through research led but practice oriented teaching. As a nurturing leader, I look for ways to support new ideas, new scholars, new studnets all the time, and work across the usual hierarchies of power, discipline and geographical boundaries. Of course, doing all of this puts me up against some pretty big brick walls – being a leader, who seek leadership as about supporting others not just promulgating your own ideas and power, and thinks academics are there to serve society not just create knowledge for knowledge sake is “disruptive thinking” for most institutions, and goes against the grain of traditional culture. But when I look back on my career I have achieved so much in terms of changing views of political marketing, connecting and supporting people I remain proud of this wonderful – if challenging – path I choose to take.
Where do you live/work/study/teach? I work at the University of Auckland in New Zealand and teach Political Marketing, Political Management in Government and The Practice of Politics.
What compels you to write and research politics? A fundamental passion to write about what is really going on in politics, uncover things people do not normally see, communicate those new findings, generate debate about them, and use them to inform better practice through teaching and professional training. For example I have helped to show that political marketing is happening throughout the world not just in campaign time and involves a whole range of marketing tools and concepts. And more recently with my work The Ministry of Public Input I found that politicians are integrating a range of public input into their decision making and being reflective and deliberative. We don’t see that from the outside so I think it’s important academics find it out and let everyone know. Whilst I think academia needs to connect with the outside world, I still believe in the value of traditional critical objective research, but I just then go one step further in trying to take that research to the real world. It’s not so much changing what we do as changing what we do with it.
What do you love about politics? Ultimately it’s about how to make life better for everyone. My real underlying passion is how can we get politicians to be more responsive to the public and provide them with – or work with them to create – a better life. It appeals to my sense of what democracy is all about. And I love trying to understand it, seeing my theories proven right – and learning all over again when they might be found to be wrong or need updating!
Is there anything you don’t like about modern politics? The cynicism towards politicians. As employers of politicians we do not manage them well. All we do is see their bad points; we fail to see how hard they work, how reasonable most of them really are; and how they are just doing their best to create a better society. I’ve presented my research on political leaders recently and been really taken by the huge negativity that comes towards you when you suggest – on the basis of research – that politicians might actually act and think in a way that is positive. People don’t want to hear it; they much prefer to think badly of politicians. That isn’t good for democracy.
Compulsory or voluntary voting? Voluntary
Who are your favourite writers? I like any story about someone triumphing over obstacles. No particular favourite authors.
What are your favourite websites and news sources? The NZ Herald as it has a free app that is easy to use. For the NZ election I am recording the one news by TVNZ so I keep up to date with it all but normally I wouldn’t as it’s kid dinner bath bedtime.
What’s the first thing you do each morning? Feel tired. I don’t get enough sleep/rest.
What is your one recommended must-read for aspiring psephologists? Well you invited the plug so I would say The Political Marketing Game as it gives a great overview of what political marketing is all about and has material from interviews with 100 practitioners in it, not just academic theory. Either that or the textbook introducing the field – Political Marketing: Principles and Applications 2nd edition. Or Shopping for Votes by Canadian journalist Susan Delacourt which is an easy but informed and objective read into the use of marketing in Canadian politics.
What’s your favourite political movie/book/documentary/TV series? Commander in Chief was good. I liked Scandal and House of Cards but they get a bit far fetched/too much about stuff that isn’t politics after a while.
Is there a funny or brilliant political ad you’d like to share? This is a funny one done by the National Party against Labour in NZ in 2005 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P96VcHcg3zM
Then there is Dave the Chameleon done by UK Labour against David Cameron which illustrates some of the problems with over marketing politicians – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bRKhTQHrtdk.
What are you currently reading or working on? Nothing! Well, not a publication anyway – I am doing Vote Compass for the 2014 New Zealand election; and distributing a report from The Ministry of Public Input to government staff to get the idea of creating an all of government unit to collect, analyse and communicate public input going round government. And trying to get a book series in political marketing underway. So then again, quite a lot…but having completed 3 books in the last two years and having no new book to write as yet it feels like a lot less work.
Which other psephologists do you recommend I interview soon? Andre Turcotte at Carleton University in Canada. He’s a political marketer who runs a course on political management but also carries out market research so he would definitely be good.
Jennifer recently gave an interview to a University publication about her life, her work and interests. below is a photo of the published interview, with a transcript further below.
What did you love doing when you were a child? I read a lot of books. My favourite author was Enid Blighton. I also wrote plays and stories when I finished the set work in class. I was born in Birmingham in the Midlands and then moved to Staffordshire when I was about 10.
