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.
Today the world lost a great comedian who brought much joy and humour to millions of lives.
Robin Williams never shied away from taboo topics or important issues. He wasn’t without fault and often pointed them out himself.
Here he describes 10 years in US politics:
He also participated in many worthy causes:
this is one of my favourites – Robin Williams and Stevie Wonder helping recruit Young Democrats!
And here he is talking about his first serious Broadway role… he was a great communicator who will be sorely missed.
Would you name your daughter after a Nintendo game? This is so cool! 🙂
Great story about one of his recent movies here: http://www.theguardian.com/film/2010/sep/20/robin-williams-worlds-greatest-dad-alcohol-drugs?CMP=twt_gu
I was distracted during my lunchbreak today by the latest political scandal to hit the front pages. This one was the story of the now disendorsed Liberal candidate Jack Lyons from Bendigo.
The full story is here: http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/victoria/bendigo-west-liberal-candidate-jack-lyons-quits-over-racist-sexist-offensive-jibes-including-bendigo-needing-an-enema/story-fni0fit3-1227013304657?nk=593763a54a2161a51d10420f90cc4ff0
It’s a real shocker.
Sometimes in politics leaders have to make tough, difficult decisions and this is one where you have to give the Victorian Liberals some credit… but also ask why it took so long? Why didn’t anyone ring an alarm bell earlier, or was it rung and ignored until the cost in advertising and marketing the deteriorating Liberal brand in Victoria become too high?
Maybe the answer lies in one of the latest books on political advertising and marketing (currently on my ridiculously long ‘to-read’ list) https://www.mup.com.au/items/144842 ?
It’s worth following the link just to see Dee Madigan’s amusing promotional trailer. http://youtu.be/nOfvD7MpAC0
In case you don’t subscribe to the Australian. Today there’s a short review and interview about Dee’s new book by Troy Bramston (which can be found and read via Google): http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/labor-cant-blame-media-for-2013-election-loss/story-fn59niix-1227013342421
“LABOR’S election advertising strategist, Dee Madigan, says the party cannot blame the media for its defeat last year given its own communication failures and reveals she opposed a push from Kevin Rudd’s inner circle to target News Corp Australia over allegations of media bias.
“Certain forces within the PM’s office tried to push this as part of the (campaign) narrative,” Ms Madigan writes in The Hard Sell : The Tricks of Political Advertising.
“Media bias is just not something that resonated with the swinging voters.”
Ms Madigan’s book, to be launched today by former Queensland Labor premier Anna Bligh, exposes other divisions over campaign strategy, including the “A New Way” slogan and Kevin Rudd’s micromanagement of campaign operations.
While criticising The Daily Telegraph’s election coverage, Ms Madigan reveals the issue of media bias did not rate as an issue with voters in the party’s focus groups.
“I remember one focus group at which the facilitator tried over and over to see if there was any interest in media bias,” Ms Madigan writes. “One fellow finally piped up and said, ‘Well I do think the media in this country is biased … Collingwood always gets a bad rap’.”
Ms Madigan describes Labor’s “A New Way” slogan as “a terrible idea” and says it was imposed on the campaign by Mr Rudd, who “wanted it”.
“While ‘A New Way’ was a decent strategy for Rudd’s comeback, it should never have been the strapline of the positive ads,” Ms Madigan writes. “Because unless we were planning on staying totally positive … the entire press would rightly call us hypocrites.”
When asked if the slogan “A New Way” would appear with ads Ms Madigan was shooting, her response was blunt: “Only if we want every single f..king person to laugh at us.”
Mr Rudd’s strategist, Bruce Hawker, wrote in his campaign diary that the slogan was recommended by advertising leader Neil Lawrence, that it tested well, and it was agreed to at meetings attended by Ms Madigan.
The Hard Sell (MUP) examines advertising, particularly political advertising, in Australia. It couples extensive academic research with the author’s experience in corporate, community and political communications.
Ms Madigan says Labor stopped referring to “Gonski” as a label for its school reforms as “it had no emotional pull for parents” unlike the term “education funding”.
Although Ms Madigan strongly defends Labor’s economic management she says the party failed to communicate this effectively.
“We never did manage to sell the economy. As tempting as it would be to put all the blame at the feet of a largely unfriendly press, the reality was that much of the problem lay with Labor’s failure to sell its handling of the global financial crisis.”
— Troy Bramston (@TroyBramston) August 4, 2014
Updated 14/08/14 – Dee Madigan and Stephen Mills both appeared with Rob Sitch on ABC Melbourne to discuss the “tricks of political advertising and campaigning” (their words not mine!) listen here:
Highlights of the podcast include:
Jon Faine’s co-host is director, producer, screenwriter, actor and comedian, Rob Sitch whose latest ABC TV series Utopia, premiered last night at 8:30pm.
