In previous posts, I have attempted to describe some of the dynamics in relation to voter’s dramatic loss of respect for the ALP. I described how the Coalition had used the carbon tax and all the emotions associated with it to infect every other policy area like a virus in a negative way for the ALP. I also attempted to describe the predisposition prism in which Prime Minister Gillard is viewed and how people have stopped listening to anything she has to say.
In this post, what I intend to do is attempt to explain how the Coalition have facilitated an environment where the ALP can’t get any traction on issues and how the ALP have fallen right into the communication mechanisms they use to create their political material.
I have two structures to describe what the Coalition are doing. For this post, I thought about describing it in just one structure but I’ve decided to try to explain both as there are various nuances that are unique to each structure and both of them connect together. More on that later.
The first structure is an ascending hierarchy of emotions focused on the content and context of what voters feel and the second is a descending hierarchy of behaviours by the ALP over this term of parliament. I think the Coalition’s communications people are using something similar to these two models in order to construct their messages.
The Hierarchy of Political Pain
Imagine a hierarchy. The levels at the bottom are core emotional trigger points in voters. Each level above the bottom has been constructed on top of the previous level. The higher up the hierarchy you go, the more complex the emotional system in people’s minds and the more entrenched it becomes in people’s belief and values systems.
At the very bottom of the diagram, we have truth. The Coalition’s game plan during this term of parliament has been to trash the Prime Minister’s reputation in the electorate by focusing on the line “there will be no carbon tax under a government I lead.” They’ll replay this line over and over and over again because it is a direct quote and it works. It has nothing to do with the policy, it has to do with the Prime Minister’s character and what that represents to people in their lives. Truth is everything to the Coalition. Any backflip, lie, false accusation or anything else that relates to truth is jumped on immediately and hammered home with a ferocious and fanatical zeal. More on this later.
Once they have solidified that stage of the hierarchy, they’ll build on it by focusing on trust. They’ll do this by highlighting backflips on policy, deals, agreements, mistakes, inconsistencies, hypocrisy and so on (this is amplified by the hung parliament scenario). Once that’s solidly in place, they can now focus on fear which we’ve seen in the form of the carbon tax scare campaign and the rhetoric around asylum seekers. Then they go to the next stage and so on.
What the ALP might think is that all of those stages the electorate have experienced can be spun as the Prime Minister’s virtues of “toughness”, “resilience” and “getting the big things done.” That’s why I’ve listed “consequence”, “burden” and “disengagement” as the higher levels of the hierarchy. The “consequence” is everything below that level, which is solidly in place and that leads to the electorate being burdened by the Prime Minister and ultimately leads to disengagement from the political process and the life being gutted out of politics, policies, issues and the national conversation.
Each stage builds on and incorporates the previous stage. For example, when the Coalition are focusing on trust, they have constructed that message on top of truth. When they focus on “the consequence” they’ve constructed that message on top of hate, fear, trust and truth etc. The more complex the system becomes the more difficult it is for the ALP to beat it.
The Slippery Slope of Doom
Imagine a slippery slope. Now imagine it being used as a metaphorical communications system to destroy a political party and it’s leader’s credibility. I’ve used an upside down triangle to list in descending order behaviours the Liberal Party is on the look out for from the ALP so they capture and frame it into political communication. The stages at the bottom are built upon the stages at the top.
At the top, we have lying and blaming. These are straight forward. If anyone in the ALP lies or blames, the Liberal Party just amplify the message. People consider the government to be the most powerful institution in the land. Any sort of lying or blaming demonstrates that the government isn’t in control of circumstances and if the government isn’t in control of circumstances they have little reason to be trusted (which connects to both the first and second stages of “The Hierarchy of Political Pain” above).
The next stage is anything that creates uncertainty in people. This tends to come in the form of economy and bad news related to it e.g the budget deficit, raising taxes and so on. Uncertainty can also be in the form of sociocultural things which the Coalition have focused on relentlessly in relation to asylum seeker policy. Again, they don’t care about the policy issues, all they’re focused on is people’s emotions.
Then we have confrontation which is anything that is seen as divisive. For example, the Coalition used the ALP’s rhetoric about the “North Shore of Sydney” (think about that for a moment) to emphasise class warfare and they used the vitriol sprayed at Kevin Rudd from certain senior people within the ALP to amplify confrontation, disharmony and disunity. Once that’s solidly in place they’ll go to the next stage which is selfishness which is what you see every time the Prime Minister or anyone else on the ALP leadership team uses the words “Labor values” or “Labor government.”
What all this inevitably leads to is what the Coalition wants people to associate with the ALP: pain … Labor equals pain. Economic pain, sociocultural pain and most importantly personal pain. What the advertisements I’ve linked to below are attempting to do is grease “The Slippery Slope of Doom.”
Notice that the Liberal Party aren’t saying anything. This is all material the ALP have given them. What that does is give and element of truth to what is being said (which again connects to the stage of Truth on “The Hierarchy of Political Pain” I’ve shown above).
The more of these sorts of advertisements the Liberal Party produce, the more material they tend to be given. It turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy whereby everything the ALP doses goes straight up “The Hierarchy of Political Pain” or straight down “The Slippery Slope of Doom” and ends up in the Coalition’s communications mechanisms to produce political material.
It’s gotten to the point now where Tony Abbott can act bipartisan on policy and still activate all the vectors that damage Prime Minister Gillard’s credibility. The politics surrounding the National Disability Insurance Scheme this week were a perfect example of this in action. Abbott’s now dictating the framing of the policy as “a positive monument of this parliament” and “Gillard getting some of ‘her legacy.'”
Once these sorts of communication mechanisms are firmly established, it’s very difficult to overcome them. They have completely eroded Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan’s political capital so that whenever they say anything, it gets filtered through these kind of Liberal Party communication mechanisms and it ends up as annoying background noise to voters who are now disengaged (the highest stage of “The Hierarchy of Political Pain”).
In my view, there are three ways to counter “The Hierarchy of Political Pain” and “The Slippery Slope of Doom.” The first is to have your act together from the beginning. The second way is to destroy these communication mechanisms the Liberal Party are using by objectively identifying the root causes of the problems (in this case, it’s the people making the same mistakes over and over again), getting rid of them and giving the electorate what they really want in a way that communicates at an emotional level …