Category Archives: Leadership

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.

“The Hierarchy of Political Pain” and “The Slippery Slope of Doom”

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.

The Pyramid of Political Pain

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.

Slippery Slope

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 …

Winning the psychological game

“The purpose of wedge politics is to define and limit the political space within which Labor must operate” – Andrew Norton

Paul Keating has often said that in federal politics a general rule of thumb is the ALP have a structural primary vote of 38% and the Coalition have a structural primary vote of 43%. The “structural vote” is the amount of the electorate that can be relied upon to support either of the political parties at an election.

If the ALP consistently goes above a 38% primary vote and the Coalition goes below a 43% primary vote in the national polling, you can say the ALP are winning the “middle ground”. If the Coalition’s primary vote consistently goes above 43% and the ALP’s primary vote goes below 38%, you can say that the ALP are losing their “base” vote.

Right now, the federal ALP’s primary vote is consistently below 38% (well below 38%) which we can take to mean that they are losing their base vote.

With that in mind, what I’m going to address in this post is the subject of winning.

Winning federally to the ALP is anything over a 40% primary vote. You could make the excuse that the ALP could win federally with a primary vote of 38% or 39% backed up with preferences from the Greens and other minor parties but any victory from that position is always a very narrow one. The ALP have only won two federal elections on a primary vote below 40%: 1990 and 2010 and both were won by the skin of their teeth.

A 40% primary vote for the federal ALP goes a long way to securing victory.

That’s the simple part. The hard part for the ALP (for some anyway) is what winning entails.

If your structural vote is 38% and you need a primary vote of over 40% to secure victory, you need to face a few realities.

Firstly, it’s very difficult for the ALP to win with a defensive, passive, risk avoidance strategy. In the current situation of the hung parliament, that is especially true.

Politics is meant to be a contest of ideas. What the ALP have done over the past three years or so has been to abandon the ideas contest in favour of talking about processes. For example, the carbon price has never been explained or spelled out in terms of addressing dangerous climate change: the greatest moral challenge of our time, transitioning the economy into the modern world or making the future safe and secure for our children and their children. Far from it!

All we’ve had is the mechanics and the process of the policy: the price will be $23 per tonne, it will be imposed on the 500 biggest polluting businesses, households will be compensated in order to deal with the rise in electricity prices etc etc etc. This is not the language of victory!

There isn’t even any talk about how an issue like climate change invalidates half of the Liberal Party’s ideology of “let her rip” free market fundamentalism and what that should mean to people in relation to what they value in their lives. It’s just been boring lines that mean nothing to nobody.

Put simply, the ALP have failed to engage the Coalition ideologically, let alone define the Coalition’s positions on issues or limit the political space in which the Coalition operate within.

Take compulsory superannuation. The idea that the ALP have created a $1.5 Trillion financial services industry in Australia is something that would emotionally trigger many people inclined to support the Liberal Party. “Wealth creation” and “saving money” are ideas that attract many people to support the Liberal Party yet it was the ALP who created and built the industry in Australia from the ground up and it was the Liberal Party who opposed it every step of the way.

What’s more, an issue like compulsory superannuation goes straight to the psychological jugular in relation to why the Coalition exist politically. Do the Coalition oppose the idea of every person in Australia being responsible for their own retirement or do they support the idea of having an extremely large cohort of elderly people depending on the government pension after they retire from the workforce? Do the Coalition oppose the idea of every person in Australia being a financial capitalist? On this policy, the conventional framing on the economy has the potential to be completely reversed but the opportunity always seems to be missed by the ALP as they’re simply not in that head-space.

Consider the mechanics of the Coalition’s Paid Parental Leave scheme. Tony Abbott has known since the time he became leader of the Liberal Party that one of the big personal issues running against him has always been that women don’t approve of him and he tried to neutralise it by offering a ridiculously generous parental leave scheme.

When pressed on the issue in April last year on the John Laws radio program, he conceded the word game by calling it a tax, yet the ALP didn’t capitalise on the key point: the ideology, not the policy. This is a policy Abbott talks about that offends people in the business community and yet the ALP can’t score points on it because they are too timid or simply uninterested in targeting that sort of constituency. “They aren’t “Labour rusted ons” so why bother” tends to be the misguided rationale. In this particular case it’s not the word “tax” in and of itself that was the issue but the emotional values and the associations behind the use of the word (not the word, but “the use of the word”).

It’s the same deal with the Coalition’s Direct Action policy. Professor Ross Garnaut gifted the ALP a line in February 2010 in relation to it being akin to “Soviet Union style resource allocation” yet the ALP only figured it out last month: 3 years after the fact! … 3 years too late!

The ALP don’t seem to grasp the potential for dividing the Coalition at an ideological level. It’s just processes all the way down to them.

There is no understanding of the values or the emotional triggers underlying the policies and how to influence them so that they make a significant difference in the ALP’s favour.

