Unethical Election Campaigns – A Workable Strategy

Janelle Jakowenko                                      # 98707437                              jjakowen@deakin.edu.au

Would you pay more attention to an election campaign knowing that promises were accurate, achievable and enforceable?  Imagine politics without the funfair of Donald Trump, The Chasers, Jacqui Lambie or Q&A.  Satire may keep us sane during an election campaign, but how ethical are they and can we believe that the commitments will transpire into outcomes?



The vision of a political parties varies; strengthened economy, healthier environment, more yellow scarf’s for women in Tasmania or  giving a Gonski.  However, the objective of each party is the same: to persuade you to vote for them, especially if you reside in a marginal seat.



Election campaigns are inevitable, strategists work political-cycle long on:

  • messaging around priorities and policy
  • counter-messaging the oppositions priorities and policies
  • targeting priorities of voters in marginal seats
  • increasing the parties audience by exploiting various communication channels

Political parties may lead us to believe that poor poll results are not bother, but an election is nothing other than a numbers game.  The metrics of where and how many are critical.  Social media is increasingly important with voters themselves becoming part of the marketing machine.  Retweets, shares and lies are all part of current day metrics.

This infographic about which party is doing best with which media type/ winning the digital campaign even highlights the need for digitally responsive messages, otherwise the message is abandoned.

Fed election infographic_FINAL_D96D6670-3F83-11E6-8327CA84ED3940B4

Do political parties intentionally set-out to mislead voters?  The AdNews article Politicians Should Be Held To Account Over Election Lies by Aruind Hickman presents the point that if a business makes a fake claim, it could face charges of fraud.  However the Advertising Standards Bureau describes a very different situation for political parties:

“Currently, there is no legal requirement for the content of political advertising to be factually correct.”

The acceptance of poor behaviour resonates right through to the Parliamentarians Code of Conduct.  While it details the importance of transparency in conflict of interest, bribery and insider knowledge, the wording is very non-prescriptive in relation to ethics:

“Parliamentarians should act with honesty and uphold the highest ethical standards, so as to maintain and enhance public confidence and trust in the integrity of each Parliamentarian and in the institution of Parliament.”


Campaign 1: Labor: Mediscare

The GP co-payment floated in the 2014 Hockey budget continues to haunt the Liberal Party, with Labor using the fear tactic in the 2016 election campaign. The strategy was to lead voters into believing that Medicare was under threat if the LNP retained power.  A clip presenting former PM Bob Hawke was shared more than 11,000 times.

  1. Segmentation: Almost all voters; all consumers of health
  2. Targeting: Broad demographic; lower-middle class, aged, baby-boomers, sick, families etc.
  3. Positioning: Analogue and digital media, the Bill Bus, Australian Nursing and Midwives Federation (see below), direct text messaging and a point-of-difference that Labor created Medicare.

This clip, sourced from Mumbrella, was produced The Core Agency, endorsed by the Australian Nursing and Midwives Federation, highlighted that a number of special interest groups were weighing in with support.


facebook-election-post Wins: Labor regained 15 seats, mostly attributed to this dominant campaign.

Losses: Many traditional Labor voters publicly presented dissatisfaction (see Facebook post insert) to the campaign, including journalists.  The disapproval of traditional allies at the Mediscam campaign, continued to highlight it was more fiction than fact.  The reality being that the Liberals were considering privatising the billing and statistical component.


Campaign 2: Liberal: #FakeTradie

The strategic intention of the Tradie campaign was to bring about concern to the every-day Aussie regarding Labors proposal to end  tax breaks (known as negative gearing) for new investment properties purchased after July 2017.  Which by the way, was a fact that was of course omitted through the Liberals campaign.

  1. Segmentation: Investors and those wanting to enter the housing market, or those impacted by housing (renters, parents with kids who are struggling to purchase and others directly linked to the housing real estate market)
  2. Targeting: The 2011 census reveals that 7.9% of Aussies have an investment property, and of this group 72.8% own just one property, however 75% of investors earn less than $80,000 pa, with 63% capitalising on negative gearing.
  3. Positioning: Firstly internet, then TV advertising Digital


The ad went viral, but for all the wrong reasons.  The tradie was wearing a watch (allegedly) worth $7,000, the saw was on the wrong side of the building site, traides don’t have breakable mugs and he just didn’t pull it off.  Tweets pictured are thanks to an article on Mumbrella, and can be found here.


Wins: Liberal may see that they reached many voters they otherwise wouldn’t have.

Losses: Labors proposed change in policy had the potential to have a major impact on so many, yet they #faketradie may have helped take the serious edge of an otherwise contentious policy (ie a win to Labor).



#FakeTradie didn’t do the Liberals any harm, but it certainly didn’t achieve what it set out to.  Ultimately the Mediscare campaign translated into seats, as the LNP numbers were reduced from 90 down to 76.  The strategic tactics may not have been ethical, but in this case it worked for Labor.


Where does your ethical election compass sit?








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