Trends: The Fingerhut effect

Feb 10, 2012

EMC Director Peter Lewis on framing the economic debate

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Long-time American pollster Vic Fingerhut has been advising progressive politicians since the 1960s and he has a reassuring message  – it’s OK to stand up for what you believe in – and it might even win you elections.

That such a message should be a revelation is a sad indication of where left of centre politics has gone in Australia – but it may also be reassuring that in this we are not alone.

Over more than three decades Fingerhut, who has been advising EMC since the 2007 federal election campaign – has been researching campaigns for unions and progressive parties in the USA, Canada, Britain and Germany – polling people on their perceptions of issues and the differences between major parties

And what he has discovered is a sort of immutable truth – there are some issues that belong to the Right and others that belong to the Left and it’s not about policy either. It’s about language and the way you frame an issue.

As a general rule where the issue is about managing the economy or handling terrorism or keeping taxes low, Republicans and conservatives have a marked advantage, with more than two thirds of voters perceiving they are superior on the issue.

But bring people into the equation, particularly working people, and the numbers swing around. By merely adding the words ‘for working people’ to the question ‘who is better at managing the economy?’, Democrats pick up 30 percentage points.

Likewise change the proposition ‘keeping taxes down’ to ‘fighting for fairer taxes for working people’ and the issue goes from being a negative for the left to a positive.

It’s early days, but the trends seem to translate into Australian politics as well. And if they do they add a new dimension to the ‘accepted wisdom’ that Labor needs to be stronger on the economy.

As Fingerhut observes, merely going out and engaging in an economic argument – even when you have better arguments than your conservative opponents – does nothing more than shift the debate onto their turf.

In other words, becoming a daily commentator on the current account deficit, employment figures and interest rates might get media, but if you do not draw the connection between economic indicators and people’s lives you are not advancing your cause.

At the moment the Labor Government is stuck in the least advantageous  ‘economic management’ frame – by signing up to a budget surplus they have taken a conscious decision to fight on the Opposition’s turf.

A better place to be would be on the jobs front – not just the decade-low unemployment figures – but a narrative that actually translates government activity to job creation.

While conservative commentators hate it – support for industries like manufacturing are big vote-winners, when linked to a coherent government plan to support industries in the long-term as the impact of a rising Australian dollar sheets home.

Better still focus industrial relations – a key indicator of the way an economy operates for, in Vic’s words, regular working people – and the innate recognition that given the chance, the Liberals would bring back some form of WorkChoices.

So let’s put Vic’s theory to the test.

On the simple question who is better at managing the economy? Labor is getting smashed – although there are large number of uncommitted, proof that the Liberals are under-performing on their home turf.

Q. Which party do you trust most to manage the Australian economy, Labor or the Liberals?




No difference

Don’t know

+17% Liberal





But give the question the Vic treatment – admittedly around the performance of the Treasurers – and Labor enjoys a 19 per cent point turnaround.

Q. Who would you trust most to manage economy in the interests of workers and families




No difference

Don’t know

+2% Labor






This sort of analysis is we in the trade call ‘framing’, talking about your policies and political brand in the most advantageous way; reinforcing what people think about you, not trying to make them change their minds.

As you can see bringing working people into the economic frame is no magic bullet, especially for this government, but it does shift nearly one in five voters, which when you are in the fight for your very survival is nothing to be taken lightly.

Can $1 save a life?

Feb 10, 2012

UNICEF’s Tim O’Connor talks about the 80c nut paste which is saving kids’ lives in East Africa

When it comes to donating money to charity, donors wonder how far their dollar really goes, especially when the amount given is just a couple of bucks in a tin can. Well in the crisis that is East Africa, $1 goes a long way — in fact 80c is the going rate to almost instantly save a child’s life.

That’s all due to a little bar called Plumpy Nut.

Read here about how Plumpy Nut is saving children’s lives.

When starving children finally reach one of the many UNICEF centres in the region, their level of malnutrition is quickly tested via an elastic wristband to determine their level of need. Those with malnutrition are immediately given the Plumpy Nut — a peanut paste which is packed with protein, needs no preparation and is eagerly devoured by children. Just three packets a day for six weeks will bring a starving child from the brink of death to normal nutritive health.

And, the aptly named Plumpy Bar has public appeal too, says Tim O’Connor of UNICEF, making it easier for small donors to feel their dollar makes a difference. And that’s where the media steps in.