The Coalition by contrast appear to “get it” (at the present moment). They aren’t afraid to go after the ALP’s working class constituency because they understand the misery it’s causing the ALP psychologically and how that translates into the rest of the national conversation. They know that if they get the ALP trying to salvage their structural vote (38%), that translates into people on the far left splintering off to the Greens and the Coalition being able to claim more of the middle ground (anything above 43%) for themselves.

What the ALP need to do instead of thinking in terms of merely “winning the next election,” is focus on destroying the Coalition’s ideology forever. That sort of mindset has a few implications. For a start it means thinking on a huge scale and being big picture focused. It also means being secure about issues like industrial relations. What the ALP failed to do after 2007 was destroy the Coalition on the issue once and for all. Instead what they’ve done is attempt to create a contest where one didn’t need to exist in order to appeal to a rapidly declining constituency.

Another implication is that the ALP would need to create a foundation and a narrative that transcends and includes the Coalition’s ideology, in effect making them a redundant political force. This is true right now, but the ALP never spell it out both because they don’t seem to know how, or worse, they deliberately would prefer not to do it for internal organisational reasons.

Instead of going on about things like “Labor values” and such and such is a “Labor policy” they need to talk in terms of the country and spelling out the big picture in a persuasive way so that the community can digest it.

I could go on a very long tangent but I’ll try to land the plane.

Winning the psychological game from the progressive “side” of politics requires having your act together psychologically. That means organisation, energy, belief and thinking on a very big scale. The real reason why people vote for the ALP is to get the big things done and to make the economic and societal transitions necessary for the country to preserve and prosper from the future.

Australian’s have very high expectations in relation to how their governments perform and when those expectations aren’t met, it is often greeted with mass disapproval. The way to overcome it is with repeated psychological victories and playing in order to win rather than accepting noble defeat.

You can’t exceed the people’s expectations or win by adopting the Charlie Sheen approach to victory: mindlessly posting updates on twitter with hashtags that reflect various psychotic states of delusion …

While the thinking and the actions of the federal ALP remain small, internal and process driven and generally treating politics like a football game or a crude television show such as The West Wing (just the thought of that show makes me want to vomit), you can expect their primary vote to remain well below 38%.

The negative predisposition prism – Prime Minister Gillard’s major problem

The negative predisposition prism is what happens when every decision a leader or a public figure makes is seen as negative or bad regardless of whether people agree or disagree with what that leader or public figure is saying.

I believe Julia Gillard’s major problem isn’t exactly one of the “correct” policies or the “correct” messaging. They are definitely problems but I think they have stemmed from the negative predisposition prism the public has of her at an interpersonal level and this has enveloped her leadership and how she is judged by the community.

First we’ll look at Julia Gillard’s approval ratings. Here’s the question from the Essential Media Communications poll from February 11th 2013:

Q. Do you approve or disapprove of the job Julia Gillard is doing as Prime Minister?

19
Jul

10

20
Dec

14
Mar
11

14 June

12 Sept

12 Dec

12
Mar
12

12
Jun

10 Sept

10
Dec

14
Jan
13

11
Feb

Total approve

52%

43%

41%

34%

28%

34%

32%

32%

35%

37%

41%

36%

Total disapprove

30%

40%

46%

54%

64%

54%

61%

56%

54%

53%

49%

55%

Strongly approve

11%

10%

7%

6%

5%

6%

8%

6%

7%

10%

9%

7%

Approve

41%

33%

34%

28%

23%

28%

24%

26%

28%

27%

32%

29%

Disapprove

17%

24%

22%

29%

28%

25%

29%

22%

27%

25%

23%

25%

Strongly disapprove

13%

16%

24%

25%

36%

29%

32%

34%

27%

28%

26%

30%

Don’t know

18%

17%

13%

13%

8%

11%

7%

12%

11%

11%

10%

9%

As we can see, Julia Gillard had a net approval rating of +22 on July 19th 2010. By the 12th of September 2011, her approval had plummeted to -36. It remained very bad for the next year or so before recovering to -8 on January 14th 2013.

The popular view is the recovery in Gillard’s numbers in the third and fourth quarters last year was due to the widespread coverage and positive reaction from the public to the “misogyny speech” although I suspect it might have something to do with the public’s emotional reaction to certain policies such as the carbon and mining taxes filtering through the system.

In other words: doom was anticipated, but when these policies became active, people didn’t feel the doom that was associated with them.

Last month, according to the Essential Media Communications poll, Gillard’s net approval rating returned to where it’s been for the last two or so years which is around -19.

Pretty much all of the latest publicly available opinion polls show the same thing in relation to Gillard’s approval rating:

Newspoll – 22nd-24th of February 2013: -28

AC Nielsen – 14th-16th of February 2013: -16

Galaxy – 1st-3rd of February 2013: -19

These polls all show similar numbers and overall there is a very solid level of disapproval for Julia Gillard in the electorate.

