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Focus question 3: How do parties select policies and campaign for government?

Teaching and learning activities

Activity 1: Review of research findings  
Activity 2: Influencing voters ESL Activity 2
Activity 3: Liberal and Labor policies ESL Activity 3
Activity 4: Opinion poll analysis ESL Activity 4
Activity 5: Collating the findings ESL Activity 5
Activity 6: Opinion poll report ESL Activity 6
Activity 7: An Australian youth party ESL Activity 7
Activity 8: Youth party display ESL Activity 8
Assessment task ESL Assessment task
Assessment criteria  


Two main issues face parties in approaching an election - policies and winning votes. We will look at the 1972 election campaign to see how policies were chosen and how a party set about winning votes. The 1972 election was won by Labor after 23 years in opposition.

The 1972 election campaign

In 1972 the coalition of the Liberal Party and the Country Party was in government with William McMahon as Prime Minister. The Labor Party, after its defeat in the 1966 election, had elected a new leader, Gough Whitlam, who was seen as able to attract the votes of the middle class as well as keep the votes of working-class people. In time for the 1972 election, Labor had new policies on many issues such as health and education. 1972 marked the beginning of a new Labor Party image and constituency - more modern and more middle-class.

In countries such as Australia, with a strong two-party system, a common electoral pattern is for about 80 per cent of the vote to be divided evenly between the two main political parties or coalitions. Electoral success therefore often depends on gaining the votes of the remaining 20 per cent - the uncommitted or 'swinging' voters whose vote changes from one party to another from one election to the next - and winning 'marginal' seats. A marginal seat is an electorate held by one party but requiring only a small change in the vote for the other party to win. The use of the media to win over the swinging voter, particularly in marginal seats, can be critical for each party.

The Labor Party began its campaign an astonishing 18 months before the election. The campaign was treated as a marketing exercise. The 'product' to be 'sold' was a potential Labor Government. An advertising agency was commissioned. At every point along the way, the Labor Party's campaign was based on research into the 'marketplace'. Ideas were pre-tested at some considerable cost in the marketplace. This was quite new in Australian politics.

Activity 1: Review of research findings

1a Read the first part of Briefing 3a - the advice of the research firm regarding what the Labor Party leader, Gough Whitlam, should do to improve his image. Where possible, link each piece of advice to one or more of the problems outlined by the research firm. Write your answers as, for example, 1a.

1b Read the second part of Briefing 3a - the advice of the research firm on what the Labor Party should do to improve its image. Where possible, link each piece of advice to one or more of the problems as you did in 1a for the leader.

1c Why do you think the research firm advised Gough Whitlam to state policies in emotional rather than factual terms? Do you think this a good thing?

Briefing 3a

Research findings and advice to Labor

A research firm was commissioned to study the attitudes of the electorate towards the Australian Labor Party, its policies and its leader and to identify problems to be overcome. Below are the findings of the research firm in August 1971.

The leader: Problems

  1. Gough Whitlam's image is not electorally appealing.
  2. Whitlam is seen as cold and aloof, seemingly without human weakness.
  3. Whitlam is not seen as a good potential prime minister.

The one slightly reassuring research finding was that all parties and politicians were viewed unfavourably by those surveyed.

The leader: Advice

Whitlam should:

  1. be forthright, not evasive, when answering questions and making statements
  2. avoid justifying his answers
  3. avoid false sincerity
  4. look natural and project a more human image by showing more aspects of his personality
  5. cease continually attacking the government
  6. occasionally admit mistakes and praise the government
  7. state policies in emotional rather than factual terms
  8. always appear as a dominant figure in the party
  9. be promoted as a family man to make him seem a warmer human being.

The party: Problems

  1. The party is not seen as a potential government.
  2. There is an almost complete lack of awareness of Labor Party policies.
  3. The 'communist bogey' is alive and well; people still fear communist influence within the Labor Party.
  4. There is widespread fear of union domination, the arch 'bogey-man' being Bob Hawke, [then leader of the Australian Council of Trade Union (ACTU)] who is undermining the party's electoral appeal.
  5. Law and order is an important concern of the electorate and the Liberal-Country parties coalition is seen to be the party to deal with this.
  6. Whitlam's recent trip to China is of some concern as there is still some fear of China in the community, although not as much as has existed in the past.
  7. The Labor Party is seen as one to be called on in an emergency, not in good times; the Liberal-Country parties' coalition is the 'normal' or 'natural' government.
  8. The Labor Party is seen as a 'losers' party'.
  9. The Labor Party is not seen as united.
  10. Many young voters think the policies of the Labor Party are good but find it hard to match these with an 'old-fashioned' image of the party.

