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Unformatted text preview: Political Campaign Strategy Associate Professor Stephen Stockwell is Head of the School of Arts at Griffith University’s Gold Coast campus where he founded the journalism and public relations programs. Previously he was a journalist with community radio 4zzz, youth radio jjj and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s flagship TV current affairs program, Four Corners. He has also worked as a press secretary, media manager and campaign consultant. Outside politics his interests include surfing, bushwalking and independent rock music. Political Campaign Strategy Doing Democracy in the 21st Century Stephen Stockwell Australian Scholarly Melbourne © Stephen Stockwell 2005 First published 2005 Australian Scholarly Publishing Pty Ltd Suite 102, 282 Collins Street, Melbourne, Victoria 3000 Tel: 03 9654 0250 Fax: 03 9663 0161 [email protected] A Cataloguing-in-Publication entry for this title is available from the National Library of Australia. ISSN 1 74097 106 X All rights reserved Page design and typesetting by Shawn Low Printing and binding by Mercury Printeam Cover design by Jim Hsu CONTENTS Acknowledgements vi Introduction vii 1 Messing with the Fabric of Reality – Democracy and Spin 1 2 Language and Rhetoric – From the Tribe to the City 25 3 Manufacture of Fortune – Machiavelli and Modern Politics 45 4 Message Management – Position and Spin 66 5 Research – Quantitative and Qualitative 90 6 Managing the Media – Producing Effects 113 7 Advertising – From Dream to Reality 134 8 Direct Contact – From Door-Knocking to the Internet 152 9 Organisation and Fundraising – Managing the Machine 169 10 The Permanent Campaign – Layers of Government 189 11 Public Affairs – Lobbying and Activism 213 12 Campaigns and the Global – Birth of the Citizen Hacker 230 Bibliography 250 Index 273 v Acknowledgements While you always learn more from your enemies than your friends, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the many friends whose insights inform this book: Wayne Swan, Mike Kaiser, John Utting, Kerry Gardiner, Andy Nehl, Linden Woodward, Shaun Hoyt, Nicola Joseph, Tony Collins, Anne Jones, Damien Ledwich, Robbie White, David Barbagello, Alan Knight, Marian Wilkinson, Paul Williams, Paul Gillen, Helen Irving and Lee Cox. I would like to thank Griffith University for allowing me the time to write this book; my research assistants, Adele Somerville and Shona Upson, and my colleagues who have supported my work, Pat Wise, Nigel Krauth, Jane Johnston and Grahame Griffin. Finally I would like to thank my parents, Bill and Necia Stockwell; my wife, Ann Baillie, and our son, Matthew Baillie Stockwell, who have provided so much support and understanding over the years. vi Introduction Thirty years working in, reporting on and teaching about political campaigns have given me some of the most exciting, nervewracking, uplifting and soul-destroying moments of my life. This book arises from my dissatisfaction with the different academic accounts of political campaigns. Aside from the memoirs of a few campaign advisers, nothing comes close to capturing the rollercoaster ride which is how, for our sins, our actual democracy gets done in this day and age. Nothing comes close to capturing or explaining that moment where an astute reading of the popular consciousness and decisive use of the right turn of phrase can turn a disaster into success. For all his personal faults, Bill Clinton will be remembered as a master of the campaign and nowhere were his skills more apparent than when his wife, Hillary’s campaign for New York senator was faltering in the aftermath of the Monica Lewinsky affair. Hillary’s campaign people were in turmoil as women voters began to question Hillary’s values. Bill dispassionately read the polling data and said to Hillary “Women want to know why you stayed with me.” Hillary responded “Yes, I’ve been wondering that myself.” Unembarrassed, Bill had the answer: “Because you’re a sticker. That’s what people need to know: you’re a sticker. You stick at things you care about.” (Gawenda 2005:21) Hillary’s campaign rhetoric shifted subtly, women voters were reassured that she would stick by them and she was elected to the US senate. How do you explain these moments of alchemy and what do they mean for democracy? These are the interesting and important questions but very few academics confront them. Political science treats campaigns as if they were the quantitative exercise of dry constitutional rights. Political marketing turns vii viii Political Campaign Strategy campaigns into empty rituals of consumption and commercial enterprise. Media studies give a pessimistic critique that portrays campaigns as tools to manipulate and control the public and undermine democracy. Those accounts all fail to capture the energy and excitement of the campaign. They have no conception of the campaign as life on the edge where real decisions have to be made quickly to persuade real