Monthly Archives: July 2013

“Negative Politics”

In the first week of Rudd’s leadership we had the words “diplomatic conflict” used in relation to the Coalition’s asylum seeker policy which sent conservatives into both a frenzy of “Kermit arms” hysteria and political mistakes.

Yesterday, the ALP released their first advertisement for the upcoming election campaign. For those who haven’t seen it yet, here it is:

This advertisement has thrown a couple of new verbal grenades into the national debate. The first was “negative politics” and the second was “raise the standards.”

Cynics and the “political insider” crowd might deride this sort of communication as “spin” however this ignores the fact that Rudd is directly addressing a serious issue for people in relation to politics in this country: the public’s disgust at the negativity used from both sides of politics and the perceived decline in the standard of the national conversation.

They’re powerful lines on their own but in the combination they have been used in this advertisement, they’re deadly!

Firstly, Rudd is qualifying himself for people in order to establish a high standard of performance as Prime Minister. In other words, he wants to do the best job he can possibly do.

He’s not mucking around.

It’s very important to make this clear before we go into anything else because it’s the key to how this sort of communication works. If it was simply about countering the “evil menace” Tony Abbott and the Liberal Party, the whole thing falls apart.

As a leader, he is defining the criteria for people to make their own assessment on his performance. This is the base for everything that follows.

Secondly any attack directed at Rudd based on the content of this advertisement by the Coalition has already been framed as “negative politics.” Any move they make has the hue of negative politics to it before they even decide to move a muscle.

Lastly any type of “negative politics” used by the Coalition is by definition not “raising the standard” of public debate (what people desperately want right now) and therefore adding to Rudd’s credibility and the ALP’s election campaign material.

On top of all that, Tony Abbott has already been narrowed and defined to the words “negative” and “no” over a three year period, so for him to break free of this word prism he has placed himself in, he’ll have to be acting inconsistent with his public persona which would make the communications material coming from the Coalition even more of a complete mess than it is already.

To be continued

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The Time Dynamic – the case for going late

There is a lot of speculation right now about when the next election will be held. Will Prime Minister Kevin Rudd try and take advantage of the ALP’s sudden rise in the opinion polls or will he play mind games with Tony Abbott and go to a “late election?”

I’m firmly of the view that Prime Minister Kevin Rudd should decide to go for a late election.

There are a few reasons for this that go beyond the usually yakety yak yak that you’ll hear from the various commentators in the media.

Firstly Kevin Rudd needs to establish himself in the public’s mind as the Prime Minister. This means using the authority of the office to make decisions in the national interest. If this means recalling the parliament to make a few legislative tweaks in the coming months, so be it. Journalist Katherine Murphy in The Guardian last week went into some detail on this point in what I thought was a very good opinion piece.

Secondly, going late allows the ALP to come up with a campaign ground game for victory. This is not something that can be rushed. There needs to be as much time as possible given for the ALP campaign team to come up with a strategy for winning at least 76 seats, state by state, electorate by electorate.

Thirdly, there have been reports of both a membership and donation surge within the ALP since Kevin Rudd returned to the leadership. There needs to be time for this to be measured in order to allocate campaign resources and get the logistic settings for the election campaign as correct as possible.

Lastly and most importantly is the framing of the national conversation.  What going late ultimately does is allow the ALP and the Prime Minister to gain control of the framing of the national conversation. The more Tony Abbott and the Coalition call for an early election and attack on issues where they feel they are strong and where they think the ALP and Kevin Rudd are vulnerable, the more they look, sound and feel like an opposition and the more the ALP and Kevin Rudd will look, sound and feel like both a government and a Prime Minister who are in control of events.

This week, we have seen the Prime Minister deal with three major issues: Australia’s relationship with Indonesia (border protection and asylum seekers have now been framed by Kevin Rudd as an issue within this issue), reform of the New South Wales branch of the ALP and the deaths related to the Home Insulation Scheme which was rolled out during the economic stimulus in 2008-09.

The Coalition have tried to tear the Prime Minister down on each one of these issues without success. The longer they try and the more they fail, the more desperate and the more stupid they will look.

Around October last year, Coalition pollster Mark Textor wrote an opinion piece for the Australian Financial Review in which he said:

“The most successful leaders in the next few years will be those who slow the political and comment process down enough for voters to catch up. After all, the whole point about politics, commerce and leadership is for people to be participants, not passengers in a car stuck in the slow lane.”

