«7. Making Policy and Winning Votes: Election promises and political strategies in the 2013 campaign Nicholas Reece This chapter examines the ...»
7. Making Policy and Winning Votes:
Election promises and political
strategies in the 2013 campaign
This chapter examines the intersection of public policy and politics in the 2013
federal election campaign. More than any other point in the political cycle,
election campaigns are a time in which candidates and political parties release
a large amount of new policy in the hope that it will win them increased public
support. The candidates and the parties also attack the policies and policy record of their opponents to decrease support for their competitors. Political parties release policy they claim will benefit the nation. But, the parties also use policies in a highly strategic way to enhance their campaign and outmanoeuvre their opponents.
Election studies have shown the growing importance of election policies and issues in deciding the outcome of elections (Dalton 2000; McAllister 2011).
Long-term factors such as social background and socio-economic status do not have the same level of influence on a person’s voting behaviour as they once did (McAllister 2011). The electorate has also become more fragmented, without the relatively homogeneous personal networks and social structures of previous eras. These factors have helped cause a decline in partisanship. As a consequence the political environment is now one in which voting patterns are far more volatile. Shorter-term influences on the vote, such as parties’ policy positions and preferences, performance evaluation and leaders’ public profiles, have emerged to fill the gap left by the decline of longer-term influences (Dalton 2000).
The 2013 Australian federal election illustrates how political parties have adapted to the greater importance of policy and issue voting and to broader changes in the electorate. At least symbolically, this was demonstrated by the Liberal Party which produced five million copies of its policy manifesto and distributed it to households across Australia. It has been several decades since a policy document—albeit a glossy 16-page summary version—has been produced and distributed on this scale.
This chapter will show that the major political parties have become more sophisticated in their development and strategic use of policy. Methods include the engagement of market research teams to assist with the positioning and public presentation of policies. The parties have become highly tactical in Abbott’s Gambit: The 2013 Australian Federal Election their use of policy to achieve political objectives such as the wedging of an opposition party, targeting specific voter groups or keeping the media focus on a desired policy area. Many policies announced during the 2013 election were the product of a lengthy development process, while other policies were ‘made up on the run’ to meet a pressing political objective. For different reasons, there were a significant number of policies that were drafted by Labor and the Liberals but never released publicly. The major parties have also adopted the practice of ‘gaming’ the policy costing process that was established under the Charter of Budget Honesty in 1998 such that the process is no longer meeting its objectives.
The chapter first provides an overview of the policy development process used by the Liberal and Labor parties in the 2013 campaign, including the formal approval process and the adoption of ad hoc, spur-of-the-moment announcements and the attendant controversies over policy costings. It then identifies the salient issues of the campaign as identified by voters through surveys such as Vote Compass, and catalogues the major policies announced by the parties in the election. Thirdly, it examines the ways in which the parties used policies to achieve political strategic objectives during the campaign.
This chapter is based on interviews with senior campaign figures in the Labor and Liberal parties as well as the author’s personal experience as a campaign director and coordinator of the policy development process for a major political party in previous Australian elections. The study is confined to the ALP and Coalition (Liberal and National) parties and does not examine the policies and strategies of the Greens and other minor parties.
The policy development process behind the 2013 campaigns Both the Liberal and Labor parties have a highly developed process for drafting and approving election policies. Notwithstanding party rules requiring varying degrees of consultation with party members, the policy development process has become highly centralised. This reflects the pressure of media and campaign management and the specialised nature of policy making in certain fields. The parties have become highly reliant on market research and data analytics to identify groups of party supporters and persuadable voters (Penn 2007; Hawker 2013). Using this information, a plan is developed to try and build a winning coalition of supporters.
7. Making Policy and Winning Votes
Policy development in the Coalition parties Senior shadow minister Andrew Robb led the policy development process for the Liberal Party as the chairman of the Coalition Policy Development Committee.
This was essentially a three-year process that commenced with a review of the Coalition’s policies after the 2010 election. Robb is a former federal director of the Liberal Party and was a federal campaign manager for the 1993 and 1996 campaigns. Joe Hockey and Andrew Robb also oversaw a costings process for the Opposition. This involved a process of internal scrutiny, consultation with stakeholders, assessment by the Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) and a panel of review by three ‘eminent experts in public finance and administration’ comprising former top bureaucrat Peter Shergold, economist Geoff Carmody and former Queensland auditor-general Len Scanlan.
Liberal Federal Director, Brian Loughnane, and market research and political strategy firm Crosby Textor, led by Mark Textor, provided input on framing the election contest, the overarching narrative for the campaign, testing of TV ads and marketing materials, demographic analysis of target voter groups and a list of target seats for the Liberal campaign. Crosby Textor also provided market research feedback on various ALP policy positions and the policy positions and options for the Coalition. Textor had been Liberal Party campaign pollster for six federal campaigns from 1996 to 2010.
The Coalition’s strategy was not simply to run a negative commentary on six years of Labor Government, but also to demonstrate that it was ‘time for real change’ (Textor 2013). Key policies such as abolishing the carbon tax, introducing the paid parental leave (PPL) scheme and direct action on the environment were symbols of change. The Liberals’ policy program was presented as ‘carefully managed change’ not as a radical new agenda. This fitted with the broader strategy to present the Coalition as a ‘safe’ alternative to the incumbent Labor Government. The Coalition claimed it would be a government that was ‘grown up’ and run by ‘adults’ and committed to being ‘a government of no surprises’ that would ‘under-promise and over-deliver’.
