While the NSW Electoral Commission attempted to ignite voter excitement with the promise of sausage sizzles, lamington stands and cake stalls, the classic political playbook of fear-based messaging left a bitter taste in the mouths of many NSW voters.
It started off well; Michael Daley and Labor’s ‘Putting people first’ ad had a glimmer of enthusiasm and positivity not seen since the Kevin07 days; while Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s ‘Let’s get it done NSW’ took a more pragmatic approach to the future of Australia’s most populous state.
However, it didn’t take long for the stereotypical black-and-white ads with bright yellow or red text (colours that represent danger) to start flooding our screens and phones; rattling the nerves and mindset of those headed to the polls.
Sinister letters in the mail warned seniors that their savings were at risk, while unsolicited voicemails bombarded voters with messages of caution in a way that felt very personal to the receiver.
Most people would agree that this type of negative campaigning is distasteful at best and damaging at worst. Yet, cynical and menacing messaging strategies continue to be used, and continue to secure votes.
So why are these campaigns so effective?
Negative campaigns work because the messaging taps into the pre-existing thoughts and fears of voters. Whether it’s protecting your job, nest egg or future health and wellbeing – these messages connect with our basic sense of self preservation.
Positive messaging and campaigns that inspire constituents to want more (not preserve what they already have) can and do work.
Remember Obama’s famous ‘Yes we can’ campaign? The brainchild of campaign manager, David Axelrod, ‘Yes we can’ used positive messaging, spoken and shared via everyday Americans to empower voters to personally make a difference and choose an alternative future.
So as we brace for the Australian Federal election and the inevitable wave of film noir-style fear-mongering and personal take-downs, remember to look and listen for those who want to evolve the future of Australia for the better, not just preserve it.