Ahead of the upcoming Federal Election campaign, I sat down with four experts in Australian politics to gauge their expectations. Clive Mathieson, Eamonn Fitzpatrick, Annie O’Rourke, and Ronald Mizen know better than almost anyone the ins and outs of an election campaign and took us through their thinking on what lies ahead. Here are five key takeaways from the session.
1. It’s going to be close
Clive’s bold prediction – that the election result would see a hung parliament, with independants delivering government to the Coalition – summed up the prevailing view that this election is going to be a close one, decided in just a few key seats.
All panellists were in agreement that it would be the seat-by-seat battles that would determine the outcome, with independents and third parties playing a larger role than in the past.
So while the polls may show a large gap between the major parties at the moment, neither can afford to get comfortable heading into the campaign.
2. You can trust the polls – for now
And on that polling, which for many members of the public has become dubious in its reliability, our panellists say you can trust it, for the moment. Annie discussed how issue polling in the community verified the overarching sentiment seen in the national polling, but also reminded us that polling is a snapshot of a moment in time, and that things may change.
As we approach Election Day, watch out for marginal seat polling – it’s likely to provide a better sense of which way the wind is blowing and who is winning and losing those key seats.
3. Microtargeting messages matter
The rise and rise of social media has only accelerated during this term of government, with people forming their own individual media echo chambers, making it harder than ever for campaigns to reach voters.
While major traditional advertising campaigns will remain a part of election strategy, expect to see more targeted messaging than ever before. Eamonn and Annie discussed how parties will use social media and the advanced targeting it enables to reach voters where they are, with the messages they want to hear.
For each of us, the campaign will be a unique and different experience, to a level never seen previously.
4. The Budget will set the scene
Federal Budgets are often talked about as election scene-setters, but the 2022-23 Budget looks set to lay out the key election battlegrounds for both parties.
The Coalition can be expected to reveal much of its $16 billion in ‘decisions taken but not yet announced’ spending, potentially spending big on areas that have caused it pain, including aged care and the treatment of women.
For Labor, Anthony Albanese’s response speech two days later will see their rebuttal to the Coalition’s proposed spending unveiled, with a reminder of Australia’s current debt and deficit levels following the COVID pandemic also likely, given that has historically been a Coalition strong suit that Labor may believe they can now exploit.
5. COVID remains the great unknown
While we’re all looking to move beyond the pandemic, there is no denying that COVID remains the great unknown hanging over the campaign, both in terms of policy and politics, and the mechanics of the campaign.
For politics and policies, a continuing downward trend in cases and deaths following summer’s Omicron surge could see a renewed sense of optimism and confidence, while another variant of concern may smash any rebound in the economy and broader consumer confidence. Responsiveness will be vital in reflecting the mood of the electorate.
The campaigns have more practical concerns to worry about as well. As Eamonn said, having a party leader out for a week quarantining would be a huge blow. But at the same time, the approaching reopening of the WA border and the general loosening of restrictions around the country provide opportunities some weren’t expecting during this campaign.
These insights are just the tip of the iceberg of knowledge offered up by our panellists. Be sure to catch up on the webinar now.