By slowing down the time dynamic, the ALP and the Prime Minister give themselves and the community time to digest the big picture and the important issues that will decide this election. If they go early because they think the rise in the opinion polls is everything and there is no substance to what the Prime Minister is doing because they think electoral politics is all about the popularity of the leader rather than anything that affects people’s day to day lives, they will be handing the massive advantage they have presently to the Coalition.

“If the facts don’t fit a frame, the frame stays and the facts bounce off”

Galaxy Research and Essential Media Communications have thrown up some interesting qualitative results in the last few days in relation to perceptions of the ALP leadership change.

Before I get to that, I want to examine the AC Nielsen poll results from last month in relation to ALP voters responses on the question of preferred ALP leader.

AC Nielsen, preferred ALP leader, ALP voters 16th June: Julia Gillard 52%, Rudd 46%

Over the last three years, this sort of result was replicated month after month and many on the various social media platforms that discuss Australian politics used these sorts of results to suggest that Rudd wasn’t liked by ALP voters and it was all a Liberal Party/media conspiracy to destabilise Julia Gillard’s leadership.

On Sunday, Galaxy Research produced these results that suggest a very different narrative:

Q. “In your opinion did Labor make the right decision by rejecting Julia Gillard and endorsing Kevin Rudd?”

Total: Yes 57%, No 31%

ALP Voters: Yes 75%, No 17%,

Coalition Voters: Yes 50%, No 41%

Even more profound was Galaxy’s results for the actions of Bill Shorten who was one of the “faceless men” in the June 2010 leadership change:

Q, Do you think Bill Shorten did the right thing for the Labor Party by shifting support from Julia Gillard to Kevin Rudd?

Total: Yes 52%, No 30%

ALP Voters: Yes 75%, No 13%

Coalition Voters: Yes 40%, No 44%

Essential Media Communications from yesterday showed similar results however, they have breakdowns that show intensity of response. I find these results very interesting:

Q. Do you approve or disapprove of Kevin Rudd replacing Julia Gillard as leader of the Labor Party?

Total

Vote Labor

Vote Lib/Nat

Vote Greens

Total approve

55%

77%

40%

48%

Total disapprove

31%

13%

49%

37%

Strongly approve

24%

45%

12%

8%

Approve

31%

32%

28%

40%

Disapprove

15%

8%

22%

23%

Strongly disapprove

16%

5%

27%

14%

Don’t know

14%

10%

12%

16%

Of particular note is the strongly approved category in relation to ALP voters. If this leadership change was seen as a cynical manipulation of the political process, the intensities of response would not be so strong.

According to this Essential Media poll, 45% of ALP respondents strongly approved of last weeks events!

We aren’t talking about a mere passive approval of what happened which could easily fall off into neutrality and disapproval over the coming weeks and months. We’re talking about a very large group of ALP voters who are very satisfied with what happened. In order to change the perceptions of these voters, you’ve got to do A HELL OF A LOT of work as they’ve emotionally bought what has happened and are in strong approval of it.

It is also worth comparing the AC Nielsen polling above with the Galaxy Research and Essential Media polling from after the event because how people think they will respond to a potential event and how they will actually respond after that potential event has occurred are not mutually exclusive. Put simply: people are extremely poor judges of predicting how they will respond to potential and future events.

George Lakoff in his book “Don’t Think of an Elephant” has a great quote:

“To be accepted, the facts must fit people’s frames. If the facts don’t fit a frame, the frame stays and the facts bounce off”

If the Coalition attempt to try and play their game of “let’s all feel sorry for Julia because she was knifed by the faceless men and that evil Kevin Rudd” they will be paddling viciously upstream because first they have to deal with the fact that they will be contradicting the three year period they have spent deriding and destroying her leadership (to ordinary people, the events of last week were a consequence of this behaviour from the Coalition) and second they have to deal with the perception battle because people approved of what happened and in ALP voters case, a majority strongly approved of what happened (the emotional component).

The more they yell, shout and scream the sort of lines they have all parroted verbatim over the last three years, the more they will be building Kevin Rudd’s reputation, authority, credibility and approval from the community.

It’s not just the Liberal Party who have to deal with this uncomfortable reality. Author Kerry Anne-Walsh, whose book “The Stalking of Julia Gillard: How the media and Team Rudd contrived to bring down the Prime Minister” goes on sale today also will encounter this framing from people (that is of course if people actually bother to buy and read the book).

How this plays out with the emotional dynamic over the coming weeks and months should be fascinating.