Their first guest is creative director, author and political commentator, Dee Madigan. Her book is called The Hard Sell: The tricks of political advertising.
“Negative ads work and the reason they work is because they hone in on the people who are disengaged,” she says.
“Disengaged voters are far more likely to vote against a party than for them.”
Then they are joined by Dr Stephen Mills, former speechwriter to Prime Minister Bob Hawke and political journalist, who now lectures at the Graduate School of Government at the University of Sydney.
When asked about the campaign directors that he interviewed for his latest book, The Professionals: Strategy, Money and the Rise of the Political Campaigner in Australia, he says, “They’re intelligent, they’re focused, they are loyal party servants and they are doing their job which is to win the election.
“I think the real reason Rudd lost from a campaign point-of-view, is that he had no discipline in his campaign strategy.”
and no discussion about political advertising would be complete without the inclusion of this explanatory dissection of negative Liberal TV ads from 2007:
You can’t study the history of politics and campaigning without being exposed to the historical facts around Australia’s past involvement in wars and how governments rose and fell during these conflicts in our recent history. Despite our relative isolation and peace, war has had a big impact on Australia’s past and its current psyche.
I respect current and past members of Australia’s armed forces and the sacrifices many have made in the past (and today) in the name of our nation. I think our many war memorials and ANZAC Day commemorations serve as an important reminder of the massive sacrifice that has been made by Australian service men and women in the past, sometimes in wars and conflicts they didn’t really understand or believe in. I’m also a firm believer in the need for a strong professional defence force that is capable of defending Australian interests here and abroad as well as assisting in humanitarian missions in warzones.
But as we approach the centenary of Australia’s involvement in WW1 (‘the Great War’, ‘The War to end all wars’, etc.) and the federal government starts spending the millions of dollars it has allocated to this anniversary, it’s worth asking the question would sending a large army to a foreign war be possible today? Would modern Australian society accept a slaughter of the same magnitude today as we did in 1914-18 and what would the public’s reaction be to a call to arms on such a large scale for a foreign conflict on the other side of the world?
I think it’s hard to judge these past decisions because we are culturally and educationally a different society now. It’s easy saying “it would/wouldn’t happen again” without explaining why. I suspect it couldn’t happen again unless we believed there was an existential threat to Australia. Back then, when our armed forces fought under a Union Jack and our national anthem was “God save the King” there was an existential threat to the UK and its allies from Germany. This threat to the “mother country” was all that mattered to many that enlisted and fought and died under the Union Jack and in Australia’s name.
I also wonder if Australia would have been a different place now, had those men and women who died 100 years ago been left to live, marry and have children? For a start, our population would be larger now and perhaps some of them would have been great leaders or scientists and business minds, but are now lost for eternity.
From the Australian War Memorial website we can see:
Enlistment statistics, First World War
Enlistments by State
Australian population 1914—1918: approximately 4.9 million
416, 809 Australians enlisted for service in the First World War, representing 38.7% of the total male population aged between 18 to 44.
|New South Wales||164,030|
|South Australia||34, 959|
A.G. Butler, Special problems and services, Official history of the Australian Army Medical Services in the war of 1914—1918, vol III (Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1943), p 890.
Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics, Official yearbook of the Commonwealth of Australia, no 12, 1919 (Melbourne: Albert J Mullett, 1919).
At end of war
|missing or prisoners of war||4,098|
|suffered from sickness||87,865|
At almost 65%, the Australian casualty rate (proportionate to total embarkations) was among the highest of the war.
A couple of weeks ago I published an interesting interview with famous Australian Psephologist Malcolm Mackerras. At the end of the interview I asked him for some suggestions about other psephologists or election specialists that I should add to my list of interview targets. One of his highest recommendations was Peter Brent, who Malcolm seemed to be very fond of. I have met Peter several times over the last decade or so, usually at political science conferences and seminars around the country. I also got to know Peter while he was still working on his PhD thesis at ANU on the topic of the AEC “The Rise of the Returning Officer”. He reminds us all about the very unique creature that is the AEC which, as Australians, we should all be very proud of (despite what Clive Palmer suggests).
I also developed a bit of respect for Peter over the years as I watch him regularly deal with armchair electoral generals (initially mainly through his blog and then, as it became a mainstream medium, through twitter) with his standard straight-bat dryness and sarcasm. He’s a real sensation on twitter and you should all follow him immediately, although I suspect if you’re reading this many of you already do. BTW I’m not the only one who thinks Peter has a particularly dry wit as the following tweet attests.
@mumbletwits Yes, a plug for Mumbles in there. “Dry cynicism”…. You think?!! It’s sometimes so dry it shrivels my brain.
