Did $863 secure a Labor majority in the Reps?

Jun 7, 2022
A pile of Facebook likes
It was a little short of Clive Palmer’s spend but it seems to have had more influence on the outcome. Image: Pixabay

How cheap is democracy? Improbable as it might seem,$863, spent on Facebook, might have given the ALP the 76th seat it needed to govern in its own right. What?

Late last year I enjoined a small group of friends to see if we could do something, however modest, to help dispatch Morison and Joyce. The prospect of their demise wasn’t at all certain, back then, and we figured every little bit might count. 

While we had in common our advancing years and a shared love for lamenting the poor state of Australian politics, we came from diverse political antecedents. Partly for that reason, we didn’t simply hook up with our respective local ALP campaigns.

Instead, we came up with the notion of “1 in 50”, to remind whoever would listen that, broadly speaking, it only needed two per cent of people to change their vote, in the most marginal seats, and the Coalition would be well on their way out. Central to the theme was to remind our audience that we still live in a democracy – don’t despair: in Australia it doesn’t take much to change what you don’t like. You just need to care enough to do something about it, and tell other people you’re doing it.

We found a supporter who, pro-bono, developed the look and feel, and the logo, for the campaign. One of our number learned, from scratch, how to build a website, complete with a legitimate and credible fundraising mechanism built into it. We filled out all the necessary forms to incorporate an association, open a bank account, meet all the Australian Electoral Commission’s requirements, and wrangle our way through Face Book’s hurdles, to set up an account with them as a “political advertiser”.

And we developed a small suite of very basic advertisements, asking the question “Who cares…?” About climate change, integrity and accountability in public life (lies and blame shifting), the treatment of women, and the chaotic, politicised response there’s been to Covid. And yes, Scott Morrison’s “character”.

Then we each e-mailed everyone on our respective personal address books, introducing the campaign, asking for a donation, and asking our friends to spread the word.

Soon, we had nearly $20,000, in mostly small amounts (the biggest was $1,000).

More significantly, we secured agreement from a group of eminent people (most of whom none of us had ever met) – like us, older (but more accomplished) Australians – to give us statements of support and endorsement. We added those to the website, and to the advertising campaign.

Most readers will recognise many of the names: Ian Temby, David Williamson, Philippa Smith, Judith Brett, Jenny Hocking, Greg Barns, Richard Ackland and Anthony Abrahams. Among them, Australia’s first Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (and the first Commissioner of the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption), a former Commonwealth Ombudsman, a former Wallaby and famous campaigner against racism in sport, a couple of professors, distinguished lawyers and journos, and Australia’s leading playwright!

Their support was a gesture of remarkable trust and good spirit.

We were ready to go, but had fallen short of the budget we’d hoped to raise. Our intention was to run one big, short, sharp hit in traditional print media, in the expectation that it would generate media attention, particularly given the distinction of the high-profile people supporting the campaign.

There’d been much urging (from our kids and grandkids, mostly) to put the money into social media. Despite my own scepticism, we had little choice. A few weeks out from the election being announced we committed to a finely targeted campaign on Facebook in the 22 most marginal seats: 14 were held by the Liberals (“LNP” in Queensland), eight by Labor. Seven of the 22 seats were in Queensland, five each in NSW and Victoria, two in each of Tasmania and Western Australia, and one in South Australia.

For six weeks, we ran the “Who cares…?” ads and the statements from our eminent supporters. Once the election date was announced we added advice about postal and pre-poll voting, with the critical relevant dates. And, fearful of a high informal vote, especially because of the Teals’ potentially confusing “How to Vote” advice (not indicating their preferences), we stressed the importance of numbering every square on the House of Reps ballot, and at least six (above the line) and 12 (below the line) in the Senate poll.

All up, Facebook’s data analytics tell us, we had a “reach” of 700,000. I won’t burden you with what that means; it certainly doesn’t mean 700,000 people saw the campaign. It might mean one person saw one of the advertisements 700,000 times. The truth is somewhere in between.

So, how did we go?

Analysis and comparisons are made difficult, with national, and even state two-party preferred figures (or two-candidate-preferred, in individual seats) becoming very messed up by the rise of the Teals (and the Greens, to some extent). Comparing results in seats targeted by 1in50 with those we didn’t target is invalidated by the emergence of independents (in safe Liberal seats, which we didn’t target). Using two-party-preferred (2PP) results in individual seats and comparing them to state-wide 2PP results can be misleading, for similar reasons.

After the 2022 election, with 16 of the 151 seats in House of Representative (that’s more than 10 per cent) being held by people who aren’t from one of the traditional major parties, the “two-party-preferred” measurement becomes increasingly misleading and irrelevant.

We’ll leave it to Antony Green and the Australian Electoral Commission to come up with a new way (other than seats won) to measure trends and make predictions about swings needed to change government. Preferences remain important, but it’s no longer just two parties in that mix!

We’ve settled on looking at changes (falls) in the Liberal (Coalition) primary vote in the seats we targeted, and comparing that to the fall in the total Coalition primary vote, in the respective states. Primary (first preference) votes are a legitimate guide to what people most prefer when they cast their vote.

With a couple of seats still in doubt when I submitted this to P&I, but according to the ABC’s prediction of the final result…

The Liberals lost seven of the 14 marginal Liberal seats 1in50 targeted (six of them to Labor, one to the Greens).

Labor retained all eight of the marginal Labor seats we targeted.

Of the ten seats gained by Labor, six were targeted with the 1in50 campaign. The other four included the three Labor picked up in WA, which we judged didn’t need any help, such was the anti-ScoMo/Liberal sentiment in the West.

In the seats we targeted, the average decline in the Liberals’ primary vote was noticeably greater than the decline in the Liberal primary vote state-wide – by between 0.5 and three per cent. Across the 22 “1in50” seats, nationally, the average fall in the Liberal primary vote was 6.0 per cent, compared to a fall of 4.9 per cent in the Liberal primary vote, nationally.

Compared to that 4.9 per cent across all Liberal seats, the drop was 8.4 per cent in the six “1in50” seats gained by Labor, 8.3 per cent in the seven seats lost by the Liberals, and six per cent in the eight seats retained by Labor.

One in 50, of course, is two per cent. Labor made nearly all of its gains (seats won) in NSW, Victoria and WA. They were the three states in which the fall in the Liberal vote, in our “1in50” target seats, was more than two per cent greater than the state-wide fall in the Liberal vote. It’s valid to ponder why.

In Tasmania, the state-wide Liberal primary vote actually increased by more than two per cent but in the seats targeted by 1in50, it increased by only 1.7 per cent.

We don’t want to fall into spin, or lying with statistics, but whichever way you cut these figures (and whatever the final numbers), it’s clear that 1in50 made the modest difference it set out to achieve. At an average spend by 1in 50, per electorate, of $863, it’s reasonable to speculate that the “extra two percent” impact it had in one or other of those seats, is going to give Albanese the numbers he needs.

In all, around 200 people contributed a combined total of $19,848.54, of which we spent $19,037.54 on Face Book. The balance went on bank (foreign exchange) fees on Face Book payments, and set-up costs (domain name, incorporation with NSW Fair Trading).

It was a little short of Clive Palmer’s spend but it seems to have had more influence on the outcome.

You can see more here: 1 in 50 (1in50australia.org)

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