return to letters list

While my letter below in today’s Australian expresses the hope that the re-election of Obama might see him moderate his attitude to business, particularly big business, it notes there was no sign of that in his victory speech.

More broadly, as happens after every election there will now be plenty of claims (and rejections) of mandates in the US as well as claims about successful and unsuccessful political strategies. But the dearth of specific policies makes it difficult to see what mandates might justifiably be claimed. Yes, the fiscal cliff has to be solved – but exactly how and when? Equally, while Iran has to be stopped getting nuclear weapons, how and when?

Of more immediate relevance to Australia is the report in today’s AFR (see below) suggesting that the Gillard government is planning to use a similar “negative” political strategy against Abbott as Obama used against Romney. But there is nothing new here: it effectively confirms what has seemed to the case for some time. The big differences are that Abbott cannot be portrayed as favouring “the rich” (as Romney was) and Gillard faces serious problems in regard to her involvement with the union slush fund. An up to date detailed exposition has occurred in an exchange between Alan Jones and Michael Smith and is on Jones’s web site.

Des Moore


US election delivers lessons for Labor and Coalition
(Letter Published in The Australian, 9 Nov 2012)

One must hope indeed for Obama to deliver change in his second term, not least by recognising “it is private sector growth rather than government intervention that is optimal”, as you say in your editorial, in raising US economic growth and employment (“Re-elected Obama might deliver hope and change”, 8/11).

His bashing of “the rich and powerful” was an error which stimulated divisiveness rather than economic progress , although his victory speech gave no recognition of that.

The attack on billionaires was stupidly copied by the Gillard government and we can only hope that it too will see Obama’s economic policy failure as indicating a need for change here.

Des Moore, South Yarra, Vic


Boxing in Abbott: Laborís Obama strategy
(Geoff Kitney and James Massola, AFR 9 Nov 2012)

Labor officials believe they can learn a lot from US President Barack Obama’s winning campaign team as they seek to secure another term in government under leader Julia Gillard.

The Labor Party plans to borrow strategy and campaigning techniques from Barack Obama’s election campaign to convince key groups, including women, to reject Liberal leader Tony Abbott.

Labor figures, including members of Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s personal staff, have been given access to parts of the successful Obama campaign’s inner workings and plan to adapt them for Australia.

Ms Gillard’s unusually close rapport with Mr Obama has resulted in her senior political strategist, John McTernan, linking up with the Obama camp’s lead pollster, Joel Benenson.

Mr McTernan, who usually does not travel with Ms Gillard overseas, accompanied her to the United States for the United Nations vote on Australia’s bid to join the Security Council last month. He spent time with the Obama polling team on the trip.

Labor officials believe they can learn a lot from the Obama campaign team. Sophisticated databases allowed the campaign team to identify individual voters’ concerns and target them with direct messages. This is being credited as a major factor behind the coalition of women, blacks and Hispanics who carried the election for Mr Obama.

Although no decision on the timing of the election is imminent, Labor strategists want to be in a position to mobilise from early next year. The vote is due before next October, but any election before early August would be a House-only election.

Labor has recruited the chief executive of Sydney ad agency Murphy & Friends, Mark Collis, to assemble an advertising team for the election. It has also decided to base its campaign headquarters in Melbourne.

US political analysts say one of the triumphs of the Obama campaign was that it succeeded in defining Republican candidate Mitt Romney on its own negative terms rather than the Romney team’s positive terms.

As Labor has clawed back some of its lost supporter base and Mr Abbott’s popularity has plummeted, several Labor strategists said the party would target the Opposition Leader’s character and judgment.

Soon after returning from the US, Ms Gillard used a parliamentary speech on sexism and misogyny to try to define Mr Abbott’s image on Labor’s terms.

Labor insiders believe the party’s close relationship with the US Democrats offers it an advantage over the Coalition, which is closer to the Republican Party.

Although there are big differences between the specific issues that decided the US election and those likely to decide the Australian election, the increasingly presidential nature of Australian campaigns makes US presidential campaigning techniques more relevant.

“The public has always had a question mark about Abbott and in recent months that has crystallised around issues of character and negativity,’’ a Labor source said. “A frame has been very successfully put around him and he is struggling to find a way to deal with that. Once you have successfully framed the weakness of your opponent, you stick with it through to the election.”

Labor’s campaign team was impressed by the ability of Mr Obama’s team to outdo the Romney campaign in marrying private polling by Mr Benenson with databases to tailor messages to very finely defined target audiences.

US analysts say the superiority of its campaigning techniques resulted in the Obama team much more effectively identifying shifting demographic trends in the US and targeting policies and political messages to these changes.

Advertising strategies used by the Obama team will also be closely studied by the Labor Party.

Labor is examining a range of new technologies to better target its political messages and reach voters through, for example, geographically targeted SMS text messages that reach everyone in range of a particular mobile phone tower.

Mr Collis is a former national creative director for agency Leo Burnett, an executive creative director at Ogilvy & Mather in Japan, and was the director of innovation, creativity and brand at Telstra until a year ago. Labor hired him about four months ago.

Labor national secretary George Wright contacted the creative force behind the “Kevin 07” campaign, Neil Lawrence, nine months ago, but he had scheduling conflicts.

ALP building an advertising team

Mr Collis was chosen after the party called for expressions of interest, and he has been asked to put together a creative team modelled on the structure used in the 2007 advertising team.

He will work with Labor strategists, but the advertising team will be less integrated with political staff than in the 2010 campaign.

Melbourne was chosen as the base for several reasons. Ms Gillard and Mr Wright are both from Melbourne and it puts some distance between federal Labor and the NSW branch of the ALP, which has been marred by corruption allegations.

Some Labor people expressed disquiet after the 2010 election that the campaign headquarters was co-located with political staff based in NSW. A senior Labor strategist said the party’s national office was proceeding on the assumption that the current Parliament would run its full term, as Ms Gillard has promised to do so, “but it doesn’t hurt to be prepared”.

The South Australian seat of Boothby, Solomon in the NT, and Hasluck and Swan in WA are squarely in the sights of Labor strategists as possible Labor gains.

The Australian Financial Review

return to letters list