In the lead up to the ACT elections each year, policy advertising and name calling becomes a notorious ingredient of campaigning. Since the introduction of online platforms of communication such as news websites, Facebook and Twitter, many ACT residents are leaning towards sources such as these to be informed of party policies and preferences.

While the media and its journalists still issue much of the content that is broadcast, as Andrew Leigh, Federal Member for Fraser said at the ‘Challenge your Mind’ Lecture at the University of Canberra:

I approach the topic of journalism with a modicum of trepidation. Plus, because I’m a politician, you should probably regard my views on journalists as akin to the views that a kangaroo has about gun ownership.

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The media should be a megaphone for politicians and their respective parties, the missing link between them and the nation but the quote from the member for Fraser indicates that “journalism” and “trepidation” go hand in hand as a general consensus for politicians.

Canberra Liberals spokesperson says that they “are releasing policy and being interviewed by journalists every day, which then runs on TV, print, and online media” in order to publish their plans for the ACT if elected. It is to be expected that the traditional means of publication are being overridden by more contemporary approaches but which is more trusted when it comes to ACT residents obtaining, retaining and believing this information?

What do ACT voters think?

An online survey was conducted to discern the voting behaviors of those enrolled in the ACT and the connections with media, advertising and ACT politics. The survey aimed to distinguish whether or not Canberra voters relied on information relayed to them by the media in preparation for the October 20 election. The survey sample was self-selecting and therefore non-representative. It can not be used to draw definitive conclusions, but it does present a a number of interesting indicators.

It looks as if ACT Labor, Liberal and Greens are maintaining a similar level of advertising as previous years. However 35% of those involved in the survey say that all political advertisements have had no affect on them or their voting preferences in the lead up to this year’s election.

While some admit that there has been a degree of influence, no one can confidently say that there is a direct affect. This indicates that promotions such as those seen on television and online and various other mediums are viewed with a hint of skepticism.

ACT Liberals spokesperson says that they take advantage of online modes of communication to better connect with the public and therefore enhance widen their degree of exposure.

Our policies and media releases are posted on the Canberra Liberals website and Facebooked and Tweeted by Shadow Ministers. We also regularly link to online news coverage of our policies on Facebook and Twitter.

From the results of the survey, it looks as if they are working in the right direction to connect with ACT voters by using online resources. Results indicate that a significant number of respondents (51%) believe that online mediums such as news sites and social media are of most interest to them when being informed.

However Mr. Leigh believes otherwise. He says that these technological advancements have only increased the inequality gap further when it comes to obtaining political information in Canberra.

At the last election, 6.8 percent of voters failed to cast a ballot, and 5.5 percent voted informal. That’s over 12 percent of the electorate who didn’t participate in the democratic process. I believe that changes in the media are one of the factors making this group of Australians more disconnected from politics. In effect, technology has widened the information gap between the most-informed and least-informed members of society.

So how can we lessen the gap between those in society? Increased levels of skepticism become apparent when looking at the effectiveness of advertising in comparison to voting preferences. If it continues to prove ineffectual it almost forces advertising to be a redundant effort for the ACT Government. As John Mayer says, “When you won the information you can bend it all you want” and it seems Canberran people are catching on to this notion.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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