Colleagues and scholars from coast to coast, across Bass Strait and all the ships at sea,
Dateline: Australia, Federal Politics 2010.
If you felt underwhelmed by the recent election campaign and frustrated by the political parties' endless attempts to attract the lowest common denominator element of the electorate via a focus group fuelled path of least resistance; you are not alone. A good 70 per cent of the electorate probably feels the same way.
But it is not solely the fault of the political world, because its practitioners learnt their "craft" from the commercial world of marketing and it is this world's bad habits which are primarily responsible for the recent drivel that passed itself off as an election campaign.
There is a sickness that has been infecting the world of marketing for sometime, where companies take their current and loyal customers for granted in the pursuit of potential new customers. The best offers are always made to attract new customers while the loyal customers are implicitly told that their loyalty is reward enough. This, we are told, is "good business thinking" and has been adopted with great zeal by the "marketers" in politics.
The loyal customers in politics are the engaged and interested voters, and the potential customers are the disengaged and uninterested voters. Time and again political parties expend great money and effort trying to woo these uninterested voters and in the process insult and demean the engaged voters.
This sickness has become most infectious in politics because of the three marketing tools they have adopted - market research, advertising and public relations - only the highly tactical components of each - focus groups, polling, negative advertising and spin doctoring - have dominated the thinking of the parties without any clear understanding of the longer term strategic issues and completely ignorant of the crucial and enduring branding issues.
This is why the engaged voters had to suffer the endless repetition from Julia Gillard of "moving forward", Tony Abbott of "stop the boats", and not to be left out, Bob Brown had "the two big parties". This, too, is why the engaged voters had to endure mind numbing advertisement after mind numbing advertisement and reams and reams of direct mail, demonising someone or something in the election campaign: it was all designed to appeal to the disengaged voter.
There are two problems with this approach and it reveals that this sickness infecting politics has generated a dangerous brain atrophying fever.
First, it takes for granted the attention and interest of the engaged voter and insults them with rhetoric designed for another voter. The parties are saying to the engaged voter "we know, you know, what we are saying to you is rubbish, but we are going to say it anyway in the off chance that someone who is not interested in what we are saying might be listening".
Second, it assumes that: (a) this disengaged group is a majority of the population and so is worth pursuing and (b) if they are not a majority, then with enough persuasion, this group will vote differently to the rest of the population. Yet neither of these assumptions can be substantiated.
On the first assumption: we can estimate the size of the disengaged group by examining the voting participation of the three most similar democracies to Australia where voting is not compulsory - the UK, Canada and New Zealand. The average participation over the last five elections in each nation was, 67 per cent, 63 per cent and 82 per cent respectively, and taking a mid-point through those averages yields a figure of 71 per cent. So it would be reasonable to assume that the size of the engaged vote in Australia is around 70 per cent compared with 30 per cent for the disengaged vote - clearly the smaller group.
On the second assumption: statisticians will tell us that all things being equal one set of data will normally follow the same pattern as another set of data. Therefore, if the 70 per cent of the population that is engaged in the political process is breaking 52/48 towards one party, the chances are very high that the disengaged 30 per cent will also break 52/48 the same way. But even if this wasn't true, to gain an overall 51/49 majority vote, the party which was tracking at 48 per cent with the engaged voters would need to have the disengaged 30 per cent break its way 58/42; an extremely unlikely scenario.
Of course, not all engaged voters have the same level of interest. It will range from the intensively engaged voter who watches, listens to and reads every piece of political reporting, through to the lowly engaged voter who will only listen to the radio news in the morning or read a newspaper on the train or catch the evening TV news bulletin. Nevertheless, each person in this group is interested in politics and deserves much more respect than the political parties afford them.
This sickness is becoming highly destructive to the political process, and politicians from the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader down need to vaccinate themselves from this disease.
This election result has presented the leaders and their parties with a unique opportunity to reform their ways and rid themselves of this debilitating illness shackling our democracy.
This includes the media, which is just as infected as the political parties. You may recall that we found many of its number, who were highly critical of politicians for being poll driven and not conviction driven, urging the three rural independents - Tony Windsor, Rob Oakeshott and Bob Katter - to ignore whatever conviction they might have had in seeking electoral stability in forming a minority government and just follow the Galaxy and Newspoll polling results from their electorates suggesting they must support the Coalition.
Those who are sensible enough to get immunized and start to treat the electorate with respect, will be amazed at the respect they will get in return and, significantly for the politicians, electoral support.