One of the distinctive features of the 2010 election was the way in which state results swung in different directions. In 2013, the Liberals hoped to win additional seats in Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania and New South Wales.
These states had held out against the national swing against Labor in 2010. The Liberals also wanted to reverse the female voting imbalance that had worked against the Party in 2010. Both major parties continued to target young families.
Typically, this implies a household with children in school, where Dad has a trade qualification or works in an administrative white-collar role and Mum Abbott’s Gambit: The 2013 Australian Federal Election works part-time. This young family has an above average level of mortgage stress, faces cost of living pressures and uses a car as the principal mode of transport.
Policy development in the Australian Labor Party The ALP election policy development process ran for approximately nine months leading up to the September election. Senior minister in the Gillard and Rudd governments, Jenny Macklin, chaired an Election Expenditure Review Committee. Following the leadership change from Gillard to Rudd in June 2013 there were significant ministerial and staff changes and much of this process fell into abeyance. National Secretary of the ALP, George Wright, revealed that of the 150 staff slated to work in the Party’s national campaign headquarters, 110 resigned following the change of leadership (Wright 2013).
As a consequence of these changes many of the policies that were released by Labor during the campaign did not go through a rigorous governance arrangement.
Some of the most high profile included the establishment of a special economic zone in the north of Australia; the policy to move the Australian Navy from Sydney’s Garden Island facility to Brisbane; and Rudd’s call for a tightening of foreign investment rules in the guise of ‘economic nationalism’ (Hawker 2013).
Rudd relied on a number of key campaign advisors. The ALP’s National Secretary George Wright, the campaign firm Essential Media Communications (EMC), John Utting from polling firm UMR, and Tony Mitchelmore, provided research input on framing the election contest, the overarching narrative for the campaign, demographic analysis of target voter groups and a list of target seats.
Late in the campaign preparation process, advertising executive Neil Lawrence was commissioned to prepare the ALP launch advertisement and the campaign slogan ‘A New Way’. This was not done in consultation with the ALP’s national secretariat nor with EMC who produced other advertisements and messaging for the campaign such as the ‘If he wins you lose’ attack advertisements against Tony Abbott.
Labor’s market research told it that ALP in-fighting and lack of discipline had made the Party unworthy of re-election in many voters’ eyes. On the policy front, the steady increase in asylum seeker arrivals by boat was costing the ALP support amongst key target voter groups. Slower growth in the economy and deficit budgets had made people uncertain about the economic future. For the ALP, the target voter groups in 2013 were those who had deserted Labor since the 2010 election, followed by those they had lost at the 2010 election itself. Some of the key demographics of these groups included men with trade
qualifications, Queenslanders, Western Australians and Tasmanians. Like the Coalition, Labor was also chasing the young families that comprise a large portion of the marginal electorates in outer suburban and regional Australia.
The election policy costing process The establishment of the statutory Charter of Budget Honesty in 1998 and the Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) in 2012 were intended to bring a new level of transparency and honesty to the costing of election promises. Despite these reforms, the process for costing and disclosing the budget impact of policies descended into high farce in the 2013 Australian election as the major parties discovered how to game the system.
The Coalition took advantage of the new resources available to it through the PBO and submitted more than 200 policy commitments for costing. However, the Coalition did not submit a single policy to Treasury and the Department of Finance and Regulation for costing during the caretaker period. As outlined earlier, the Coalition instead used its own panel of review comprising three ‘eminent experts in public finance and administration’. The Coalition released over 700 pages of policy documents for the 2013 campaign but only released the associated policy cost and budget impact two days before the election.
These did not include an independent costing for three of its biggest financial commitments: the NBN, its Direct Action Plan on climate change, and its asylum seeker and border security measures.
Labor submitted its policy commitments through the Treasury and Finance process and released them progressively throughout the campaign. Labor tried to make a virtue of doing this while attacking the Coalition for not participating. However, Labor got into trouble when it submitted a series of initiatives for costing that it had no intention of pursuing itself but thought the Coalition might. This was not part of a policy development process but an election tactic to expose the Opposition for an alleged ‘budget black hole’. But the tactic backfired when Treasury and Finance issued statements saying Labor had misrepresented their findings.
Issues and policies of the 2013 campaign From one election to another the issues that are of highest priority to voters change. The political parties monitor changes in issue salience and shape their policy offerings and marketing campaigns accordingly. Set out in Table 1 is an issue salience list from the 2013 election.
Abbott’s Gambit: The 2013 Australian Federal Election
The issues in 2013 In 2013, the University of Melbourne, University of Sydney and the ABC in cooperation with political scientists at the University of Toronto developed Vote Compass for the Australian election. Vote Compass was an online educational tool to help voters understand where they stand on the issues compared to the parties. The survey was completed voluntarily 1.4 million times. This sample was then adjusted using the ABS census and other data sets to produce an estimate of voter attitudes (Vote Compass 2013a).
Source: Vote Compass. Respondents were asked: ‘Which issue is most important to you personally in this election campaign?’ As a useful point of comparison the Australian Electoral Study produced the following results on issue salience amongst a sample of voters in the 2010 election.
Source: Australian Electoral Study 2010. Respondents were asked: ‘Still thinking of these 12 issues, which of these issues has been most important to you and your family during the election campaign?’ A comparison of the 2013 and 2010 results shows some significant changes amongst the issue priorities of voters. The economy was a significantly more