How turning voters off politics helps US pollies get elected – will it work in Australia too?

Intriguing analysis in this post from Steven Pearlstein in the Washington Post, although Jay Rosen notes that he doesn’t cover the complementary role played in this game by the news media playing up the confected outrage.

Because Australian voters don’t have the option of staying away from the polls, obviously the strategy of getting out your “base” while disheartening the rival’s supporters so they just stay home won’t work here.  Yet since many of our politicians are playing from the same gamebook, and we’re starting to see lobbying groups run their own political adverts much as the US SuperPACs do (although thankfully not so blatant in their attacks), how will the continued emphasis on negativity, and the distorted framing of partisan policy positions (that mostly are quite close in ideology and intended effect) as vast gaping chasms of irreconcilable division, end up working out at the polling stations?

Traditionally, those Australian voters who are not particularly engaged with the nitty-gritty of politics have tended to vote for the status quo on the “better the devil you know” justification.  But now that the news cycle is so full of harshly negative stories and scandals, with only the heavily engaged wonks doing the background reading required to know just how big most of the beat-ups are, is this electoral shrug behaviour likely to continue?  Is there more likely to be “a pox on both your houses” reaction to increase the votes for independent reps & minority parties, or an increase in deliberate informal voting to show contempt, or a swing of revulsion away from the status quo?

I don’t pretend to have answers here, I’m just dreading the build up to the next election, seeing as outside the blog/twitter-sphere, I know hardly anybody who bothers to read a party website or even a broadsheet’s politics section to find out what the actual policy platforms are, for instance – they just repeat what they hear on the radio and TV, with all the superficiality that entails.

Categories: culture wars, ethics & philosophy, media, parties and factions

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2 replies

  1. Speaking only for myself, it’s not going to really cause a huge change. But that’s mainly because I tend to have the two major parties as my final two preferences on any ballot paper I fill out anyway. I’ve had this tendency for at least the last twenty years or so (so, pretty much all of my voting life) and it was a reaction to what I perceived to be the lack of interest the major political parties had in the voters back in the late 1980s to early 1990s.
    Of course, if more people start voting as I do (major parties fighting out for last place, minor parties and independents getting the higher preferences) then there is an increased likelihood of the election of independents and minor party MPs. However, as has been shown in the current parliament, this isn’t necessarily a Bad Thing – after all, the various independent and minor party MPs are getting a much bigger say in what’s going on at present than they would have if either of the major parties had achieved a straight majority on their own terms – and the independents have to listen to the voters in their electorates on a much more one-to-one basis than most major party candidates are willing to do. It means we’re more likely to see legislation which is aimed at improving the lot of ordinary people (such as the pokie restrictions which are currently on the back burner… it’ll be interesting to see whether they come to the fore again given the current situation) rather than the ideologically fuelled stuff which gets through when a particular party gets a majority.
    (Oh, and the electorates to watch in the next campaign, whenever it happens, will probably be the ones for the various independent and minor party MPs in the current parliament – I have no doubt the major parties will be working hand over fist to try and ensure they aren’t put in a similar position again…)

  2. I think we might be heading into a trend away from incumbents, because of the endless media negativity. I think that was a big factor in the size of the LNP landslide here is Queensland. All the Julia-hate in the media will do its work in the next federal election. Maybe if we get a government that the media barons like, it will tone done some.

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