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What do we do now?

30 May 2019 at 7:45 am
Jo Scard
In the wake of the federal election, Fifty Acres founder and CEO Jo Scard looks at how the polls got it so wrong and what not for profits need to do now to embrace the new landscape.

Jo Scard | 30 May 2019 at 7:45 am


What do we do now?
30 May 2019 at 7:45 am

In the wake of the federal election, Fifty Acres founder and CEO Jo Scard looks at how the polls got it so wrong and what not for profits need to do now to embrace the new landscape.

With the last three years’ opinion polls predicting a Labor victory on 18 May, the result has left many dumbfounded.

It comes down to two key factors. The first, published and internal party polling – from both Labor and the Coalition – indicated a Labor win. This in turn gave the Opposition the belief they could be bold. It was that very same bold agenda that scared (some) people, for a variety of reasons.

Who got it wrong? The pollsters and the parties.

Let me digress to give it some context. Political parties have relied on polling for centuries.

“Straw polls” were used by newspapers in the US as early as 1824 and Gallup started modern day polling in the US in 1937 with telephone polling. Pollsters have got it wrong before: Neil Kinnock in the UK, Trump, Brexit and now Australia in 2019.

The accuracy and how data is collected will be under the spotlight, whether online, landline or mobile.

This is my hunch. Political parties, polling companies, media and academics are in the field all the time undertaking quantitative and qualitative research. Qualitative research provides insights on policy, the look and feel of candidates and branding. Typically, large amounts of accurate quantitative tracking data is required to understand what the electorate is thinking. Polling companies and the political parties had huge slabs of data – but it was wrong.

Pollsters are no longer able to make contact with an accurate representation of the Australian electorate.

Over the last two decades the soft, undecided, swinging voters have increased from 10 per cent to closer to 30 per cent. That’s a lot of people, when we are talking about margins of 1 per cent to 2 per cent in an election result. The “shy Tory” theory has also been advanced – people aren’t always honest with pollsters when approached.

Let’s break it down further.

  • Polling gave Labor confidence to present a broad progressive agenda – the polling was wrong.
  • That agenda was ultimately rejected by voters, in part/whole.
  • The Coalition ran a small target, negative campaign (reference retiree tax and death tax) which allowed them to maintain the status quo and get re-elected.

Let me quote a comment from last week’s Guardian: “While in most elections these undecided voters have tended to break in line with the existing two-party-preferred vote, it is possible that on this occasion the most disengaged 10 per cent turned up on election day and voted overwhelmingly for the Coalition. Given the noise of the Clive Palmer campaign, the single-minded mendacity of the Liberals’ tax assault and the relative complexity of Labor’s voter choice proposition, this is not outside the realms of possibility. They have become the justification of internal power plays and the fodder of lazy political analysis, part of a perpetual self-reinforcing feedback loop.”

So what will the new government’s agenda be toward the social sector? It’s not clear yet because there was no new agenda presented by the Coalition at the election. Don’t expect a huge take-up of issues like climate change but social issues like poverty, homelessness and Indigenous are there to be prosecuted.

What do we do now to embrace the new federal landscape?

  • The sector has worked with Coalition governments for the last six years. We need to think about how we will continue to engage with them for the next three years.
  • Government engagement doesn’t change – you need to have a vision and have the clarity to deliver it.
  • Working out what success looks like will help set your goals.

There are some new independent faces and some old faces that have returned.

While the Coalition will govern in their own right, these people will be important to get in front of.

  • The new faces are Helen Haines (Indi) and Zali Steggall (Warringah).
  • Independents returning are Andrew Wilkie (Clarke), Bob Katter (Kennedy), Adam Bandt (Melbourne), and Rebekha Sharkie (Mayo).

Although the result has come as a surprise to many and as a potential roadblock for some organisations based on the ideas they were hoping to pursue, it’s important for the sector to regroup individually and collectively where appropriate to assess tactics. Start with a SWOT analysis of the new Coalition team – Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. Having a clear idea of each will allow you to set realistic goals.

Don’t give up, that will achieve zilch. The people you advocated for prior to 18 May still need a voice so help them express it.

If you want help to navigate the political landscape, or come up with a winning engagement or strategic communications strategy, get in touch with Jo Scard at Fifty Acres on 02 6281 7350 or visit

Jo Scard  |  @ProBonoNews

Jo Scard is the founder and managing director of Fifty Acres.

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