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Apr 4, 2014

Clown prince: how Clive Palmer bought himself a WA media frenzy

Palmer's spent half a million on ads. And for those who don't watch ads, he's spent weeks playing the buffoon, earning him more coverage than any other party running on Saturday, write Myriam Robin and Ania Dutka.


There are two schools of thought when it comes to the antics of billionaire mogul Clive Palmer. One is that he’s a ludicrous buffoon. The other sees a method to his madness.

After investigating his profile in the weeks leading up to the second Western Australian Senate election in seven months, Crikey is inclined to believe the latter.

When it comes to mentions in the national and WA media in recent days, Palmer is everywhere. And while he insists his WA candidates are always available to do media, he’s the one fronting the cameras most of the time. It makes sense — he has a national profile already, and his candidates are very much riding on his coattails. That means he’s been in the news more than any of the actual candidates from any party running in the WA election, according to iSentia figures.

He’s mentioned five times as often as the Greens’ Scott Ludlam (1042 mentions in the past two weeks, compared to Ludlam’s 229) and has totally blitzed the mentions given to the Sports Party (just 29 in the past two weeks). If we limit our search to just WA, iSentia says Palmer has been mentioned 171 times in the local media. That compares to 116 mentions for the Liberal candidates, 94 mentions for Ludlam, 81 for Labor’s runners and 17 for the Sports Party. In WA, Palmer is mentioned half as often as national Opposition Leader Bill Shorten (on 355 mentions) …

Media mentions regarding WA senate election (National)

Media mentions regarding WA senate election (WA only)

Of course, numbers aren’t everything, and Palmer’s coverage isn’t always positive. On Perth’s 92.9 FM yesterday, Palmer got an endorsement on the morning show and even a theme song (“He’s got 12 boats and he needs your vote / He doesn’t like Labor, Liberals or the Greens / He likes pies and cream …”). He got a frostier reception on Channel Ten’s Studio 10 on Wednesday. He told Tony Jones to “shut up” and hung up on 2UE today. But ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether Palmer was greeted with mirth or scepticism by the journalists he encountered — everything outrageous thing he said or did was promptly followed up by other media (Crikey included), so it all adds to the Palmer buzz.

All this free publicity is in addition to the millions he’s spent. The Sydney Morning Herald asked monitoring agency Ebiquity for advertising estimates for each of the parties — it estimated the Liberals had spent $53,000, the Labor Party $63,ooo (helped along by another $93,000 from the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union), the Greens $114,000, and the Palmer United Party close to half-a-million dollars on TV alone ($477,000, to be precise). And according to The Australian, the PUP was behind 530 of the 892 political ads aired on Perth television. For comparison, the Greens aired 90, and the Liberals and ALP aired 35 each.

On Saturday, we’ll find out if his media strategy worked. But on current polling, he’s likely to end up with a seat, according to our own William Bowe, whose polling analysis suggests the Palmer United Party will raise its primary vote by 0.6% on last September. This doesn’t mean he’s certain to win; on some simulations the PUP needs to approach 7% for a better-than-even chance of getting a seat, and it’s currently polling at 5.9%. However, some have written of private polling data that puts the PUP at 10% — well within striking distance of a seat with the aid of preferences.

It was close last time, when Palmer’s electoral success took most by surprise. It was always going to be hard for him to repeat the feat. But by buying the ads and then appearing on every station that would have him, he’s done his best to boost his team’s chances. We’ll see whether it pays off on Saturday.


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