people to take decisions that are going to have a real effect on their lives. And the most exciting thing is that this is democracy. Many people have an idealised view of democracy because they treat democracy as an ideal. This is not a bad thing because part of democracy’s work is to strive for high, even ideal standards. But more importantly democracy is a practical exercise that exists because it is carried out. Complain as people will about big government, global corporations and self-interested politicians losing touch, the only antidote to these problems is participation. Democracy gives us the power to persuade other people and it gives us the responsibility to do it as well but if citizens do not rise to this responsibility, in large numbers but in diverse ways, then democracy ceases to exist. This book discusses political campaigns in a way that grapples with the complexity of the democracy that we actually have. It does this by exploring and clarifying the origins, techniques and different forms of the political campaign. The campaign paradigm has spread from elections and referenda to governmental media management and public education and the public affairs, lobbying and activism of interest groups. By coming to terms with the campaign paradigm, we can begin to appreciate how our democracy, as imperfect as it is, actually functions and its potential to be used and transformed by citizens. This book seeks to capture the rhetorical, ethical and strategic dimensions of the political campaign and explain its historical roots, methods and manifestations in terms of democratic theory. This is a vital first step in re-thinking democracy in a global Introduction ix context where the campaign has become the predominant form of politics. Close study of the origins and operations of the political campaign provides the opportunity to make the argument, as democrats always have, for a fresh understanding of democracy that fits the times. This book moves beyond any particular disciplinary focus on political campaign strategy to draw together an eclectic mix of practical tools and theoretical insights from a range of disciplines including not only political science, marketing and media theory but also literature, classics, military history, statistics, psychology and game theory. This book begins by looking at recent accounts of political campaigns and their place in democratic theory. The realisation emerges that representative democracy has a flaw: the mass media is not quite the perfect forum for the debate between citizens on which the legitimacy of democracy depends. If citizens cannot put their point of view in debate then how can they be morally obliged to accept the outcome of that debate? Popular culture’s preoccupation with political campaigns (from Pickwick Papers to The West Wing) leads us to consider how a multiplicity of contending campaigns provides the deliberative forum for mass voices. The political campaign, for all its flaws, emerges as the only effective way to do democracy in a mass society and as a method ripe for citizen intervention and co-option. Next, we look for the roots of the political campaign deep in human history. The political function of language was crucial to the evolution of human society and political campaigns have much to learn from the practical, linguistic magic of the shaman and the bard. As the early forms of democracy developed, the Greek Sophists applied rational analysis to that linguistic magic to understand how citizens could be persuaded, work that was systematised in the classical rhetoric of Aristotle. Further, the book examines the contribution of Machiavelli in the early modern period and his x Political Campaign Strategy application of concepts from military strategy to politics. We also consider two forms of military strategy of particular relevance to political campaigns: guerrilla warfare for situations of offensive insurgence and siege warfare for defensive incumbency. The book also summarises 20th century developments that led to the current form of the political campaign. To appreciate how campaigns work, we explore the theoretical bases and practical operation of political persuasion strategies in message development, qualitative and quantitative research, media management, advertising, direct contact and organisation. This work occupies the core of the book because it is crucial to understanding the possibilities campaigns offer. The book then points to the political possibilities in the collision between campaign strategy and the information age. The permanent campaign has become the predominant form of governance evident not only in the electorally-connected work of government media minders but also in public education and information campaigns by which governments do their work. To counter the power of government and to lead it towards particular interests, corporate lobbying and citizen activism have emerged as the practices of public affairs. New technology provides the opportunity for new forms of political campaigning where networks of citizen-hackers create the connections between the local and emerging global forums. By refusing to be drawn into the utopian promises of on-line only cyber-citizenry, citizens can make use of cyber-strategy to build new spaces for democracy in the global environment. 