Tell us about your first job? The first job I had was picking strawberries. From the 30 pounds I earned, I brought a special disc for my typewriter so I could type italics.
Did you have a favourite teacher? At Sir Graham Balfour High school in Staffordshire, my history teacher Mr Stephen Day generated my love of political history. He brought it alive by comparing 18/19th century events to those happening in the 20th. At University my PhD supervisor, Dr Matthew Wyman was very supportive of my new ideas on political marketing and we’ve kept in touch, authoring a chapter on teaching professional politics. I got the idea for doing a Practice of Politics course from the one he created in the UK.
How and when did you decide what your career would be? My mother did a degree in psychology at Aston University in Birmingham when I was five and I vividly remember going into university lectures with her in school holidays – daycare was not so available then. I distinctly remember this professor putting up on an overhead projector a simple picture of a house with windows and doors and I thought: “I could draw that. I could be a professor.” He was probably talking about environmental psychology and was doing a very complex analysis but to my child’s eye it seemed easy! I also grew up in the time of Margaret Thatcher. It was absolutely brilliant having a woman prime minister; you had the sense that you could do anything.
I didn’t plan on doing politics at university though – I’d wanted to be a barrister but didn’t get the grades at age 18 to do law, so instead I did a foundation year which turned out to be the best thing as I realised I really wanted to do politics and history. I found political marketing during my masters at Manchester when discussing how Tony Blair was changing the British Labour Party and life-long Labour voters like my Dad were very unhappy. My lecturer said “what about looking at political marketing”? And off I went…
What is the purpose of your present position Research wise I explore what goes on behind the scenes by looking at political marketing and public input into government. I then teach this to my students so they know what’s going on and so they are prepared for the workforce. I see my job as an academic as to conduct high-quality research but to make it useful to the community through applied politics teaching and reporting recommendations for best practice.
What do you love most about your job Challenging conventional wisdom through research into real world practice. One of the key contributions I made early in my career was to argue that political marketing wasn’t just advertising. For my latest research on political leadership I interviewed 50 government ministers and found that they recognise they have limited power and knowledge and need input from the public to create workable policies. I also love the fact I get to travel and meet loads of people around the world. Vote Compass came out of a book I co-edited with Canadian colleagues on Political Marketing In Canada. I was once flown to Malaysia and met the Prime Minister there; and I‘ve done interviews in the White House, Downing Street and Buckingham Palace.
Do you believe what you do changes people’s lives I know I’ve made a big difference in my field. When I started researching political marketing it was ridiculed and seen as just spin-doctoring and adverts. Now it’s viewed as much more ubiquitous: it affects government decision-making and policy and is discussed in the media and in movies. I’ve made that happen not just through my own books (I’ve published 12!) but through supporting and connecting other scholars and linking academia with practice.
What do you do when you’re not working Gardening and my two young children. It’s the same kind of thing as my career really: nurturing potential and seeing it grow.
Peter Brent (@Mumbletwits) casts a sceptical eye over opinion polls and the media’s obsession with them
I like Peter Brent (and so does Malcolm Mackerras) even though I disagree with his obsessive criticism of Wayne Swan and Penny Wong, both of whom I admire greatly. For those minor faults though Peter has a world of wisdom to share about politics and political science. Despite his reluctance to be labelled a psephologist he does have a very good grasp of election numbers, “the vibe” and “common sense” when it comes to interpreting polls and election results.
Me in Inside Story getting, um, meta on opinion polls. http://t.co/fwhiM9gqSM
— Peter Brent (@mumbletwits) August 7, 2014
As a party professional I have been privileged to have access and use of opinion polling and must admit that I have learnt to always treat it VERY carefully. Peter is correct in that it is often misinterpreted and misused, not just in the mainstream media. At a recent Campaign Management and Political Marketing Workshop at Sydney University one of the highlights was a presentation by Stephen Mills from UMR, in defence of opinion polls. I’ll share those insights in a future post!
Here are some highlights from Peter Brent’s latest work on opinion polls and pollsters (full text here at inside.org.au If-an-election-had-been-held-on-the-weekend) and if you haven’t subscribed to Inside.org.au yet, seriously, what are you waiting for?
“Within the political class, Newspoll is the most watched and most influential. Published every second Tuesday in the Australian, the poll results are interpreted for readers by the paper’s political writers. It’s that interpretation – captured in headlines and opening paragraphs – that’s repeated, largely unquestioned, on ABC radio news bulletins and in other media across the country. No one holds a gun to their heads to force them to follow the Australian line, but something about the news-creation process means that they do. It’s probably just the path of least resistance.”
