A reminder of getup!’s manipulative power

Mike Seccombe wrote a detailed account in The Saturday Paper (28 Oct 2016) of GetUp!’s stunningly successful tactics in the 2016 federal election which saw some key Liberal MPs lose their seats. Seccombe and The Saturday Paper are entrenched on the left. They would rather choke than say anything complimentary about those on the ‘hard right’. Seccombe’s piece is uncritical and its tone is of admiration. Nothing about the unconscionable merciless lies and manipulations that mark GetUp!’s campaigns against conservatives. Nevertheless, as far as it goes, his report provides a stark warning for conservatives in the coming federal election, said to be in May. Unless conservatives formulate strategies to check GetUp!, there’ll be a wipe-out. Australia will be given up to the far-left and the Orwellian world they tirelessly impose on the people under the guise of ‘fairness and democracy’. The echoes of the 1930s are on the left, not on the right. Below are the relevant passages from Seccombe’s report.

The available evidence shows…that the conservative parties lost the ground war [in the 2016 federal election]. Their opponents outgunned them when it came to directly interacting with voters in vulnerable seats. They actually talked to the people.

The GetUp! campaign was something unprecedented. It was by far the biggest, best-organised campaign run by an organisation not directly affiliated with a party.

The organisation’s national director, Paul Oosting, quantifies the effort: “In total, our people had 40,218 phone conversations – not just calls, but conversations – with voters in marginal seats, lasting anywhere from five to 30 minutes. Total calling time was the 17,471 volunteer hours. That’s almost two years of donated time from our members.”

The organisation concentrated its efforts on 12 seats: Bass, Dickson, Dawson, Macquarie, Macarthur, Deakin, Mayo, Cowper, Page, Braddon, Grey, Gilmore and, to a lesser extent, New England.

In almost all cases, the swings against the government were far higher than the national average. The government lost Bass, Braddon, Macarthur, Macquarie and Mayo…

The GetUp! campaign, however, chose targets [not only on the basis of margins]. Margins were a consideration but so was ideology. So they went after Dutton. He survived, but a swing of about 5 per cent against him means his seat is now marginal.

“We targeted members of the right wing of the Coalition,” Oosting says. “We went back over voting records on various issues, and looked at those who voted for Tony Abbott versus Malcolm Turnbull.”

Their decisions were also informed by the work of the progressive think tank The Australia Institute, which had produced analysis identifying the seats in which the lowest proportion of people would benefit from the government’s proposed tax cuts, and where people were most likely to be impacted by cuts to government spending.

“These were not areas of the progressive heartland,” Oosting says. “The data for areas like Launceston shows that 30 to 40 per cent of those we spoke to had incomes of around $35,000 a year and didn’t finish high school.”

Nikolic was a perfect target, hard right factional warrior and an Abbott man, sitting on a 4 per cent margin in a low-income, highly welfare-dependent electorate. The local hospital in Launceston was overstretched and under-resourced and facing a crisis as medical staff threatened to quit.

And they got him…

[Seccombe gives himself away when he refers to Nikiolic as ‘hard right’. Of course, from the position of hard left, a conservative like Nikolic would appear as ‘hard right’.]

GetUp!’s entrepreneurialism, agility and disruptive use of technology [was extremely impressive]…

The campaign was crowdfunded. The organisation appealed to its one-million-odd followers for money specifically to fight the election, which resulted in 36,155 donations, at an average of $81 each. That’s a war chest of nearly $3 million.

That sort of money buys a lot of billboards and media space. But the organisation was much more innovative than that. It produced a torrent of online material. It also set up technology to allow members to make calls from six locations across Australia, and also from their own homes.

And that personal contact is what really works, says Andrea Carson, lecturer in media and politics at the University of Melbourne.

“GetUp! did something very similar to what the Daniel Andrews team did in Victoria in 2014, and that is person-to-person contact,” she says. “Andrews’ team spent time with Obama’s people in 2012, picked up those techniques, came back, mustered 5500 volunteers, set up rented houses in 14 marginal seats, and got these volunteers to champion the cause through phones and face-to-face through doorknocking…”

“Traditional media don’t have the sway they once had,” she said. “They’ve lost a lot of cultural power…”

Says Carson: “GetUp!, like the ALP, have developed really detailed databases of who their supporters are, so when they approach you, they already know quite a lot about you. They use Facebook particularly well. Their Facebook contacts outnumber the major parties by quite a lot.”

GetUp!’s Facebook page has almost 25 per cent more “likes” than either major party, in fact. “They have become very good at strategic messaging, targeting particular electorates,” Carson continues. “They use their core supporters and constantly experiment with their messaging to see what works. And they keep refining the message until they get the most positive outcome.”

These methods of contacting electors are far superior to other ways of getting the message across such as direct mail, which is also very expensive, or so-called “robocalls” in which parties subject constituents to recorded phone messages. Indeed, there is growing evidence that robocalls actually alienate a lot of voters.

“Robocalls are about broadcasting a message, which is a very analog way of communicating,” Carson says. “It’s the politician or the party doing the talking, not the listening, whereas when they do the doorknocks or the phone calls, they very much gear it the other way.

“They lead the voter to a certain point and then stop and listen, and try and gather as much information as possible. That then re-informs their campaign and their messaging and also leaves the person who has been called feeling that someone understands them. And that is persuasive…”

But at the same time, he says, the pro-Labor campaigns run by GetUp!, the unions and the Labor Party itself were “incredibly sophisticated” in the way messages were tailored to individual electorates and constituents.