1 MESSING WITH THE FABRIC OF REALITY – DEMOCRACY AND SPIN Political Campaigns Pity the poor spin doctors. Few occupations are more despised than theirs but then few occupations offer such power with so little responsibility. We all know who the spin doctors are. They are the nasty, nefarious types, stashed in politicians’ back offices, twisting words to mean whatever they want them to mean. They are commonly held to be responsible for the media’s mendacity and democracy’s decline. They convinced us to go to war in Iraq over weapons of mass destruction that were not there. They declared “mission accomplished” when it had barely begun. They threw the children overboard. Every day they are busy spinning yesterday’s denial into tomorrow’s full and frank admission. They will say anything as long as it advances the cause of whoever is paying their fees. But now spin doctors have gone on the counterattack about their own image. Most morning talk radio shows have weekly sessions with spin doctors from government and business explaining how the news of the week has been managed. Of course, these sessions are never very critical of public relations practice and they never tell about the dirty deeds that go on behind the scenes but they do draw our attention to the ubiquity of spin. Perhaps this is the right time to consider the spin doctor’s place in the world, particularly as public relations practices now determine how governments do their work and, in particular, wage war. The Simpsons, that indispensable guide to modern mores, has summarised the spin-doctor situation for all. When a three-eyed fish 1 2 Political Campaign Strategy is found near Mr Burns’s nuclear power plant, he becomes desperate to roll back health and safety regulation and decides to run for governor. His campaign team boasts not only a spin doctor, a joke writer and a make-up man but also a muck-raker, a character assassin, a mud-slinger and a garbologist. It is the politics of the bottom-feeders. In the end, despite the spin doctor naming the fish Blinky and coming up with a sterling defence of the creature as an evolutionary necessity, Marge Simpson out-spins them all by serving up the three-eyed fish for Mr Burns’s televised dinner the night before the election. It is a spin doctor’s nightmare when Mr Burns spits out the fish and destroys his credibility on live television. The West Wing’s communications director Toby Ziegler (played by Richard Schiff) provides an alternative to The Simpsons stereotype. Toby is confused, moody, soul-searching and often transfixed in the headlights of another onrushing dilemma, desperately clinging to certainties that turn to dust in his hands, finally saving the day with nothing more than an obscure code of personal honour and recourse to networks and techniques honed through years of failure. Toby, like many spin doctors, is still an idealist. That is why he is working in politics and not making 10 times the salary as a corporate media consultant. But he is an idealist who has come to an accommodation with the pragmatism that successful politics requires in order to achieve what he can. While spin doctors tend to be more West Wing than Simpsons, they all want to be Wag the Dog’s Conrad Brean (played by Robert De Niro). Created by David Mamet and Hilary Henkin, this character has such a command of the possibilities of the mediasphere that he can create the appearance of a small war with Albania to get a United States president re-elected despite the president’s indiscretions with an under-age girl. Conrad Brean is a master at messing with the fabric of reality. This is the attraction of the position. Sure, the job is despised, the pay is comparatively lousy and the spin doctor will be blamed Messing with the Fabric of Reality … 3 for any problems, yet be strangely absent when the kudos are distributed. But, in the meantime, the spin doctor has the opportunity to sculpt the terrain on which public debate occurs and to play the puppet-master, crafting the words and images that create the future. And it is a craft because spin doctors are doing more than just spinning a web to catch our minds. The application of spin is subtle work, just ask the spin bowler in cricket or the pitcher in baseball. Ideas of dip, drift, turn and bounce are central to the craft whether you are working with a ball or words. But where did spin come from? Over the last two hundred years, the representative democracies of North America, Europe and Australasia underwent significant changes. Where once only wealthy men were qualified to be citizens, by the early twentieth century citizenship was extended to all adults, male and female, wealthy and poor. As