Social media in selected Australian federal and state election campaigns, 2010-15
Bruns, Axel & Highfield, Tim (2015) Social media in selected Australian federal and state election campaigns, 2010-15. In Internet Research 16: 16th Annual Meeting of the Association of Internet Researchers Conference (AOIR16), 21-24 October 2015, Phoenix, AZ. (Unpublished)
Campaigning in Australian election campaigns at local, state, and federal levels is fundamentally affected by the fact that voting is compulsory in Australia, with citizens who are found to have failed to cast their vote subject to fines. This means that - contrary to the situation in most other nations – elections are decided not by which candidate or party has managed to encourage the largest number of nominal supporters to make the effort to cast their vote, but by some 10-20% of genuine ‘swinging voters’ who change their party preferences from one election to the next. Political campaigning is thus aimed less at existing party supporters (so-called ‘rusted on’ voters whose continued support for the party is essentially taken for granted) than at this genuinely undecided middle of the electorate.
Over the past decades, this has resulted in a comparatively timid, vague campaigning style from both major party blocs (the progressive Australian Labor Party [ALP] and the conservative Coalition of the Liberal and National Parties [L/NP]). Election commitments that run the risk of being seen as too partisan and ideological are avoided as they could scare away swinging voters, and recent elections have been fought as much (or more) on the basis of party leaders’ perceived personas as they have on stated policies, even though Australia uses a parliamentary system in which the Prime Minister and state Premiers are elected by their party room rather than directly by voters. At the same time, this perceived lack of distinctiveness in policies between the major parties has also enabled the emergence of new, smaller parties which (under Australia’s Westminster-derived political system) have no hope of gaining a parliamentary majority but could, in a close election, come to hold the balance of power and thus exert disproportionate influence on a government which relies on their support.
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