The party: Advice

The Labor Party should:

  1. 'smarten up' its image through an advertising campaign
  2. be associated with a wide variety of people from all walks of life, shown identifying with the party and inviting others like them to join in
  3. present any differences of opinion within the party as 'the essence of Australian individualism'
  4. dramatise its policies for the media
  5. show itself as having a vision of the future
  6. present itself as offering a believable alternative government
  7. concentrate on positive things; knocking the government has a negative effect.

Adapted from Braundt, Vicky 1973, 'Timely vibrations: Labor's marketing campaign' in Henry Mayer, Labor in Power, Angus & Robertson, pp 18-19.

Activity 2: Influencing voters

2a Read Briefing 3b.

2b How did the 'It's time' commercials address the problems identified by the research firm?

2c Who would the song appeal to? Who would it not appeal to?

2d Was the media used to target the two groups of swinging voters identified by the research firm as important to attract? How?

2e According to the McNair Anderson ABC survey, the most important factor in people's decisions about which party to vote for was not the policies. What was the most important factor?

2f Do you think it matters that people vote according to image or emotion rather than policies? Explain your response.

2g The Liberal Party tried to attract voters by supplying them with information about policies which they considered important or had identified through their own research as being important to people. Why do you think these Liberal Party moves did not work? How could the Liberal Party have sold its message more effectively?

Briefing 3b

The campaigns

The Labor Party campaign

Target the swinging voters

The most likely groups to swing their votes towards Labor were identified as 'blue-collar housewives' and first-time voters. ('Blue-collar' workers are skilled tradespeople and unskilled labourers.) Neither group had voted for the Labor Party in 1969.

Use 'It's time' as the campaign theme

The 'It's time' song and theme were chosen for the campaign. Television advertising used a group of singers that included someone for everyone to identify with, and shots of Whitlam intended to present him as a rounded human being.

The theme and the song were intended as 'mood setters' to 'create good vibrations' for the party. The image was to be one of energy, enthusiasm and youth - anything but a losers' party. It created an image of confidence radiating from the party.

It's Time

It's Time
Time for freedom
Time for moving
Time to begin
Yes It's Time.
Time for children
Time to teach them
It's Time it was free
Oh It's Time.
Time for better days
To be here
It's Time we moved
Oh it's almost time.
Time for old folks
Time we loved them
It's Time to care
Yes It's Time.
Time for loving
Time for caring
It's Time to move
Yes It's Time.

Reproduced with permission of The Australian Labor Party.

The 'It's time' slogan was the brightest and most bouncing baby ever to be conceived and brought forth within the marriage of advertising and politics.'

Phillip Lynch, Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party and Deputy Opposition Leader, March 1973.

The 'It's time' statement was tested via surveys in the electorate. It was considered the perfect statement - open-ended, nothing to disagree with, and conveying a meaning without actually saying it according to those surveyed. Thirty-five per cent of Liberal voters surveyed said it meant 'It's time to kick the Government out'. It caught the mood of the electorate and the targeted swinging voters.

The 'It's time' television commercials created the base for the Labor Party's serious policy statements.

Using the media

According to Labor's manager of the media campaign, knowing how to use the media and how the media worked would make the difference between success and failure.

The ads had to talk to both the 'electronic generation' and the 'print generation'. First-time voters - the children of the electronic generation - were seen as able to turn the tide in Labor's favour.

Providing information was not seen to be a function of radio and television advertising. Although the ads were about policies, they were designed to create an emotional response in the voter rather than a response based on information or reason. Those who wanted information on which to make a decision would find it in the press coverage of the campaign and in press ads. Each medium was used in the way that suited it best.

Whitlam's policy speech was considered by some to be fairly 'mediocre' on content but the presentation was new and energetic. Having fought his way to the front of a packed, cheering audience, he read out a list of promises, interrupted by enthusiastic applause. The television presentation showed feedback from the audience and, however contrived, a feeling that what he said sounded good to many people in the audience.

The Liberal Party campaign

In contrast to the Labor campaign the Liberal campaign was no great departure from previous campaigns.

  • It attempted to sell the known in contrast to the unknown; the tried against the untried.
  • It promised business as usual.
  • It presented solid, even wordy, messages over the television and radio.
  • Movie theatres showed slide ads, not movie ads.
  • It was believed that factual statements on different policy areas would eventually sink in and be more important than the emotional message that it was simply time for change.
  • William McMahon's policy speech on television had no audience. It was illustrated only sparingly with still shots; it focused on one man talking for almost half an hour.

Who was right about the 'marketplace'?

