Lessons from the Australian Election

(@8 – promoted by buhdydharma )

My friend and colleague, American pollster Vic Fingerhut, was instrumental in Australian Labor Party candidate Kevin Rudd’s smashing victory over Liberal Party Prime Minister (and George Bush ally) John Howard on Saturday.  

Thanks to the Vic’s sage advice, which the Australian Council of Trade Unions used to develop hugely successful TV ads in support of Rudd and the ALP, Howard and his party were delivered a landslide defeat.

The lessons learned so well in Australia should be studied and implemented in this country by organized labor and the Democrats, as outlined in Vic’s memo below.

TO: Friends in the American and Canadian Labor Movements

FROM:        Vic Fingerhut

SUBJ: What’s Going On in the Current Australian Election…And What

               Lessons It Contains for the American and Canadian Labor Movements


As many of you know, for the past three years I have been advising the folks who have devised the current ACTU (Australian Council of Trade Unions) media campaign.

What the ACTU has been able to accomplish strongly resembles what the American labor movement did when Gingrich proposed a massive cutback in Medicare, and the White House – operating under Dick Morris’s nutty “triangulation” theory – responded by indicating its intention to “split the difference” with the Gingrich-proposed cutbacks.

In the face of the White House’s threat to compromise with Gingrich, the American Labor movement mounted a strong media campaign which I was very, very pleased to design – leading to a rapid 20-point drop in Gingrich’s ratings.  Gingrich  personally blamed the labor media campaign for the defeat of his so-called “Contract with America.”

In Australia, the trigger was the introduction by the right-wing government of Liberal Prime Minister John Howard of a series of anti-labour laws (known as the IR – or industrial relations – laws).

Howard, a popular Prime Minister, is no pushover.  Howard, who was first elected in 1996 after routing a sitting ALP (Australian Labor Party) government, has since been re-elected three times – easily defeating his ALP opponents each time. Like FDR, he has now held control of Government for 12 years.

While some of the parliamentary opposition in the ALP stood up against the draconian, anti-working people IR laws the Howard Government introduced, no concerted party-based response was launched.

Just like the Gingrich situation.

And, so, again, just like the Gingrich situation, the labour movement in Australia took the bull by the horns.

A sustained national media and public relations campaign was launched by the Australian Council of Trade Unions.

The ACTU national TV campaign succeeded in taking the national debate out of the realm of macro-economics (Australia has a very low unemployment rate and the Liberals enjoy a 30-point margin on “managing Australia’s economy”) and into the hugely more favorable micro-economic “frame” for the ALP (and Democrats) of the workplace and “group benefits” — “who can you trust to make sure you and your loved ones (Australian working families) are treated fairly at the place where they work? etc.”

The result was a massive shift in public opinion against John Howard and his government.

The results, indeed, were extraordinary.

Support for Howard’s re-election went from +6 points to (-14) points – a negative swing against the Howard Liberal Government of 20 points!!

More importantly, the national labour-funded and designed TV campaign produced a firming up (and expansion) of ALP loyalty among the electorate – at a time when it looked like the Australian Labor Party might be moving toward permanent minority party status at the federal level.

Strategic Note for American Labor: It is exactly this same kind of critical long-term gain for the Democrats that could result from a similar campaign in the U.S. over the next 12 months.

In the past year, we have helped win unprecedented victories for the ALP in all the largest states of Australia, including New South Wales (Sydney), Victoria (Melbourne) and Queensland (Brisbane).

The situation right now?

            I would like to simply report that this is the end of the story and that the Australian Labor Party will walk to an easy victory in the election scheduled for the end of November.

Unfortunately, I cannot.

Among other things, the ALP federal leader, Kevin Rudd, despite his leadership of the Australian Labor Party, is acting more like a DLC member than the leader of a labor party.

Rudd – foolishly – has made it a point to separate himself from the labour movement from the very moment he assumed the leadership of the party earlier this year.

Remarkably, even while being attacked by a massive multi-million dollar media campaign sponsored and underwritten by business groups in Australia, Rudd has spent day after day appealing to business groups for their support, while, ironically, not only distancing himself from the highly-successful labour campaign which bequeathed him a 12-14 point lead at the outset of this year’s campaign, but regularly launching thinly-veiled attacks on them.