Next we’ll look at some more Essential Media Communications polling that asked about leader attributes in relation to Julia Gillard from January 14th, 2013:

Q. Which of the following describe your opinion of the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard?

5 Jul 10

4 Oct 10

7 Feb 11

27 Jun 11

2 Apr 12

17 Sept 12

14 Jan 13

Change since 5 Jul 2010

Intelligent

87%

81%

75%

73%

61%

68%

72%

-15%

Hard-working

89%

82%

76%

75%

65%

69%

72%

-17%

A capable leader

72%

59%

52%

42%

38%

43%

50%

-22%

Arrogant

37%

39%

44%

48%

53%

46%

47%

+10%

Out of touch with ordinary people

35%

44%

50%

60%

65%

56%

53%

+18%

Understands the problems facing Australia

68%

55%

52%

44%

41%

43%

47%

-19%

Visionary

48%

38%

30%

26%

25%

31%

29%

-19%

Superficial

51%

52%

54%

46%

46%

From Feb 2011: -5

Good in a crisis

61%

46%

46%

41%

36%

43%

50%

-11%

Narrow-minded

28%

35%

43%

46%

53%

46%

45%

+17%

More honest than most politicians

45%

37%

37%

29%

26%

31%

30%

-15%

Trustworthy

49%

42%

40%

30%

25%

30%

32%

-17%

Intolerant

37%

37%

Since Sept 2012: N/A

Aggressive

42%

46%

Since Sept 2012:+4%

Erratic

43%

40%

Since Sept 2012: -3%

Essential Media Communications usually shows the changes against what these figures showed the previous time they asked the question. I’ve altered it slightly to show the changes from when the 2010 election was announced in July 2010 to get a more long-term picture.

What this shows is that since Julia Gillard announced the previous election in July 2010, her numbers in relation to leadership attributes have fallen on attributes that would be considered positive (intelligent, hard-working, a capable leader, understands the problems facing Australia, visionary, good in a crisis, more honest than most politicians, trustworthy) and risen on attributes that would be considered negative (arrogant, out of touch with ordinary people, narrow-minded).

It’s the change in the number rather than the % of respondents that associate a particular attribute with her leadership that tells the story.

From all of the above, it’s fair to say that the public’s view of Julia Gillard has deteriorated rapidly over the past few years.

So the PM’s unpopular. So what?

Paul Keating was unpopular and won “the unwinnable election” in 1993. John Howard was unpopular and won four elections. Tony Abbott is unpopular as well. Doesn’t this mean Julia Gillard can overcome these numbers?

To answer this question, we have to know whether Julia Gillard has the ability to persuade people to vote for the ALP instead of the Coalition or anyone else who isn’t the ALP.

Firstly we’ll look at Essential Media Communications’s question on whether this government deserves to be re-elected from February 25th, 2013:

Q. As of now, do you think the current Federal Labor Government of Julia Gillard deserves to be re-elected?

Total

Vote Labor

Vote Lib/Nat

Vote Greens

Yes, deserves to be re-elected

26%

66%

4%

31%

No, does not deserve to be re-elected

57%

17%

88%

38%

Don’t know

17%

17%

8%

31%

Look at the response from Liberal and National voters. Only 4% of Liberal and National Party voters believes this government, led by Julia Gillard, deserves to be re-elected and 88% believe they don’t deserve to be re-elected!

By itself, that says a lot.

This week the Prime Minister went on a mini campaign through ALP electorates in Western Sydney. A ReachTEL poll (1st March, 2013) asked voters who live in the area whether the visit was more or less likely to get them to vote for the ALP. Here was the response:

The Prime Minister Julia Gillard is making a special visit to Western Sydney, has this visit made you more or less likely to vote for Labor?

Total Labor Liberal Greens KAP Oth
More likely 14.4% 37.2% 3.0% 17.8% 17.6% 9.3%
Less likely 43.5% 12.8% 60.0% 25.4% 41.2% 44.3%
Vote unchanged 42.1% 50.0% 37.0% 56.8% 41.2% 46.4%

Only 14.4% of the total response said they were more likely to vote ALP from this visit. Of that number on 3% of those voters were identified as Liberal! This is compared to a whopping 85.6% of respondents who were either less likely to vote ALP (43.5%) or not change their vote (42.1%). Of the voters who were identified as Liberal, 60% said they were less likely to vote ALP from the visit and 37% said their vote would be unchanged. Granted this is just Western Sydney, but these kinds of figures are similar albeit slightly less profound across the country.

In terms of persuading voters, last week for the ALP has been yet another case of ‘the backfire effect!’