— Grasshopper (@BuPaul) July 31, 2014
Also, to hammer the point home, when I asked Peter to provide me with his preferred portrait for the interview, this is what he sent:
So tell me about yourself. Who are you in a nutshell? Left-brained, observant, neurotic.
Where do you live/work/study/teach? Canberra, from home and parliament.
What compels you to write and research about politics? It’s an illness. I used to suffer more from it. I don’t consume as much political news as I once did, which is kind of ironic, or paradoxical, as I now write about it for public consumption.
What do you love about politics? Not much, particularly the Australian version. I used to believe it was superior to, for example, American and British politics, but no longer do. Not sure if this is chiefly due to changing perception on my part or changing reality.
Is there anything you don’t like about modern politics? Lots. The adversarial nature, Question Time is a travesty. The profession of politics encourages some people to misrepresent what opponents have done and misrepresenting their positions. For some, it must corrode the soul; you would not be a politician for quids. This no doubt applies across most democracies, but probably particularly so here. Like many, I think the parties’ obsession with polling and research is a problem. Labor seems particularly afflicted with WestWingitis. Just between us, party polling gurus are not as clever as the political class believes.
Compulsory or Voluntary voting? Voluntary, but I don’t feel strongly about it. There are ok arguments either way. Compulsion is I think too coercive and I don’t think the benefits outweigh the negatives. If we got rid of compulsion, turnout would drop and we’d get a better idea of the level of political engagement, at federal and each state level. That’d be a good thing.
Who are your favourite writers? Don’t have any. When I was young I loved Orwell, like many. (Still like him!) My reading tastes are more low-brow than they used to be. For example, I always snap up the latest Michael Connelly book.
What are your favourite websites and news sources? Oh … you know, this and that. This week I downloaded and sent several long reads to Kindle from New Yorker magazine.
What’s the first thing you do each morning? Computer on (if off). Coffee on. Feed cats if first one up. Sit at computer. Write. I used to listen to Radio National Breakfast but now this is my prime writing time and the radio would be distracting. A great pity.
What is your one recommended must-read for aspiring psephologists? Read more on electoral law, something I don’t do enough.
What’s your favourite political movie/book/documentary/TV series? Sorry, another “don’t have one”.
But in the late 1980s I loved “A Very British Coup”, watched it several times on video. Ray McAnally fantastic as a Labour PM from Yorkshire. It would be very dated now. Primary colours was an enjoyable book—and movie. Wag the Dog was good. Haven’t see the US version of House of Cards (the UK one a couple of decades ago was pretty good, not fantastic imo).
As a rule I no longer read political books—that is bios and memoirs—because I’m much more cynical about the process—all that that backscratching and three-act storytelling (which is prevalent in political journalism per se).
Having said that, Don Watson’s ‘Recollections of a Bleeding Heart’ was a ripper, albeit overwritten. Perhaps the last one I’ve read. No, someone gave me the Latham Diaries and I read that. And I bought Lindsay Tanner’s book; it was ok. (Speaking of that book, I am regularly surprised at what I perceive as an absence of electoral perception—an understanding of what makes voters do what they do—from senior political players. Well, they don’t see things the way I do. Most don’t I suppose.)
Is there a funny or brilliant political ad you’d like to share? Nope!
What are you currently reading or working on? Kindle currently has two books: “My Promised Land” by Ari Shavit and a biography of the Beatles. (First book I’ve read about either.)
I should also ask why are you interested in electoral behaviour? My brain is possibly a bit deformed. At school I was very good at maths. In one aptitude test I scored in the top couple of percentiles in maths but actually below average in English comprehension. Then I began a science degree but kind of bombed out and left uni. A few years later I went to uni and studied Arts; I became interested in politics, addicted really, including the electoral side. Contemplating two-party-preferred, playing with Malcolm Mackerras’s pendulum.
My statistics skills are quite limited though.
Being comfortable with numbers might lead some people to be susceptible to numerical explanations of electoral behaviour, but in my case it’s had the opposite effect: I have little time for “analysis” along the lines of, for example, claiming such-and-such is worth X per cent of the vote. I detest that stuff. Of course events and personalities matter, and in theory their influence on outcomes are quantifiable, but humans’ tools are way too flimsy to do it and it’s dishonest to pretend otherwise.
Peter can be followed on twitter here: @mumbletwits
His most recent writing can be found here on his blog.
And this is what he really looks like!
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.
Oh dear, look what is being shared on facebook today: http://www.scribd.com/doc/235287519/2014-Michelle-Nunn-Campaign-Memo
Who I hear you ask is Michelle Nunn? Read this if you want to know more: http://www.michellenunn.com/
Or read this if you just want to know more about deciphering the leaked strategy: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/wp/2014/07/28/how-to-read-the-leaked-michelle-nunn-campaign-plan/