The dust has settled on Labor’s ‘unlosable’ election, and the Coalition Government remains in situ. Bill Shorten is stepping down as Labor leader after an unexpected defeat, ending six years of stewardship of the party. 

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has become the seventh Liberal leader to win a Federal election and just the fourth to increase the majority of a re-elected Liberal government, after Menzies, Holt and Howard.

What happened?

Before Saturday, Labor held 69 seats and the Coalition held 73 + 1 (the plus-one being crossbencher Kevin Hogan). Although counting continues the new parliament will likely consist of 78 seats to the Coalition and 67 to Labor, with 6 seats held by minor parties or independents.

Political pendulum

The Coalition’s victory is narrow, with only two more seats now than when they won the 2016 election. The Coalition made gains in Queensland, New South Wales, and Tasmania, and suffered losses in New South Wales and Victoria.

Seats won and lost

What were the driving issues?

The comfortable, middle-class suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne said yes to ALP by and large, while working class and poorer suburbs and regions said no. In other words, the poorer seat the more likely it was to swing to the Coalition; conversely, the more affluent the seat, the more likely it was to swing towards Labor.

This echoes the phenomenon of ‘Howard’s battlers’ in 1996, when John Howard swept to power thanks in part to the votes of non-traditional conservative voters who were convinced by what he had to offer compared with the Labor Opposition.

Some regional seats with working class populations saw margin swings against Labor’s climate change policy, since their livelihoods depend on carbon-producing industries.

This is not necessarily to say that there has been a swap in voting patterns based on socio-economic status or “class.” Rather, other factors have become strong influencers on voter behaviour, be that age, occupation, psychographic profile or membership of a faith community.

The scrapping of franking credits – a proposed move that was dubbed the ‘retiree tax’ since it looked set to disadvantage an older demographic particularly – would also have damaged Labor’s chances among working-class and senior voters.

How did the polls get it wrong?

The efficacy of Australia’s opinion polls is in question.  

Each of the major opinion polls employs a different methodology, so an explanation couched in telephone habit changes is inadequate.

A more likely explanation is a combination of last-minute decision-making by undecided voters, a failure of sample sizes in some areas, and the existence of ‘shy Tories’ who, due to inherent bias within their circles, struggle to admit – even to the pollsters – that their voting habits are conservative.

Implications for advocacy

Communication is key

Clearly, Labor felt it could contain the political consequences of its most divisive reforms.

Whether or not this would have been true, Labor failed to communicate effectively to alleviate people’s concerns about the consequences.

Change provokes fear; it must be explicitly and persuasively justified, or it will not enjoy public consensus. This applies as much to private sector advocacy as to political parties.

Scott Morrison’s campaigning, on the other hand, was devastatingly simple; his core message was one of sticking to the plan. If not innovative or dynamic, it was consistent and clear.

Advocacy Tips

Work to ensure commitments are delivered

If you have secured an election commitment, be a constructive campaigner and help to deliver on that promise.

The chaos of reshuffling ministries and portfolios can result in the dislodging of your structures of advocacy; proactive engagement at this time is key.

Get to know the ministerial staff

Understand that when political instability renders governments ‘dysfunctional’, parliamentary staffers are the most likely solution. 

Stay bipartisan

If this election has taught us anything, it’s that politics is unpredictable. In advocacy work, establishing a relationship with both sides of politics is critical to success. Engaging one side of politics based on a sense of electoral certainty could be your project’s undoing; stick to your issues and never, under any circumstances, take sides.

That’s why The Civic Group is a proudly bipartisan public affairs agency. We recognise that balancing the two sides of politics is paramount to ensuring the success of any advocacy campaign. Get in touch today to see how we can help you.