Next we’ll look at the response to a specific decision Gillard made recently. This is the Galaxy Research poll from February 1st-3rd, 2013 asking how voters viewed the decision to announce the election date well in advance of when it was due in order to provide the public with certainty:

Julia Gillard said that she announced the date of the federal election to end the speculation over when the poll will be held and to provide certainty to the country. Do you believe this explanation?

Total Labor
Coalition
Yes 41% 67% 21%
No 53% 25% 76%
Uncommitted 6% 8% 3%

Again, a very small number of Coalition voters believe Julia Gillard compared to a very large amount who don’t believe Julia Gillard. This is quite telling as it’s related to the word ‘certainty’ which is always a major issue for voters.

If you don’t feel certain about someone it’s very hard to trust them and if you don’t trust someone, it’s very hard to be persuaded by them regardless of the objective facts.

Finally, here’s Galaxy from the 15th – 17th of June 2012 on whether voters feel Labor is better or worse off since Julia Gillard replaced Kevin Rudd as Labor leader:

It’s been two years since Julia Gillard replaced Kevin Rudd as leader of the Labor Party. Overall, would you say that the Labor Government is now better or worse than it was two years ago under Kevin Rudd?

Total Labor Liberal
Better 20% 42% 7%
Worse 64% 39% 83%
Uncommitted 16% 19% 10%

Only 7% of Liberal supporters feel the ALP is better since Julia Gillard replaced Kevin Rudd as Labor leader compared to 83% who feel they’re worse off! … It’s awfully difficult to persuade people to vote for you when the people you’re trying to persuade believe you’re going backwards!

Some would say “of course Liberal voters would say that. They’re gaming the polls!” In my opinion that’s pretty much impossible. Firstly, they’d have to pay as much attention to politics as your average “political tragic.” Then they’d have to believe in the same political/media industrial complex most “tragics” on all sides of politics seem to believe in passionately i.e the media influences public opinion and voting intention. After that, they’d have to think about it for a bit, then they’d have to be deliberately manipulative and so on. Most people simply aren’t involved enough to care about such deception.

The reason I’ve focused on Liberal respondents is because in order to win the next federal election, the ALP needs to persuade voters who are prepared to vote for the Liberal Party to vote for them instead.

What the above shows is that the voters needed to win, for the most part, have stopped listening to Julia Gillard.

It’s very difficult to persuade someone you need to vote for you to vote for you when they’ve stopped listening!

Enough polling!

On December 28th 2012, I attended Proclamation Day (the celebration of the day South Australia was proclaimed as a British Province in 1836) at the Old Gum Tree in Northern Glenelg where the Prime Minister gave a speech about her childhood and growing up in South Australia.

I asked a number of people who attended the barbecue afterwards about what they thought of the Prime Minister attending the event and what they thought of her speech. The word I got from pretty much everyone I asked was “political” and attached to “political” was anything related to her mentioning her childhood and improving living standards.

This is one of the words Julia Gillard’s leadership has been reduced to: “political.” When that word gets associated with a leader, it’s usually the final gong for anyone in public life. It means that anytime you attempt to talk about an issue you’re passionate about, it gets viewed as a cynical attempt to manipulate people rather than anything with any substance.

This is an example of what the negative predisposition prism does and once it’s firmly formed in a majority of people’s brains, it’s very difficult to get rid of it!

Let’s say the Prime Minister talks about the issue of improving education standards and how she believes education is the key to raising people’s well-being and making sure children have a bright and prosperous future. That sounds like a very positive, clear statement of priorities. The public response to this kind of statement tends to be a whole group of questions related to education policy i.e funding the Gonski Review recommendations, why Australia is falling behind global competitors in literacy and numeracy standards etc. Even if Julia Gillard answers these sorts of questions honestly (and in my opinion, she always does), the predisposition to her answers is dissatisfaction. It doesn’t matter whether they agree or disagree. The button in the brain that is pushed is dissatisfaction.

In a previous post, I mentioned how when a hole is opened on a particular policy issue, it spreads to pretty much every other policy issue and forms a system that is insanely difficult to break. For example if you’re perceived to have told a lie on a policy issue like the carbon tax, the belief that trust has been broken spreads into pretty much every other issue like a virus. The exact same thing has happened to beliefs in relation to Julia Gillard’s leadership.

First there was the views in relation to how she became leader. Imagery such as knifing Kevin Rudd made people very suspicious of her motives. Then there was everything that happened during the 2010 election campaign such as “the real Julia” which added to the uncertainty about what she stood for. Then there was the hung parliament result which lead to a range of negative vectors being established in relation to her leadership and the ALP as a party such as illegitimacy, deal making and compromise.

Then there was the announcement of the carbon “tax” which the Coalition spent six months connecting to the words “lie” and “liar.” This played on themes such as social license, the people’s mandate, trust and uncertainty.

Then we had the flip-flopping on asylum seeker policy and the petty arguments about the power of the executive and the power of the judiciary in deciding what is lawful and unlawful in relation to the issue (no one likes a legal argument).