This tepid and confusing campaign by the Australian Labor Party has produced a sudden drop in Rudd’s lead to 6-8 points.

In response, the Australian Council of Trade Unions is planning a significant media campaign (legal in Australia) to try and revive the successful populist anti-big business and pro-working families themes of its highly successful TV effort that produced such a dramatic shift in public opinion toward the ALP, in the first place.

In this regard, I include a memo to the leadership of the Rudd campaign – written a few weeks ago at the request of the labour (and party) leadership in Australia’s two largest states.  It explains what the labour campaign did – and why backing away from the themes of the labour campaign would jeopardize the election outcome.  This, as I mentioned, has unfortunately since occurred.

The Rudd (ALP) campaign did respond to the memo by more frequently invoking the terminology of “working people” and “working families,” but has refused to implement the second half of the framing, which essentially asks:  “Which side are you on?”…and blasts the Howard Government and its big business allies for launching a concerted attack against “every working family in Australia.”

At the same time, Rudd continues to show his “independence” from the labor movement by repeatedly attacking certain union leaders and asserting he is going to keep “unions under control” in the next Labor government!!!

Talk about mixed messages to an electorate that had initially rallied by large numbers to the ALP based on labour’s strong defense of the rights of working people — to say nothing of the negative feedback union leaders throughout Australia are now reporting from their previously-energized membership.

Personal Note: You may or may not have the time to read the strategy memo to the ALP leadership, but it contains the same thematic realities that will face the American labor movement over the coming year…and in the years that follow…even if a Democrat wins in 2008.

The important fact to understand is that there are basic themes that work (or don’t work) for left-of-center and right-of-center parties that are common to both the US and Australia (and I might add Canada and the other English-speaking democracies).

If you or your union’s communications or political folks are interested, I am willing come over to your union to make a very brief presentation on how — and based on what kind of data — the successful Australian labour media campaign was constructed…and what lessons that contains for the American labor movement as we move into an election year.  Just e-mail me or call my office at 202-331-3700.

We used this info in stopping Gingrich – and it should become a regular part of labor’s thematic arsenal.




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    • Faheyman on November 26, 2007 at 20:24
  1. The ACTU national TV campaign succeeded in taking the national debate out of the realm of macro-economics (Australia has a very low unemployment rate and the Liberals enjoy a 30-point margin on “managing Australia’s economy”) and into the hugely more favorable micro-economic “frame” for the ALP (and Democrats) of the workplace and “group benefits” — “who can you trust to make sure you and your loved ones (Australian working families) are treated fairly at the place where they work? etc.”

    Confronting the anti-unionist message of the corporate media head-on should be an important part of the Progressive strategy in 2008.

    Not only will it help beat Republicans, but it also keeps Dems from drifting away from a core constituency.

    Also, as a passport carrying citizen of both the US and Oz, may I just say how proud I am that my southern brethren are showing the Yanks the way.

  2. It will be hard for labor to have any impact or seat at the table with our inevitable nominee. Her chief strategist Mark Penn is anti union, anti labor his firm B-M is a duzzy from an article in The Nation:

    As expected with such a lineup, B-M has a highly confrontational relationship with organized labor. “Companies cannot be caught unprepared by Organized Labor’s coordinated campaigns,” read the “Labor Relations” section of its website (until it was scrubbed after Mark Schmitt of The American Prospect quoted the language in March). It consults frequently with George Washington University professor Jarol Manheim, author of The Death of a Thousand Cuts: Corporate Campaigns and the Attack on the Corporation and Biz-War and the Out-of-Power Elite: The Progressive-Left Attack on the Corporation. And it lends help to some of the most controversial union-busting efforts in America.

    The rest of the article is quite interesting.


    • pfiore8 on November 27, 2007 at 03:36

    that got elected in 2006.

    he, and they, seemed to have misunderstood the mandates they were given.

    but why.  that’s what’s really interesting. what is going on… in my mind, these politicians did understand what the electorate was saying with its votes. again, to my mind, it is a willful turning away from the voters.

    why? what is really going on here? was Rudd a plant? did somebody get to him? i ask that about Pelosi and Reid. what have they been told? what is going on Faheyman? i’d love to understand it.

    btw, i’m six hours ahead where i am and still not on the right sleep pattern. so if i sound a little groggy from waking up about half-an-hour ago, you’ll understand… i hope!

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