How To Win & Lose An Election

social media2By CJ Jacobs –

It is hard to avoid an election campaign at the moment as wherever you turn, there is either the beginnings, the post mortem or the heavy campaigning part of some major political contest. In terms of us in Australia, in this stretch from 2005-2007, we have had the UK elections of 2005, the Queensland and Victoria state elections of 2006, the US mid-term elections of 2006 and then next year the NSW state and the Australian Federal election. All of these have a significant influence on our daily lives and our future policies and outcomes. Now, more than ever, given the enormous dollars spent on campaigning, political parties, individual candidates, special interest groups, big business, trade unions and influential private citizens are so desperate to win so their agenda has the best chance of becoming doctrine.

What all the political gurus, that the major politicians all have who are the architects their campaigns, are all being increasingly aware of is how the New Media is enhancing and destroying political campaigns. In fact this is fast becoming the secret to mount a campaign, and win or cause your opponent to lose an election. The first time this really became evident in a major race was the 2004 US Presidential election where most polls had George Bush and Democrat nominee, John Kerry very close in the lead up to the vote. One of the issues dominating the personal character of the two men was their military record, and that while John Kerry had served in Vietnam, George Bush was never called up. Many documentaries and promotional videos were produced highlighting John Kerry’s distinguished record, another video that was spread heavily around the Internet showed inconsistencies in what they were claiming he did. So in a matter of days all the political capital that Kerry had over Bush regarding military service was lost and in the post election polls this was one of the top issues swinging and independent voters highlighted in voting for Bush over Kerry.

Similarly in the lead up to that same election, when potential candidates were competing so see who would challenge Bush in 2004, a virtual unknown Governor at the time, Howard Dean became the leading candidate and favourite all because of an ingenious method of fundraising. In the US, sadly money spent on campaigning plays a huge part on becoming a candidate, let alone winning an election. In fact in 93% of the 450 odd congressional election earlier this month, the candidate that spent the most won the seat. Hilary Clinton spent upwards of US$39 million on her campaign and she was never in any danger of losing her safe Senate seat. It is this exclusive access to the political scene and the fact that money talks so much that is often robbing the US of the best candidate as well as being a fertile ground for corruption. Howard Dean used the Internet and little donations from anyone, like many Internet sites do, to raise funds and before you knew it he was able to financially compete with the more recognisable candidates who were able through lavish fund-raising galas and attract high profile donating individuals and companies. Ironically it was also this that brought his undoing as many of his foibles on the campaign trail were spread around the Internet like wildfire and he eventually lost.

Probably the saddest trend of all, that has got steadily worse over the last 50 years, particularly in Western democracies is the huge focus of candidates not too articulate their vision for a better future but to smear their opponent with whatever they can in any manner possible. Now with easy access to video candidate campaign teams and supporters post videos to sites like YouTube with the sole purpose of destroying their opponent. More often than not these videos are only half true at best and usually involve issues that are probably either so old or completely off topic that really are irrelevant to the election at hand. However candidates on all sides know this works and we have watched our political battles turn into who can sling the most mud and make it stick being the victor with Google and YouTube as their weapon. This became the most disgraceful with one candidate in the US using a video of a playboy call girl saying “call me” to his opponent. Sadly for good taste, the candidate who showed that ad, won.

It is evident how this New Media and its arsenal of weapons is playing an ever more dominant role in influencing voting and perception of candidates. While a lot of these examples focused on the US, you can rest assured the rest of the world will follow soon enough. Australians probably got a taste of things to come with the auto voice calling used in the last Federal poll. This New Media is not the problems as you may think as it causing widespread interest of people in affairs beyond their own and giving a medium to express their opinion. However when you see our so called leaders resorting to tactics of 5 year olds and succeeding, you wonder if there really is any hope for us all.

Chris Jacob

Is a co-founder of Compare Schools ([http://www.compareschools.com.au]) which is going to show parents how to find the best school for their children based on our brilliant school rating system.

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