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The Sharp End: Targeting The Voters

Ari Sharp, Australian Democrats candidate for Kooyong, reports from the campaign frontline.

SharpPeople treat you very differently when they realise you are a political candidate.

All of a sudden, you go from being “that guy in the tute group”, or “that bloke on the train” to being someone who needs to be beyond reproach, as an oracle of knowledge on all things political.

This is what we expect of our potential representatives – the ability to clearly and articulately explain what they stand for, to live a lifestyle consistent with those ideas, and to have a good grasp of the full cacophony of issues that are relevant during an election campaign.

Where this ideal becomes somewhat difficult to live out is when you need to live an ordinary life, and do ordinary things. There is no easy demarcation between when a person is ‘the candidate’ and when they are simply being themselves.

A case in point is in a university tutorial, or a discussion you might have with friends. In the back of my mind (and no doubt the minds of everyone in my position) is “are the things I am saying simply me saying them, or are they being interpreted as the official Democrat (or Green, or Labor or Liberal) position.” It is something all candidates need to resolve within themselves, otherwise we’d all become walking talking soundbites.

As cynical as it may seem, campaigning is a lot like marketing, where the product is a set of ideas, and its brand a political party.

It is the aim of each and every political party to determine where the most likely source of votes are coming from, and then to get inside the minds of these voters.

The questions that need to be asked are “what issues do these people consider important?”, “what sort of a stance would they respond to?” and “where do they get their information from?” It is this last question that is most important in structuring the marketing of a political idea.

Of course, the answers to these questions are going to be gross generalisations and clearly do not apply to everyone within a category of voter, but they provide a good guide on how political parties will target each sector of the electorate.

Older voters tend to be much more reliant on targetted communication. They appreciate the candidate who bothers knocking on their door, or greets them in the shopping centre, or puts something in their letterbox. Because of this need for personal contact, the local touch is vital and the national campaign of lesser importance. They respond to the idea that they are being courted for their vote.

Middle aged voters usually consider themselves to be too busy to be worrying about annoying things such as wannabe politicians. They listen to talkback radio, watch commercial television, and only have time for a few short sharp messages before they move on to other things. Hence the use of the media to pitch for these constituents.

Political parties realise the benefit for seemingly ‘ordinary people’ to endorse their stance, and so will go to great lengths to infiltrate talkback radio and letters to the editor columns. A good ‘grab’ on the evening news is crucial to capture this vote.

Younger voters generally have a malaise about the political process, and are incredibly difficult to target. They respond negatively to waffly, verbose pitches for their vote by politicians. Instead, they look for something different, and out of the ordinary, which can cut through the huff and puff, and present something in a way that is relevant to them.

Political parties well stretch a long way to pitch for this vote, and many of the more edgy stunts during the campaign will be targetted at this vote. Already the Young ALP have launched their Political Big Brother on the web, which targets the 18-25 year old vote very effectively.

So, in the end, on closer examination, the election campaign is actually a series of well coordinated parallel campaigns, each using different mediums and a slightly different message to target their intended demographic. It’s a campaign that would make Marshall McLuhan proud.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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