Then we had the perceived instability in the parliamentary numbers in relation to Craig Thomson, Peter Slipper and Andrew Wilkie. It didn’t matter what the issues were unless they were cast in a negative light towards Julia Gillard’s judgement i.e she relied on Craig Thomson’s and Peter Slipper’s “tainted vote” and “she broke a promise” to Andrew Wilkie. The words “a line has been crossed” were used in relation to this in April 2012. All it did was cause even more uncertainty.

Then we had issues in relation to the ALP such as “we are us” at the national conference in 2011.

Australia Day 2012 could have been a point where the Prime Minister was able to change people’s views around her leadership. She acted responsibly in making sure Tony Abbott was protected from the mob of protestors that was unleashed at him (watch Abbott’s flippant reaction at 2.33. It says an awful lot about his character). Instead it became a conspiracy surrounding whether one of her staffers tipped someone off to Abbott’s location.

Then there was Kevin Rudd’s leadership challenge a month or so later. It wasn’t Julia Gillard this time that was doing the damage to herself. It was her supporters with their scorched earth approach to making sure Kevin Rudd was unelectable as Labor leader. All it did was make Kevin Rudd look like the victim of a culture of bullying and played into a number of already firmly established emotionally vectors in relation to how he’s viewed by the public.

Fast forward to today and nothing really has changed and the reason for it is because the public has a negative predisposition towards everything Prime Minister Gillard does or doesn’t do. Everything in that timeline of events I’ve just listed has created a very well established system of negative predisposition in the majority of people’s brains.

Even a moment that is considered positive for Gillard like the “misogyny speech” got responses like “she should have done it sooner!”

She can’t take a trick!

Scott Steel aka Possum Comitatus wrote a very detailed post last year that showed in this particular period of time, public perceptions of leadership have become pretty much everything in relation to how a government performs electorally. To quote him:

Our public perceptions of leadership have become all encompassing of our politics . Change perceptions of that leadership, change the vote – drive perceptions of the PM into the dirt, drive the government’s vote into the dirt with it. Lift the public’s satisfaction with the PM up, the government vote gets dragged up too.

The problem for Julia Gillard is that she’s asking people to trust her when the groundswell of distrust and the public’s negative predisposition prism have already been firmly established in the majority of people’s minds and brains over a very long period of time. Add to that a parliamentary opposition that appears to understand this dynamic, a public that has extremely high expectations, a short attention span due to the demands of modern life and a high degree of uncertainty as well as a media that is intensely focused on scrutiny of pretty much every decision the government makes and you get a situation that is pretty much impossible for Julia Gillard to turn around.

Demands and requirements of political leadership in this day and age

It is a very common theme among people who follow politics closely to reflect on the mainstream media and it’s relationship to substance in the national political conversation.

You’ll often see the critique that the media cycle has sped up to a ridiculous pace due to a demand for entertainment rather than substance or real issues and this dynamic is making it pretty much impossible to govern effectively.

Former government minister Lindsay Tanner wrote an entire book on this subject and it got a lot of coverage when it was released.

Right now, most of the federal government and their supporters appear to be in a perpetual battle with the media. The theme tends to be that the reason people are turning away from the ALP at the present moment is because the media are too focused on the political game and superficiality rather than issues of substance.

Last week, Prime Minister Gillard gave an interview with ABC Brisbane’s morning radio show where she told the interviewer that she felt misunderstood by the media and they had overreacted to certain political events such as two ministers resigning that played on a lot of these themes.

Yesterday we got this response from the Opposition Leader:

“If I do badly in an interview that’s not the interviewer’s fault, it’s my fault for not being able to argue my case well” – Tony Abbott, March 6th 2013

This is Abbott once again employing the tactic of emotionally baiting the ALP, progressives and their supporters in order to control the frame of the national political conversation.

In this case, the frame is Prime Minister Gillard is irresponsible and shifts the blame to someone else whenever she makes mistakes whereas Abbott takes responsibility for his mistakes and doesn’t attribute blame to anyone but himself. Whether that’s true or not (I believe it’s a falsehood in the extreme) is irrelevant. This is what’s being communicated and the Liberal Party have been exceptionally efficient at deploying this frame whenever possible during this term of parliament.

I have written about this dynamic of Abbott using certain lines to control the frame of the national political conversation a few times here and here. It’s one of his only tactics and he gets away with it far too often, mostly due to the ALP and progressives not understanding what he’s doing.

Having said all that, in this particular case, I happen to agree with Abbott’s point even though I severely doubt he’s being truthful.

The public’s expectations of leadership at a federal level in this day and age have increased to an almost unreasonable level.