“The Daily Telegraph ran an online campaign on the Plumpy Nut bar and a link below which raised $60k in two hours,” he said.

It just goes to show how crucial the media is in raising awareness. “We had already been running a campaign on East Africa and were getting nowhere until the international media flew in,” said O’Connor. “We raised $4m in two and a half months.”

Yet the dilemma between raising awareness and exploiting the needy is another problem UNICEF battles to overcome. Tim O’Connor discusses how depictions of the ‘beneficiaries’ of aid have changed over the years here.

Once the media goes home, it is the aid agencies left to continue the hard work.

“In Somalia they are much better now but we still have 350,000 kids who will die unless they get basic nutrition and that means aid dollars,” said O’Connor.

UNICEF’s current focus is on education and putting 67 million children into schools and encouraging them to stay there. It’s an entrenched and silent problem which doesn’t receive the same attention as an international disaster but which has crucial ongoing ramifications for developing countries.

“Last year there were 290 disasters compared with 110 in 1990,” said O’Connor. “Unfortunately, they take the focus off the silent problems which we battle on a daily basis.”

Is BHP still the Big Australian?

Feb 10, 2012

CFMEU National President Tony Maher explains why BHP is no longer the “big Australian”.

BHP had its humble beginnings in Broken Hill when it opened a silver and lead mine and floated it on the fledgling stock exchange in 1885. Since then it’s become the world’s biggest mining company (and the world’s third biggest company outright) venturing into iron ore, copper, steel manufacturing and more. It employs 40,000 people in 25 countries  — so is it still the iconic “big Australian”?

Well it still has its HQ in Melbourne but since it merged with mining company Billiton in 2001 it has dual listings and has a major arm in the UK.

It’s had its fair share of economic and social controversies too – not least of them, the Ok Tedi environmental disaster in PNG. You can read more about this at BHP Billiton Watch.

And as far as contributing to the Australian economy, BHP Billiton has opposed many of the tax proposals which would have helped – crying poor over the mining tax despite and labelling a carbon price on carbon as a “dead weight cost

This despite the billions of dollars in profits made every year.

Now BHP is at the centre of another controversy:  3,500 workers from seven mines off work for a week, with a hit to BHP of about $150 million.

The CFMEU wants BHP to provide extra fatigue breaks for employees working 12-hour shifts on consecutive nights. The union is also insisting that the job of safety deputies and open cut inspectors remain as union member jobs and not be done by BHP appointed staff. The CFMEU points to BHP’s previous record on mining disasters at Appin and Moura which show the company can’t be trusted to look after safety on its own.

You can listen to an interview with the CFMEU’s Stephen Smyth about the decision to take action here.

The dispute has been running for over a year now, with miners’ families taking their case to BHP’s AGM last year to raise concerns about safety issues for their husbands.

National President of the CFMEU Tony Maher says it’s time BHP put some of its massive profits back into the mining community. Last year, BHP made a record $23 billion profit.

“BHP can afford to do the right thing by its Bowen Basin workers,” said Maher.

Kloppers has warned that miners’ jobs are at risk and has blamed the Fair Work act for complicating negotiations between the union and management.

But Tony Maher says BHP has an obligation to workers’ safety. “Last year, BHP made a record $23 billion profit. These workers are taking a stand for safe, secure jobs – BHP can afford to do the right thing,” he said.

Why would you own a newspaper?

Feb 10, 2012

Media Super’s Gerard Noonan talks about Gina Rinehart’s Fairfax ambitions

As circulations plummet and advertising dollars with them, Australia’s richest person and mining magnate Gina Rinehart last week shelled out close to $200 million for a 15 per cent stake in the company and a potential seat on the board.

So what else is she after — influence? Prestige? Or is it some type of twisted vengeance after the Good Weekend ran an unflattering portrait weeks earlier? Comments »

Trends: Where is the love?

Feb 10, 2012

EMC director Peter Lewis talks about the “disapproval” ratings of the country’s leaders

It’s time to rename some of our key poll indicators. There is no longer a place for ‘Approval Ratings’ in Australian politics because there is so little approval to rate.

Instead we can say that both leaders are enjoying majority levels of disapproval and working hard to secure a vital edge in the category, carefully managing their public appearances and media profile to raise their stats.

As this week’s Essential Report shows, these figures are the result of more than 18 months focussed activity that has seen both leaders’ disapproval soar while their approval ratings have been carefully contained. Comments »