those democracies became mass societies, the old networks of personal contact no longer held sway and prospective representatives had to find new ways to gather the votes they needed to win election. The advent of new media such as offset printing, radio and television prompted the creation of new persuasion techniques such as advertising and public relations to take commercial messages to the masses and politicians were quick to recognise the usefulness of these media for their own persuasive purposes. US president Franklin D. Roosevelt spelt out his political agenda directly to the citizenry via fireside chats broadcast on the radio. German dictator Adolf Hitler used the radio to spread his mix of hate, hope and hero worship that reinvigorated a downtrodden nation. British prime minister Winston Churchill held Britain together during the darkest days of the Second World War by broadcasting his speeches on the radio. At about the same time social scientists began to use surveys to study both citizens’ use of the media and the media’s impact on citizens’ political inclinations in public opinion research. During the 1950s US presidential 4 Political Campaign Strategy candidate Dwight Eisenhower used television to spread his campaign message. But it was John F. Kennedy’s 1960 presidential campaign that showed how a mixture of opinion research and media management could swing close contests and the craft of political campaigning was born. Kennedy’s campaign and the three succeeding US presidential elections were closely documented in The Making of the President series by Theodore White (1961, 1966, 1969, 1974) who revealed much about the inner-workings of the campaigns. Joe McGinniss carried White’s work further during the 1968 US presidential election when he focused on the spin techniques employed by the successful Nixon campaign in The Selling of the President (1970). The 1972 US presidential campaign produced three important books that revealed much about the operations of campaigns. First there was The Boys on the Bus by Tim Crouse (1972) which showed how the press corps covering the election was manipulated by the party campaigns and each other to produce a sanitised and sidetracked account of what actually happened, a theme theorised by Melvyn Bloom (1973) in Public Relations and Presidential Campaigns. Also Hunter S. Thompson’s (1973) Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail captured the temporary and expedient nature of campaigns marked by strategic game-playing and ready compromise. A number of authors have since documented the rise of the political spin industry that developed to prosecute this new form of political campaigning in the United States (Blumenthal 1980; Dinken 1989; Napolitan 1994; Sabato 1981; Thurber & Nelson 1995), the United Kingdom (Butler 1992; Norris 1999; Rosenbaum 1997) and Australia (Mills 1986; Tiffen 1989). The industry journal Campaigns and Elections has documented developing campaign techniques and judged their application in practical conditions as selected articles show (Sabato 1989). The historical development of the political campaign industry is discussed in some detail in chapter Messing with the Fabric of Reality … 5 3. The academic discipline of political marketing quickly “colonised” (Wring 1999) this new style of politics. There are now a number of texts that give a technical account of the campaign which, by and large, treats citizens as consumers and democracy as a competition (Kavanagh 1995; Lees-Marshment 2001; Maarek 1995; Mauser 1983; Newman & Sheth 1985; Newman 1994; Newman 1999; O’Shaughnessy 1990). In response to the growth of political marketing, a strident critique emerged that exposed the hegemonic control of the mass media and the public relations apparatus of the party and state as propaganda designed to dupe the voter (Pratkanis & Aronson 1992; Spero 1980). In particular, this critique targets negative advertising (Ansolabehere & Iyengar 1995; Johnson-Cartee & Copeland 1991) and fundraising excesses (West 2001) to explain the growing apathy and cynicism of citizens (Cappella & Jamieson 1997). Or as Lucaites & Charland argue “Postmodern mass politics... replaces the collective imaginary... with simulacra that remain specular and uninhabitable...” (1989: 33) In short, democracy has become a ghost and a useless parody of its old self. There is also the connected concern among critics that the spread of political marketing is producing the systematic “Americanization” of politics around the globe (Kavanagh 1996) even though some would argue that this effect is merely a by-product of the “modernization” of societies (Negrine & Papathanassopoulos 1996: 42). The Japanese Liberal Democratic party has taken a systematic approach to campaigning since 1948 (Curtis 1983), though at that stage it relied on a thorough-going organisation of grass-roots support rather than the polling and media management of American style campaigning...
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