«7. Making Policy and Winning Votes: Election promises and political strategies in the 2013 campaign Nicholas Reece This chapter examines the ...»
Policy to keep the election debate off the opponent’s territory Just as parties use policy to move the public debate to their issues they also use it to stop debate in a policy area that is their opponent’s strong point. The 2013 election provides several examples of this tactic. Labor’s policy to support off-shore processing and the settlement of asylum seekers in PNG was aimed at shutting down debate on an issue that was seen as a Coalition strength. The Coalition’s decision to adopt Labor’s Better Schools funding agreement with the states, support DisabilityCare, amend its NBN plans to be more like Labor’s and to declare WorkChoices dead were all aimed at shutting down political debate on issues that were viewed as Labor strengths.
Policy to ‘wedge’ the opponent A wedge issue is one that is divisive or controversial and can split a population or political group. Political campaigns use a wedge policy to exploit tension within a targeted population. The objective is to divide the Opposition, create the impression of disunity, and drive the defection of supporters who are in the minority on that issue.
The debate on asylum seeker policy is a wedge issue par excellence for the ALP. A Vote Compass survey of 375,000 voters undertaken during the election campaign revealed that 48 per cent of Labor supporters disagreed with the Party’s policy that asylum seekers who arrive by boat should not be allowed to settle in Australia, while 40 per cent of Labor voters agreed with the policy. In contrast, Coalition and Green voters were much more firmly locked in behind their parties’ policy positions (Vote Compass 2013b).
7. Making Policy and Winning Votes For the Coalition, an example of a wedge issue was the mining tax with the Liberal Party proposing to abolish the tax. A Vote Compass survey during the campaign showed that only 19 per cent of Liberal voters wanted the miners to pay less tax while 38 per cent wanted them to pay more and 43 per cent wanted them to pay the same (Vote Compass 2013c). Interestingly, the ALP did not pursue this policy during the election campaign. This was in part due to concerns about implementation problems with the tax and the risk of losing support in Western Australia and regional Queensland.
Conclusion The 2013 election highlights the very strategic way in which political parties use policies to enhance their campaign and outmanoeuvre their opponents. The major political parties have become more sophisticated in the development and marketing of their policies. This includes the engagement of market research teams to assist with the positioning and public presentation of policies.
The major parties have worked out how to game the policy costing process established under the Charter of Budget Honesty in 1998 and supplemented by the establishment of the PBO in 2012. This occurs to such an extent that the system now falls well short of meeting its stated legislative objectives. Even with the increased complexity of the policy development process, the 2013 election still included the release of policies that were ‘made up on the run’ to meet a pressing political objective. For different reasons, there were also a significant number of policies drafted by the major parties that were never released publicly.
Changes in issue salience between 2010 and 2013 worked to the Coalition’s advantage.
The Coalition was seen as being best able to handle issues that had risen in importance, such as the economy and asylum seekers. Meanwhile issues that were seen as a traditional strength of Labor, such as health and education, decreased in importance.
Both the Liberal and Labor parties released a significant volume of policy during the 2013 campaign, with the key policies listed in this chapter. Both parties attempted to use policy in a tactical way to achieve certain campaign objectives.
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This text taken from Abbott’s Gambit: The 2013 Australian Federal Election, edited by Carol Johnson and John Wanna, published 2015 by ANU Press, The Australian National University, Canberra, Australia.