For a start, any kind of blame or shifting of responsibility is immediately viewed unfavorably. I believe the reason for this is because the average voter isn’t allowed to do it in their daily lives and if they do, they can expect some sort of punishment. They get up, go to work, do the best they can, try to have a normal family life, pay their taxes, watch things happen without their consent or social license in the national political conversation, not to mention the petty bickering over trivial issues and think to themselves “if I was to do that in my life, I wouldn’t survive! I do my best! I don’t make excuses! I pay their salaries! They better do what I expect of them or face the consequences!”

What is happening in people’s lives is that society is demanding more and more out of them and if they don’t meet those demands they fall behind. The mental apparatus people require to function in this day and age often exceeds most people’s psychological levels of development. This is doubly true of political leadership.

I’ve written about this in relation to certain dynamics in the electorate in far more detail in a previous post located here.

In this day and age, if you’re the government, it is a requirement that you have your game together at an extremely high level otherwise the electorate immediately switches off and looks for an alternative. The judgement is harsh and swift and once it’s formed it takes an incredible amount of work to overcome.

What this means is that in order to be an effective politician in this day and age you need to be a great communicator (extremely rare given everything it entails), you need to have the policies that address people’s demands that are approved of by the electorate and delivered effectively, you need to have mastered basic political skills, you need to be able to persuade your opponents to see the world your way and act accordingly and if you make mistakes, you must admit to making them and take responsibility immediately because any whiff of a cover up or lack of transparency is immediately treated with anger, resentment and contempt.

This also means no blaming the media, no blaming your political opponents, no blaming the public or any other dynamics in the external environment for your problems. It’s all your responsibility!

You’re now required to lead by example and take the public with you. If you don’t, the noise rises to the surface of the national political conversation by default and you get left with the trivial nonsense that we all complain about.

Aren’t those expectations unreasonably difficult? Sure it is. But we aren’t talking about a normal situation here. This is the leadership of the country and public life we’re talking about.

If you don’t have extremely high standards and you aren’t the best, you’re pretty much dead!

Too often I’ve seen critiques, usually from progressives blaming the media, Tony Abbott and everything in the external environment for the government’s political problems. This is a very convenient way of ignoring and avoiding these realities.

Former Secretary of the ACTU and hero to the Labor Party Bill Kelty hit the nail on the head during his address to their national congress last year:

Seems to me we have a mirror image of the 1980s. Hard decisions were made in the ’80s. Real pressures on living standards, high unemployment, but we never, ever lost a sense of hope and trust that government and unions would see it out and there would be a better future. Today we have better economic conditions but that hope and that trust has retreated.

I’ve got be frank. It’s too easy to blame the media, too easier to blame the playthings of politics. And there’s no purpose blaming the opposition for doing, what after all, you’d expect them to do and that’s to beat you.

In a sense I think we make politics just simply too hard.

The truth will normally do.

It would be truly great if more people on all sides of politics woke up and took those words to heart!

Exclusion leading to concerned indifference

“I’m not the leader of a party called the progressive party, I’m not the leader of a party called the moderate party, I’m not the leader of a party even called the social democratic party. I’m the leader of the party called the Labor Party deliberately, because that is where we come from, that is what we believe in, that is who we are.” – Prime Minister Julia Gillard at the Australian Workers Union National Conference, February 18th, 2013

When I heard the Prime Minister utter these words last night on Lateline, I felt a twinge of anger and despair in my stomach, not because of the words but because of their intended political purpose.

As someone who identifies with words such as “social democrat”, “progressive” and “moderate” and considers the Australian Labor Party to be the natural home for someone who believes in all of those approaches to issues, I felt quite alienated. I believe that emotion is the opposite of the very foundation of what the Australian Labor Party is meant to be about!

Many times Prime Minister Gillard has spoken about “Labor values” without specifically defining what they are in terms of what people value or values systems people have established throughout their lives.

I consider inclusion to be a core value of the Australian Labor Party and the words uttered by the Prime Minister last night were exclusionary and go a long way to explaining many of the political problems the party is currently experiencing.

Leaving aside words such as “social democrat” and “progressive”, the fact the Prime Minister would disassociate herself from the word “moderate” is a major mistake!

Many people who are supporters of a so called “centre-right” agenda identify themselves as “moderate.” These are people who need to vote for the ALP in order for the party to win the next federal election and they have many trigger points that will turn them away from the Liberal Party such as asylum seeker policy, an emotionally reassuring, pragmatic and optimistic approach to the economy, addressing dangerous climate change and the extreme social and economic positions of their current leader to name a few.

When many of these “moderates” see Tony Abbott, they feel a deep sense of concern. When they hear Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan dissociate themselves from the word “moderate” and “the middle ground” in order to re-appeal to the old anvil of the blue collar manufacturing base and the old economy of the industrial age, many feel passively indifferent about him.

They don’t lose the feelings of concern, they simply disassociate themselves emotionally from what is happening in the national conversation.

