Scared, Not Stupid

10 AM October 11, 2004

There’s a bit of a meme going around with Howard supporters at the moment, which this quote – attributed Peter Ruehl of the Fin Review – sums up nicely,

“Whenever you [hear] somebody saying the other side won because of scare tactics, what they are saying is the voters are stupid” (quoted by “harry clarke” on John Quiggin’s weblog).

Let me spell this out: both sides ran advertisements designed to elicit strong concerns about the other’s leader and their possible behaviour in office. Like almost all modern advertising, they were designed to elicit an emotional as well as intellectual response.

These ads were, in the venacular, scary.

To follow Peter Ruehl’s logic through, when a party runs one of these scary advertisements, it’s because they think the voters are stupid. The Liberal party ran the largest number of scary advertisements so obviously, the Liberal party thinks the voters are stupidest. That’s what Peter Ruehl is saying.

For the record, I think the Liberal party’s scare campaign may not have been responsible for their win, but it was responsible for the size of their win. Their ads were well targeted, well timed and played on the fears of the large number of Australian voters that don’t care about federal politics. These voters are not stupid – they are ill informed on the runnings of our country, scared of interest rate rises and more ready to believe bad things about politicans than good things, but not stupid. In their position would be strange if they weren’t scared by the Liberal party’s ads. Congratulations to John Howard and his team for understanding the voters better.

So to Peter Ruehl and friends, no, I don’t think the voters are stupid, any more than the Liberal party does.

By alang | # | Comments (3)
(Posted to Rants)


At 07:54, 18 Oct 2004 dan wrote:

I don't know whether I agree with your distinction here. To follow through your argument, this would mean that millions of people are ill-informed, ready to believe negative things and ready to make a poll decision based purely on campaign advertising.

If the people are more inclined to think negative things than positive things, why does everyone seem happy to believe the stupid things that politicians say whilst in campaign mode? I think that in fact people are so cynical that nobody believed anything that anyone said during the election, increasingly failed to see a difference between the two parties and decided that in a strong economy it was better the devil you know.

At 23:21, 19 Oct 2004 Alan Green wrote:

Maybe not millions. It was more like several hundred thousand that were the difference between the coalition winning by eight seats and the coalition winning by twenty-seven seats.

And it's not just my argument either. All the winning Liberal pollies that the ABC interviewed on election night were gushing about the success of the interest rates and Learner Latham campaigns.

At 01:20, 22 Oct 2004 dan wrote:

Of course they would <i>say</i> that, because it doesn't run well to say on the post election wrap up that people probably made their minds up 6 months ago and nothing anybody said during the campaign really changed anything. In 2001, there was actual fear on the Tampa issue that outmaneuvered Beazley, even though the two parties basically had the same policies on "border protection".

I am increasingly of the view that the Australian people sees voting as a way to sack the government. They weigh up the costs and inefficience of replacing the person, the time that it would take to get them up to speed, and the risk that it wouldn't work out, and they pitch all of that against how crap a job the person is doing. They sacked Keating for the recession, Victorians sacked Jeff for being too arrogant and gutting education, just as they sacked Kirner for being economically inefficient.


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