The McNair Survey, commissioned by the ABC to conduct an election-day survey of reasons for people's voting choices, found that the main reason for swinging and first-time voters to vote for the Labor Party in key seats was that 'it was time for change'. The policies accounted for only 8 per cent of that same group's reasons.

Adapted from Braundt, Vicky, 'Timely vibrations: Labor's marketing campaign', pp 25, 26, & 28; Collins, Peter, 'Against the swing: the Liberal Campaign in New South Wales', pp 40 & 41; McKenzie, Joseph CP, 'The true confessions of a future Labor politician' in Mayer, Henry 1973, Labor in Power, Angus & Robertson.

Activity 3: Liberal and Labor policies

3a Working in small groups and using Briefing 3c, compare the 1972 policies of Liberal and Labor in the four areas of economy, welfare and quality of life, social groups and external affairs. Make sure that each area is covered by at least one group in the class. What similarities do you find between the policies of the two parties? What differences do you find?

3b Which aspects of each party's policies seem to be influenced by free enterprise ideas and which of them by socialist ideas? Return to Focus question 2, Activity 4 to check your information.

3c Which policies are traditional for each party and which ones represent a departure or a new concern? For example, Labor's support for trade unions goes right back to its origins but its promised support for child-care centres could be considered a new concern. Similarly, people providing their own health insurance represents traditional Liberal policy of people taking responsibility for themselves and not relying on the government, but promising to investigate lowering the voting age could be considered a new concern.

3d Do you see any connection between the traditional policies and the new policies? For example, is Labor's promised provision of child-care services linked to its traditional policy of government responsibility for providing services that create a more equal society? You might not always find a connection between traditional and new policies.

Briefing 3c

The Liberal policies

Aim for periodic review of the amount of tax people pay.
Assist States to improve public transport.
Encourage development or expansion of industry through tax deductions.
Support rural industries.
Protect efficient Australian industries by tariffs (taxes on imported goods). Encourage development and marketing of energy and mineral resources.

Welfare and quality of life
Provide financial help to first home buyers. Assist States to expand pre-school education.
Expand support to technical education.
Provide education allowances for children in isolated areas.
Assist handicapped and underprivileged school children.
Provide money for primary school libraries.
Support freedom of choice for doctor, hospital and health fund (meaning that individuals provide for their own health insurance, if they want it).
Increase pensions every half year in line with any rise in the cost of living.

Social groups
Continue to select new migrants on the basis of their skills and ability to integrate with Australian society.
Hold a Royal Commission into improving the status of women. Consult with States about reducing the voting age to 18 years.

External affairs
Strengthen ties with the United States, Britain and New Zealand for defence purposes.

The Labor policies

No increase in taxation.
Review prices of goods and prevent unreasonable price increases.
Buy land in States and sell low-cost blocks ready for building.
Tax deductions on interest payments for home buyers.
Support development in targeted regional areas (outside capital cities, to encourage industry, jobs and population).
Buy back Australian industries, land and services from foreign-owned companies.

Welfare and quality of life
Remove inequalities of home background by providing free pre-schools.
Expand and improve public child-care to give women a choice between working at home or in the workforce.
Abolish fees for universities so that a tertiary education is available for all regardless of wealth.
Introduce a public health-insurance scheme paid through taxation deductions on the basis of income level.
Develop community health clinics.
Increase pensions over time until they reach 25 per cent of average weekly earnings.
Introduce national superannuation.

Social groups
Foster strong unions which (along with strong government) are needed to deal with large multinational companies by the following:
  • encourage joining unions together into fewer larger unions
  • encourage negotiation between unions and employers
  • abolish laws that make strikes illegal.

Fund training and retraining schemes for employees whose skills are no longer suited to the workforce.
Pay all legal costs of Aboriginal people to ensure that they are equal before the law.
Pass laws so that land in Commonwealth Territories (ACT and NT) is reserved for use by Aboriginal people.
Pass laws to prohibit discrimination on the grounds of race, and support international agreements that have this aim.

External affairs
Recognise Communist China and establish an embassy there.
Foster ties with the United States and New Zealand to promote peace, justice and economic development of our region.
End conscription and free men who have been imprisoned for refusing to serve in Vietnam.

Freedom and democracy
Appoint an Ombudsman to investigate complaints of unjust treatment by government departments.
Introduce Freedom of Information laws to entitle Australian citizens to most information held by government departments.

Activity 4: Opinion poll analysis

Refer to the opinion poll you conducted, as outlined in the Introduction to this unit.