“The routine preface to the media reporting of survey results – “If an election had been held on the weekend…” – is terribly misleading. No poll can tell us what result an election last weekend, preceded by a campaign, would have thrown up. A pollster contacts a person and asks him or her to imagine there is an election today – and how would you vote? It’s a preposterously hypothetical and artificial exercise: a silly question eliciting silly answers.”
“Even after an over-hyped Malaysia Airlines–induced “boost” in satisfaction ratings, the most recent Newspoll had Tony Abbott on just 36 per cent satisfaction and the government trailing in voting intentions after preferences 46 to 54. At the equivalent time in his prime ministership, Kevin Rudd enjoyed 65 per cent satisfaction and the government led 54 to 46. John Howard was on 52 per cent satisfaction and the Coalition was in front 53 to 47. But Rudd didn’t even make it to the next election. Howard did, and scraped back, and then comfortably won two more. The Abbott government might be performing “badly” in the opinion polls but today’s numbers mean almost nothing. At the same time they mean a lot, because political players can’t ignore the way they influence what the media sees as the “narrative.”
“Abbott would be aware that if the polls continue as they are, speculation will arise about his prime ministership. His actions will increasingly be interpreted through the polls. On the Labor side, new rules have provided institutional ballast to the leadership, but they can be easily reversed. One day the forty-fourth parliament will end, and we’ll be starting a new one, most likely with a re-elected Coalition government. The mid-2014 polls will be long forgotten, and probably, with hindsight, judged laughably unreliable.”
If you have time after reading that article above by Peter you might also want to read the one in the link below. As I said on twitter when I shared it – I don’t agree with all of it but I’m still quite keen to read part 2! 🙂
Me rating various MPs' political skills. Beginning with one Georgey Brandis: http://t.co/wnstxkKtlr
— Peter Brent (@mumbletwits) August 8, 2014
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?
Do you have a favourite writer? Paul Kelly
What are your favourite websites and news sources? I still read three newspapers each day: The Canberra Times, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian. My favourite websites include Crikey, Antony Green’s blog, Peter Brent’s Mumble blog on Crikey and William Bowe’s Pollbludger website. I also enjoy watching Insiders on Sunday mornings.
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.
Is there a funny or effective political ad you’d like to share? I thought the anti-workchoices ads from 2007 were particularly effective.
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:
…and here’s a photo from last year which gives me some real cred as an authentic psephologist’s groupie.
If you’ve read my earlier (now slightly dated) literature review or discussed political campaigning with me over a few beers (I apologise for everything I said after the third beer) you’ll know I often lament about the relative lack of professional and academic interest in political campaign training in Australia. Well it’s clear I’m not the only one, because this week in Sydney there’ll be an inaugural event that brings many academics and practitioners together to discuss this very thing!
Check out the website: http://www.cmpm2014.org/ for “The 2014 Australia New Zealand WORKSHOP ON CAMPAIGN MANAGEMENT & POLITICAL MARKETING”. As far as I know registration is open to all those with an interest in this field, academic or otherwise.
As the website explains: “In 2014, the University of Sydney’s Graduate School of Government will play host to the second Australia-New Zealand Workshop on Campaign Management and Political Marketing. The workshop will bring together academics and practitioners for an in-depth discussion of current and emerging trends in campaign management and political marketing, and generate new networks and opportunities for further trans-Tasman and international research. The workshop will particularly focus on the intersection between research and practice, and is open to academics, party representatives, political consultants, research students and civil society campaigners.”
As well as a series of panels and discussions about many aspects of campaigning the highlights will include some discussion of Stephen Mill’s new book The Professionals: Strategy, Money and the Rise of the Political Campaigner in Australia I haven’t read the book yet, but if it’s anywhere near as good as his brilliant 1986 book “The New Machine Men” I will probably read it a few times and ask him a few questions about it afterwards! 🙂
Stephen has been busy promoting his book in the media recently. Here are some links to recent articles and interviews:
Here’s a short summary:
Political polling, door-knocking, the targeting of marginal seats and swinging voters. They’re terms all Australians are now very familiar with as elections continually roll around. But that wasn’t always the case. Academic and author Stephen Mills examines how politics in Australia has been shaped and influenced in the newly published The Professionals: Strategy, Money and the Rise of the Political Campaigner in Australia.
That’s not Stephen, it’s Liberal Party National Director Mr Brian Loughnane, one of the many interviewees featured in Stephen’s new book. Do yourself a favour and buy it.
If you want to see what Stephen looks like and learn more about his amazing work then you should check out his website! http://www.stephen-mills.com.au/