Whenever the ALP attack Abbott or any of the other Liberal state Premier for being extreme all it does is intensify this emotional state of concerned indifference.

There is a lot of talk right now that suggests the ALP should adopt the successful campaigning methods from the Democrats in the USA in order to win the next federal election. The exclusionary rhetoric on display last night is inconsistent with what the Democrats were doing during that campaign and why it was successful.

I have never once seen Barack Obama disassociate himself from a socially democratic, progressive, moderate position.

I have never once seen Bill Clinton disassociate himself from a socially democratic, progressive, moderate position.

I have never once seen Bob Hawke disassociate himself from a socially democratic, progressive, moderate position.

I have never once seen Paul Keating disassociate himself from a socially democratic, progressive, moderate position.

I have never once seen Kevin Rudd disassociate himself from a socially democratic, progressive, moderate position.

In short, no one who wins elections at a national level either in Australia or the United States says what Prime Minister Gillard said last night!

Many people in the ALP wonder why the party has struggled since 1996 to consistently get over 40% of the primary vote at a federal level. I believe excluding people in the community in order to play to the ever diminishing base vote goes a very long way to understanding why this is and has been the case for such a long time.

The Prime Minister and her people should think very long and hard about the effects of this exclusionary rhetoric before engaging in it again. It will not win the next federal election for the ALP and it’s extremely damaging when the party needs to be opening itself up to the community and the people living in it so they can win as many votes as possible rather than closing itself off and engaging in an ultimately self defeating race to the bottom with the Coalition parties.

“Too many people in the Labor Party don’t like the society we created” – Paul Keating in conversation with Kerry O’Brien in 2011

Mr Keating has a very unique way of summarising situations and people in a single sentence. I think this one as applied to what was said last night is dead on the money!

Policy exemplifies values, connection, authenticity, trust and identity

A key component of this years political debate will be who can communicate their vision for the nation to the public in a way that can persuade swing voters to vote for them in September.

You’re going to hear a lot of predictable talk about policies but what’s really going on is far more complex.

Ronald Reagan’s pollster Dick Wirthlin figured out that voters don’t vote for policies, they vote for who they measure as superior in the five areas I’m about to summarise and how the policies they advocate for exemplify them.

Values

Wirthlin defines values as the measures by which individuals determine their worth or importance of matters of concern in their lives.

The big mistake many politicians make, especially on the ALP “side” of politics is to confuse policies with values. The best example of this is whenever you hear Julia Gillard talk about “Labor values” you will always hear the word “education.”

Education isn’t a value. It’s a process and a policy area. The real question the ALP should be asking is why value education? Is it because we value opportunity? Is it because we value excellence? Is it because we value equality and social justice? Is it because we value creating a sustainable world? Is it because we value greater degrees of freedom? The deeper question on values never seems to be addressed by the Prime Minister.

The Coalition by contrast make it very clear where they stand on values. Every piece of communication they produce is targeted towards the values of individual success and freedom as well as respect of national history and what they define as an “Australian” identity.

There are also stages of values which I’ve gone over at reasonable length in previous posts that can be found here and here.

Connection

When I first visited Canberra, at a gut level I felt a reasonable degree of disconnection with the rest of the country. I’ve heard this is a common experience. There is a cold, artificial, bureaucratic feeling about the place.

Connection is an area many seem to have difficulty with on both “sides” of politics.

I think it’s fair to say that both Gillard and Abbott don’t connect too well with the electorate. Sure Gillard did connect with many women and men when she lashed out at Abbott’s repeated misogyny last year during Question Time, but that was merely one reactive speech that had been a very long time coming. Besides that one time, Gillard has been unable to connect with many people due to the inescapable negative prism she’s created for herself and most of her political decisions are viewed by people accordingly. It magnifies a lot when she says things like “we are us”, “a line has been crossed” and “I’ve made a ‘Captain’s Pick.'”

Abbott, although incredibly unpopular, initially connected with the public’s base level desires in relation to resolving the perceived uncertainty of the hung parliament, promising to get rid of the carbon tax, the mining tax, “stopping the boats, ending the waste” and bringing back the “golden years” of the Howard government.

As time has gone by many people see his platform for what it is: a fraud and they no longer feel that connection as people have more complex and difficult concerns to deal with and Abbott has shown that he doesn’t understand the public by constantly disregarding how they live their lives.

If normal people did what he has done over the last three years, they’d be fired from their job immediately!

Abbott’s new way of connecting is making everything he says about how bad the Labor Party is and how they need to be booted out of office as soon as possible. It has nothing to do with the policies, it is a very partisan message and it’s directed straight at Gillard, Labor and anything they touch. It connects with people because he has control of the way the national debate is framed and Labor appear too stupid to counteract what he’s doing.

Authenticity

It’s fair to say both Gillard and Abbott are seen to be inauthentic on many issues.

