There was a great article in The Age this week investigating how the fundamental operating model of Australian politics is breaking down. The question asked to Australian politicians was: “In politics, people sometimes talk about the ‘left’ and the ‘right’. Where would you place yourself on a spectrum from 0 (left) to 10 (right)?’ ‘Moderates’ are ALP members who answer 5 or more and L/NP members who answer 5 or less. In 1996, 37% of politicians described themselves as moderates; in 2016, this was down to 10%.
Couple this with the following question asked of Australian voters – ‘In politics, people sometimes talk about the ‘left’ and the ‘right’. Where would you place yourself? – which saw 54% of Australians in 1996 describing themselves as being in the centre compared to 42% in 2016. You may think that this is a shift to identify with traditional party values and knowing what each party stands for but in fact, we believe it’s the complete opposite.
In recent international results, Doug Jones was the first Democrat in a long time to win a Senate seat in Alabama which was largely credited due to getting the black voters and youth (Obama’s heartland) back voting, while Conor Lamb turned around a 20-point deficit in Pennsylvania by positioning himself as a moderate – supporting abortion rights and gun control but talking to the economy over cultural. Two wins, two different positioning’s and strategies. Jump across the pond and it’s not the performance of Labour that people remember for the 2017 election, it was the Jeremy Corbyn brand. The views and values of Corbyn, more so than what the party did or believes in.
We travel back to Australia and we see the poor performance of Nick Xenophon in the South Australian State election. As an individual and his own brand, he was strong but that clearly didn’t translate or could be extrapolated to an entire party. The Palmer Party is surely all but gone and it’s Pauline Hanson not One Nation that grabs the headlines.
There’s a well-documented rise of the single-issue voter and in Australia in particular, general apathy about the state of politics so with a lack of interest, so is it easier for us to consider the person than invest in the party? If that’s the case, how far can a politician stray from the brand values or party lines (if in fact the brand values of the parties are known). Perhaps it was easier to identify yourself as a moderate in 1996 because you knew what defined and differentiated both sides. These days, it’s blurred lines seen through hazy uninterested fog. When we view parties and Parliament as a dysfunctional mess, does it matter if we vote for politician at polar opposite to their party? We continually tell brands we work with the define their values, personality and point of difference in the market as this is what helps customers feel both rational and emotional connections with their product or service. So if there’s no connection with the party, is it an easier sell to find the right levers to connect with an individual? Probably, so if I was an Australian politician, I would be carefully assessing where to position my personal brand and then work out where it can comfortably sit in relation to my political party … if it needs to.
By Paul Dixon