In just over a week, Australian voters will start to cast their ballots in the 2016 federal election. Early voting in the “pre poll” is meant to be done only by voters who can’t get to a polling booth on election day.
But getting the chore done early, given it’s mandatory to turn up to a polling booth in Australia, has increasingly become a lifestyle choice for busy voters. And the parties’ campaign strategists are adjusting their campaigns accordingly.
At the previous election in 2013, more than three million people, or 26 per cent of eligible voters, chose to visit a pre poll booth before election day. Another 1.3 million applied to vote early by post. That’s almost 30 per cent of the vote.
And this year, due to constitutional constraints in holding a double dissolution election, polling day falls in the school holidays for all but one of the states. This is likely to lead to an even larger proportion of voters choosing to make their big decision before the final stanzas of the campaign have occurred.
The parties’ respective teams are well aware of this phenomenon. Campaign strategists will increase their election advertising from a trickle to a steady flow in the hope of influencing those voters who will grapple with their choice as well as those who will give the task almost no thought at all.
A precursor to this change in advertising frequency is the tweaking of campaign messages that we’ve recently seen from the two major parties.
Perhaps more than anything else that the broader public sees or hears during the election campaign, it is this message modification that gives us an inkling of what is biting in the election-deciding marginal seats.
Labor’s claims that Malcolm Turnbull is a silvertail only interested in helping out his rich mates are likely contributing to the ongoing deterioration of the PM’s approval ratings.
Accordingly, we saw the PM change gear last week, firstly on company tax cuts, then on superannuation, and finally in response to claims that he’s out of touch.
Deflecting Labor’s accusation that the tax cuts would benefit the Opposition’s favourite punching bag, the big banks, Turnbull emphasised that the biggest companies would have to wait eight years for a tax cut. The PM stressed last week:
The beneficiaries of our tax cuts in the near term over the next six or seven years are all smaller companies, and particularly over the next three years, they are overwhelmingly Australian-owned family business.
He then stared down wealthy retirees and soon-to-be retirees, many of whom would have worked for the big corporates, and told them to stop whinging about paying a bit more tax on the super schemes they’d been using to avoid tax in the first place.
The third attempt by the Turnbull camp to re-position the PM in the eyes of voters was the most intriguing.
Early yesterday evening, a video link was sent via email to Liberal supporters and posted on the PM’s Facebook page. Simply entitled “I wouldn’t be where I am today without my dad” the video is ostensibly a tribute from our self-made multi-millionaire Prime Minister to the dad who struggled to raise him single-handedly after his mother left them.
As such it is a touching gesture, but in reality the video is a cynical attempt by Liberal strategists to pull on voters’ heart-strings and inoculate the PM from further accusations that he is not able to understand the hardship and insecurity that low-income families experience.
Nevertheless, the ploy may have merit. At the time of publication the video had been watched more than 330,000 times, more than triple the views attracted by Labor’s most popular campaign video, “Where’s Mr Turnbull’s leadership on climate change?”
While Labor has been busy telling voters that Turnbull has too much money, the Government has been saying the Opposition does not have enough – or at least that Labor is spending more than it can afford.
This message seems to be sticking in the minds of at least the media, with journalists pressing the leader of the Opposition yesterday about how Labor would pay for the $3 billion childcare package that it announced yesterday, along with its other big-ticket campaign promises in health and education.
Shorten and his team have chosen to brazen it out, refusing to apologise and claiming to commit no more in spending than the Government but, in Labor’s case, on the “right” priorities.
Having earlier argued that Turnbull wanted to give a “bonus” of $50 billion to his mates in big corporations instead of funding hospitals and schools, Shorten re-positioned the message this week, honing in on the bounty to be enjoyed by the companies that voters love to hate.
According to the Labor Leader, the choice at this election is now between recklessly throwing money at the big four banks, mining companies and multinationals, or responsibly allocating it to working families, particularly women.
In short, Turnbull is deflecting Labor messages that are biting in the marginal seats by talking more about himself, whereas Shorten is warding off criticism of Labor by … also talking about Turnbull.
Labor is essentially trying to double the scrutiny of the PM in the hope there will be less attention on its own leader and budget bottom line.
This may work as a medium term strategy, at least benefiting Labor in the pre poll voting.
But the two thirds of voters who will wait until polling day will want more than an assurance from Labor that it has its priorities right. These voters will want to see both the Government and the Opposition fully account for their election promises before marking their ballot papers.