4a In groups of 4 or 5 summarise the characteristics of your group's opinion poll sample:

Number of male voters
Number of female voters
Number in each age group (18-24, 25-55, over 55)
Other characteristics your class decided to include.

4b Describe your group's opinion poll findings as follows:

Membership of a political party
(Questions 1 and 5 of Section 1 of the interview form)
Here state the numbers and percentages of your group sample who belong, or have belonged, to any political party.

Expected voting behaviour
(Section 2 of the interview form)
Here describe the responses of your group sample to the items. Was there much agreement among those interviewed?

Preferred government response to scenarios
(Section 3 of the interview form)
Here show your group findings as a table (see below). Describe any pattern you discern between the voting behaviour of your group sample and the type of preferred government response to each of the scenarios.

Scenario Preferred response Party vote at recent election
    L-N ALP Dem Other Total
Health care
  • Expand Medicare through higher levy
  • Encourage private health insurance





  • The current situation is all right
  • Private schools should get more
  • Government schools should get more





Industry protection
  • Protect Australian industries through tariffs
  • Encourage Australian industries to survive by being competitive





Activity 5: Collating the findings

5a Present your group's findings to the class.

5b Your teacher will collate the results from each group as they are presented and help the class to prepare a summary of the results for the whole class sample.

5c As a class discuss to what extent the following statements are supported by the findings of your opinion poll:

  • About 5 per cent of Australians belong to political parties.
  • There is widespread agreement that particular groups of people vote for particular political parties.
  • Labor voters support government actions that are influenced by socialist ideas.
  • Liberal and National voters support government actions that are influenced by free enterprise ideas.
  • Voters for the other parties and independents: support for government actions does not depend on whether the actions are influenced by socialist or free-enterprise ideas.
  • Some parties and independents draw on their influences from both free enterprise and socialism.

5d Write an article for a local newspaper reporting the findings of the opinion poll, or put your opinion poll findings on the Discovering Democracy website ( and invite comment.

Activity 6: Opinion poll report

Individually write a report (200-300 words) of the class findings from the opinion poll.

Activity 7: An Australian youth party

It's time for youth. In small groups prepare to launch a new political party based on the needs and vision of young Australians. Prepare a display about your political party to attract passers-by and interest them in your party. With your teacher, choose a display location and plan to invite your local Members of Parliament, party spokespersons, interested outsiders or the local press to visit your displays.

7a Give your political party a name.

7b What big ideas would an Australian youth party stand for? Will it represent only youth or will it attempt to interest all voters? Write a list of the main things you would want it to achieve for Australia - that is your policies (together they form what is called the party's platform).

If you are interested in attracting voters across a range of age groups, the Newspoll research below may be useful as a guide to recent key concerns of voters.

How do you rate these issues?

Percentage who rated the issue very important May 1998
Welfare and social
Family issues
The environment
Interest rates
Industrial relations
Balance of payments
Women's issues
(among females)
Aboriginal issues

Courtesy of Newspoll Market Research & The Australian, May 1998.

You may want to undertake your own research to find out what things people are most concerned about today.

7c Write slogans to stand for the big ideas in your party's platform.

7d Write a policy for your party on party discipline. In your policy you should explain whether or not members of the party are allowed to speak publicly against the policies of the party and why your party has this rule.

Explain whether or not members of your party have to vote in parliament according to party decisions. Explain why your party has this rule.

7e Design a badge for party members to wear and a banner to display at party functions.

Activity 8: Youth party display

8a Check with your teacher that your group's display is complete and that appropriate people have been invited to attend.

8b Making sure that one group member is always in charge of your display to speak to visitors, tour the other displays.

8c Your teacher will give all visitors ten tokens to use as votes for the best two group displays in each of the following categories:

  • the best two party names
  • the best two party platforms
  • the best two statements of what makes the party different
  • the best two discipline policies
  • the best two badges or banners.

8d At the end of the display, group representatives count the tokens in the presence of a member from another group and announce results.

8e Discuss the effectiveness of the displays. Which aspects worked well and which aspects could have been developed more strongly?

Assessment task

  1. Individually write up the beliefs and objectives for your youth party. Use the Liberal Party and Labor Party statements in Focus question 2, Activity 4 as a guide to help you do this.
  2. Individually write a statement which explains how your party is different from existing main political parties.

Assessment criteria

Your work will be assessed on:

  • a set of beliefs and objectives that make sense together
  • a set of beliefs and objectives that shows an understanding of the kinds of things parties do or stand for, and that aims to represent or appeal to a particular group or groups in the community
  • your understanding of what other political parties stand for.

ESL activities

Back to 'Parties Control Parliament - At a glance'

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