Political campaigns are a contest of ideas. They involve values, promises and “blue sky” thinking. But false advertising can damage the democratic process and distort election outcomes.
A successful campaign requires the right balance of resources and outreach efforts. Here are some tips to help your campaign reach voters.
1. Grassroots Campaigning
The State of South Australia will go to the polls on Saturday in a race that has been billed as one of the most competitive and unpredictable in a generation. Typically, election campaigns in this Australian state are focused on the two major parties but this year a number of outsiders are challenging the status quo. The biggest threat comes from former federal senator Nick Xenophon who has launched his own political party SA Best in a risky gambit that has spooked the major parties.
Founded by political idealists, South Australia has long been a trailblazer in terms of democratic reform. In 1857, it became the first colony to hold a bicameral system of government and in 1884 it introduced the country’s first direct taxes on income and land. Despite these advances, progress toward more popular representation has been fitful. For example, although the state was first to give women the vote, it took until 1894 for full adult suffrage to be instituted. In addition, property qualifications for electors were not abolished until 1973.
However, this year the COVID-19 pandemic has swung the balance of power in favor of incumbent state governments. The massive media coverage that has accompanied the outbreak has given Premiers and their cabinet members unprecedented profile and made them household names.
The SA Labor government led by Peter Malinauskas is no exception. Before the pandemic, few people had heard of him or his party. However, the viral marketing campaign that he and his team launched in early March has been a huge success.
The campaign has centered on infrastructure issues such as the rollout of high speed internet and tram lines, but has also touched on social themes including disability rights and a ban on slot machines. Other independents and minor parties are also competing for votes such as Kelly Vincent, who is running on a platform that focuses on the needs of the elderly and disabled. South Australia is also home to the Olympic Dam, the largest uranium deposit in the world, and Bernardi’s party is promising to clear local regulatory hurdles that prevent nuclear energy production.
2. Social Media
In South Australia, where online bookmakers are currently favoring a hung parliament with neither major party able to claim an outright majority, it’s likely that the final result won’t be known until weeks after polling day. During this time, a number of different campaigning methods can help shape the outcome.
The first of these is social media. In the lead up to the 2022 state election, the Labor Party launched a new advertising campaign that sought to position the party as “familiar, but fresh.” The goal was to present a version of the Labor Party that would be familiar to its longtime voter base, while also demonstrating a sense of change and innovation. This was done through a revamp of the campaign brand and the introduction of a “For the Future” slogan to all campaign materials, from policy naming conventions to media sound bites.
Social media campaigns can be effective at reaching disengaged voters, but they must be used in conjunction with other outreach methods. For example, younger demographics tend to have higher levels of social media adoption than older groups. This makes it an ideal target group for promoting campaign messages through social media. However, when reaching older voters, a more traditional approach is generally more effective, such as direct mail or TV ads.
As we enter the final week of the state election, both the government and opposition are attempting to make the case that they will deliver for the state’s economy. The government will highlight its record of managing the COVID-19 pandemic, while the opposition will hammer home the issue of ambulance ramping, which plagued the state’s hospitals during the early stages of the pandemic.
Despite these attempts to bolster their records of governance, the two major parties face a challenge from outsider minor parties. One of these is SA Best, led by former federal senator Nick Xenophon. Xenophon’s risky campaign strategy has spooked the major parties and created uncertainty about the outcome of the state election.
The SA Best campaign features a series of cringe-worthy videos highlighting the party’s leadership, including its leader Peter Malinauskas. The ads have proven to be wildly popular, driving up unprompted awareness of the campaign and making Malinauskas a household name. The campaign also includes an ad that features him singing and dancing in his office—an approach that has proved to be incredibly effective at getting young, disengaged voters on board with the party’s message.
3. Traditional Campaigning
While digital campaign resources are increasing, a significant portion of political parties’ overall budgets still go to traditional advertising. While the cost of television, radio and print ads is high, they can have a significant impact on voter awareness and perceptions.
As a result, it is essential that campaign strategies incorporate time-honored methods of reaching voters. This may include doorknocking, phone calling and community meetings. These strategies can help reach voters who are not online or who may have switched off from engaging with political advertising.
Democratic politics is a contest of values and ideas, but campaigning can often become the source of misleading claims and falsehoods. This can divert attention from the real issues and distort election results. In order to protect the integrity of democracy, some states and territories have enacted laws that require truth in political advertising.
The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) and individual candidates are required to comply with strict regulations when conducting their campaigns. This includes a requirement to provide an “authorised by” statement on any printed material or electronic communication they produce during, or immediately before and after, an election period.
Councils also have their own rules about the use of their land and property for electoral purposes. Depending on the nature of the land, councils may have restrictions on how electoral signs can be placed on their property or whether they can hold events on the site. The AEC and councils do not provide legal advice or support in relation to planning or running elections, however they can be helpful in identifying relevant information.
South Australia was founded by political idealists and had a long tradition of commitment to democracy and political representation. While the decisive intervention of the British government curbed the experimental pretensions of the colonists, a renewal of that original zeal saw the introduction of partial self-government in 1851 and, in the 1860s, some of the most advanced arrangements for political representation in the empire including triennial parliaments, manhood suffrage, an elected upper house, and secret ballots.
Women who owned property were able to vote in local council elections from 1861 and women’s participation in paid work was growing steadily, although terrible conditions persisted. Female suffragists were agitating for change in many ways, from writing letters to newspapers and magazines to organising public speeches and rallies. They collected signatures on the longest petition ever presented to parliament and lobbied political leaders directly.
4. Digital Campaigning
Creating content is a key component of every election campaign. Learn how to use different platforms effectively with our course: Planning Your Digital Campaign.
The Electoral Commission is responsible for the electoral administration of South Australia including electoral boundaries, polling day, and counting of votes. It is the constitutional body for local government elections and consists of the senior puisne judge of the Supreme Court of South Australia, the Electoral Commissioner, and the Surveyor General.
Unlike many other states, South Australia is a state with a unique electoral system. Its electoral district boundaries are adjusted at set intervals with the redistribution process carried out by an independent authority known as the Electoral Districts Boundaries Commission.
South Australian electoral rules require a writ to be issued 28 days before the date fixed for polling. The writ sets the dates for the closing of the electoral roll and the close of nominations.
Electoral campaigns in South Australia have been historically long and fierce. This has been due to a combination of factors, including the length of the state’s history as a colony, the emergence of a robust middle class, and the comparatively slow development of a modern economy.
In addition, the progress toward popular representation has been fitful, with extraordinary accelerations interspersed with lulls. In 1894, well ahead of most other democracies, the South Australian Women’s Suffrage League was established to advocate for women’s suffrage. Property qualifications for the upper house were finally abolished in 1973, and full adult suffrage was achieved in the following year.
However, it was not until the end of the COVID-19 pandemic that the Labor Party’s reputation took a hit with some voters. Although the government claims to have handled the pandemic as well as any jurisdiction in the world, the public perception has been that there is still a lack of transparency from the government.
With less than a week to go until the election, the Coalition has a slight lead over the Labor Party but the outcome is unclear. Online bookmakers currently have the odds leaning towards a hung parliament with Labor winning a narrow majority and SA Best and One Nation winning a handful of seats.