In the case of Gillard the obvious examples revolve around marriage equality and asylum seeker policy. On marriage equality, the authenticity issue arises due to her history as a progressive activist, her de-facto relationship and her atheism. How could someone who lives their life that way and hold those positions on “the big questions” possibly justify being against marriage equality? Sure, she can attempt to justify the position, but getting people to believe it is another matter entirely.

In relation to asylum seeker policy, Gillard advocates for “protecting lives at sea” yet the actual policy of locking refugees away in another country violates basic social justice and progressive principles of humanitarianism. It ends up looking like a desperate attempt to win votes in Western Sydney and pockets of Queensland. Whenever this is denied, it looks inauthentic.

In the case of Abbott, he’s spent his entire political career convincing everyone that he’s a crusader for the conservative cause. He has rejoiced in the nickname “Captain Catholic,” emotionally baiting “left wingers” and feminists as well as the negativity and cut and thrust of machine politics. Now he’s attempting to convince the public that he’s a crusader for taking action on dangerous climate change, women’s rights and social justice. Give us a break!

Trust

Trust is a fundamental component of political success. It’s often referred to as “political capital.” How much a government can do in office while maintaining their popularity in the electorate is heavily reliant on how much political capital they have stored in the bank. The more trust is broken by the government, the more unpopular they tend to become.

The trust issue with Gillard has frequently appeared during this term of parliament. Whether it has been the deal with the Greens and Independents on the “Carbon Tax” (saying it’s a carbon “price” is a big authenticity issue because every time it’s said, people think it’s spin), whether it’s been breaking the mandatory precommitment legislation deal with Andrew Wilkie, whether it’s been asylum seeker policy or whether it’s simply been internal ALP politics, it all comes back to trust, political capital and how that relates to certainty.

“How can we trust you given what you’ve done before?” is what it all comes down to and whenever there’s been an attempt at an answer it always gets framed in a negative light because that’s the predisposition towards Gillard’s decisions as Prime Minister.

The trust issue has been used with devastating effect by Tony Abbott (or should I say, Mark Textor) during this term of parliament. Everything they’ve said communicates “you can’t trust Labor and this Prime Minister” in one way or another. Most of this message now is in code as they’ve gone off the direct message and gone into a mode where they want to be seen as positive and constructive when in reality what they’re communicating is exactly the same as what’s been said over the previous three years of this term of parliament.

This will of course come back to bite Abbott big time if he ever becomes Prime Minister because there are very real and complex issues in relation to how he plans to repeal the carbon tax after it has been in operation for over a year and all the complexity that comes with that in relation to what’s happening around the world, how he plans to repeal the mining tax given how Australian’s view the issue and many other areas where he’s drawn a line in the sand without thinking about the long term implications of those promises.

In short, if you make a promise, make sure you keep it or look out!

Identity

Identity is interesting in relation to the two major parties. On the one hand, Labor is defining itself through it’s industrial relations agenda whereas the Coalition are defining themselves based upon anything that isn’t Labor unless Labor falls for their framing.

On the question of identity, I believe the most successful political parties are able to find points of agreement with their opponents as well as identifying those areas beneath the surface where the base are disillusioned with the political party they support and exploiting them as much as possible.

During this term of parliament, Abbott has made it his goal to split the ALP from their working class, blue collar, manufacturing base by linking the ALP to the Greens and playing hardball on the issue of border protection and asylum seeker policy.

The ALP by contrast seems to be making minimal impact in splitting the Coalition from the business community. This is probably due to the ALP’s rhetoric in relation to “Clive, Gina and Twiggy” as well as deliberately conflating various economic and industrial relations issues with a return to the time before Bob Hawke and Paul Keating revolutionised the Australian economy.

In my opinion, instead of declaring war on these wealthy people and accusing them of being evil and in control of the Coalition, the ALP should demonstrate how they made these people into what they are and without the policies of the Hawke and Keating governments, the cooperation of the union movement and the policies that saved Australia from recession during the Global Financial Crisis in 2008 and 2009, these people wouldn’t be anywhere near as wealthy as they are today!

As Paul Keating once said in a conversation with Malcolm Turnbull in 2008 “I made you rich!”

To make it brutally frank: the ALP are nowhere near as open to this disenfranchised group of generally Coalition supporters as they should be.

The five areas I’ve touched on above are what comes before we can get to a real policy discussion on any issue because they deal with people, knowing where one stands and being real.

To sum it up in a phrase: policy exemplifies values, connection, authenticity, trust and identity.

It’s all well and good to say you want to copy the sophisticated tactics of Barack Obama’s victorious 2012 US Presidential campaign, but if your policies are out of sync in relation to each other or they’re not communicated in a manner that is consistent with what you believe, it won’t work!

The party that is consistent in relation to this concept and injects optimism and inclusion into everything they communicate is the party that usually wins elections.