The recent shock federal election loss by Labor, who bookies and the media alike had chalked in as certainties, has seen an avalanche of thought pieces and campaign analysis, pointing out where Labor lost the election.
Analysis has ranged from a focus on Shorten’s personality, Labor being too honest, opening up too many fronts, taking too many risks, or the indifference of the population to their big picture vision.
But not nearly enough analysis has focused on the way digital campaigning has irreversibly transformed political campaigns. There is a serious lack of understanding of the role and power of digital and micro-campaigning in particular.
By micro-campaigning we mean this: highly specific and targeted messages sent to sectors of the population that are believed to be vulnerable to specific concerns; whether they be national or local.
While a lot of talk has also centred on the shadow cast by the Murdoch media empire over the political landscape, the fact is the media, including Murdoch news channels, has a smaller share of influence today than it had several decades ago. And while traditional media outlets are still powerful, digital campaigning can be key to shifting the electorate on issues.
On election night it was noted by the ABC panel that Dutton was a formidable ground campaigner. While there’s a lot to be said for pressing the flesh, a better example of ground campaigning might be George Christensen and his digital campaign.
Before the election it was imagined that the embattled ‘Minister for Manila’ was hanging on by the skin of his teeth, but in fact Christensen achieved a swing toward him of 11%!
While the Adani issue clearly touched a nerve, his swing was larger than that of Michelle Landry’s, whose electorate is more directly impacted. What has emerged subsequently is that Mr Christensen paid for targeted ads focused on Labor’s non-existent ‘death tax’.
Political animals might dismiss such a campaign as patent and transparent nonsense, but clearly many didn’t. And that’s the point. Micro-campaigning isn’t about delivering key election messages to the broad population; it’s about targeting specific cohorts or swinging voters with strong messaging.
That message might be about what endowment someone can leave their family, how project X will deliver well paid jobs to the local electorate, what pensioners might lose in their hip-pocket.
Whether these campaigns are truthful, lawful, or ethical is not the focus of this blog. But whatever conclusion one reaches, the overarching point remains the same: micro-campaigning is effective, cannot afford to be ignored in future election campaigns.
The big message might win over 45% of the population in two-party-preferred terms, but it’s really the battle for that last 10% that matters. And that will be the terrain where the future of ‘ground campaigning’ lies; digital warfare.
And for that reason, public relations agencies that engage in political lobbying need to understand digital campaigning as well, if they are to deliver key messages effectively.