This year’s election campaigns show just how disengaged the Australian electorate is

With a slew of campaign messaging, election advertising and political rhetoric hitting consumers ahead of tomorrow's vote, former political staffer turned public affairs advisor, Nathan Clarke, asks: why isn't anyone listening?

The past few weeks have served as another reminder that political campaigns in Australia are a product of a disengaged electorate.

Whether it’s the lack of political leadership on the issues that matter, the rotating door to the PMO, or years of minority government and political instability – the signs are clear that, for
this election campaign at least, Australians have stopped listening.

What they’re after
As Bernard Salt said recently, to win majority government the major parties require only a handful of swing seats, typically held by margins of less than 3%, equating to an aggregate of roughly 15,000 votes.

Those 15,000 voters are spread across the country as captured in our infographic.

Click to enlarge

The problem for our politicians is homing-in on that critical cohort of Australians who may or may not be interested in the intent behind the slew of campaign messaging and political rhetoric.

Debates – who cares?
If there was any doubt, 2019 has showed once again that Australian voters essentially don’t care about political debates between the respective leaders. It’s because of this apathy that
the traditional media networks have given it secondary billing.

The opening debate was the 19th most-watched program of the night. It ran on the Seven Network’s second channel, wedged between re-runs of BBC Bargain Hunt and The Vicar of Dibley. As The Australian Financial Review editorial noted, “even with a media mogul proprietor, Channel Seven wouldn’t give a proper forum to the nation’s would-be prime ministers”.

Campaign launches
Respected political commentator Barrie Cassidy outlined succinctly the government’s attempt at a presidential-style campaign launch, focused on encouraging voters to compare
and contrast the two major party leaders.

However, the past weeks have reminded us that – despite those efforts – Australian campaigns fall a long way short in the presidential campaign stakes when it comes to voter engagement. Whereas nearly one in 10 Americans watched Hillary Clinton’s 2016 speech for the Democratic nomination, fewer than 300 people tuned into Prime Minister Morrison’s campaign launch on his official Youtube channel. And, we certainly can’t match the interest levels of countries like Indonesia, with presidential campaign launches filling football stadiums.

For us, it’s about self-congratulatory party political events, held after approximately 2.2m Australians had already voted. Certainly, we make it easy for the electorate to feel less than inspired and engaged with the process.

Social media and #mymum
In contrast, the major parties have focused a lot of attention on social media, spending big on the most sophisticated and targeted social media activity ever seen by our politicians. As the ABC’s Jackson Gothe-Snape wrote, the 2019 campaign could be the first Australian campaign followed by more people online than through television.

It started with the Prime Minister effectively calling the federal election via a Facebook video and has been followed by a suite of organically-produced clips like this gem, highlighting the increasingly ‘democratised’ nature of the campaign process.

The Shorten-inspired trending mymum hashtag became a rallying cry for ALP supporters, and the opportunity to align a political message with the symbolism of Mother’s Day.

And, while social media has had a more prominent role in the campaign than ever, the sharing of TV news and newspaper clippings across digital channels has reminded us of the role that traditional media still plays in helping to ‘legitimise’ policy and funding announcements.

Nathan Clarke is a senior adviser at Six O’Clock Advisory and a former political staffer


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