Strategy Spotting in The Debate
Posted by Possum Comitatus on October 21, 2007
With the debate on tonight, there are a few things we should all be looking out for.
The first is the answer to the big question:
For the ALP it will be the question of “why voters should change government?”
“New Leadership” and “plan for the future” is the simple message the ALP seems to have adopted to answer that question, so it will be surprising if they change from that line of attack in the debate.
For the Coalition, the question will be “Why stay with the incumbent?”
With the long, broad momentum being in the ALP court, it’s more important for the Coalition to answer this question well.
The Coalition has been all over the shop over the last few months on this, so we should all keep an eye out for what short, simple but sharp message they use to answer that fundamental question.
Next up is the small handful of issues that each party wants to fill the mindspace of the electorate.
You’ll be able to identify these issues, as nearly every answer to a given question will be bridged back to them. If the question is “What is the biggest challenge for Australia?” – the answers will be bridged back to union dominance, plan for the future, economic management, education revolution etc.
So keep an eye out for those – that will tell us the template of the campaign for the next few weeks.
Another thing that I think will be interesting is how each side angles for the “values voter”. I personally think that Howard is in trouble with this group, so it will be interesting to see if Howard and Rudd deliberately chase these voters in the debate.
Each side will have some identified set of issues to use as a window for the pursuit of these voters that’s been derived from focus group research, so keep an eye out for each side framing an issue in such a way that it appeals to peoples personal moral and social codes and beliefs, often their prejudices.
Examples of this from the past are when immigration gets framed as “we decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come”, and the new citizenship test was another example of this. It’s a political appeal to what people already believe about a given issue, so it positions the issue (frames it) for the party in that context.
Also keep an eye out for Howard deliberately attacking ALP strengths. A little while back we were discussing how the Liberal Party strategy of playing to their old strengths appeared to be failing and how they desperately needed a new one to become competitive.
If the new strategy is to tackle the ALP on its strengths, it should be recognisable tonight. We all know such a strategy carries an enormous risk, as previous attempts by the Libs to play in the ALPs issue sandpit (the Budget and the Federal Liberal Council meeting for example) ended up reducing their vote according to OzTrack 33. As the Libs highlighted issues the ALP were well positioned on, it simply reinforced the ALP dominance of these issues and moved the vote toward them.
But such a counterintuitive strategy of attacking the oppositions strengths has been deployed with some success in the US by the Republicans. The basic idea is, if you destroy your opponent on the issues they are strong at, the only thing left for them are their weaknesses.
Something else that might be worth noting is how much Rudd tries to make the campaign about Howard. If Howard has been identified as a weakness, I wonder if Rudd will try to exploit it in a debate, or whether he’ll leave that to advertising and his front bench members?
On something entirely different – do you get the feeling that the Coalition is going to make private school fees and all sorts of other things tax deductible as a way to neutralise the ALP offerings?
This could easily become the tax deductibility election.