How the Liberals won the "unwinnable" Election

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Scott Morrison declares victory (screenshot via YouTube).

Much has been said about Scott Morrison’s recent election victory but less has been said about how similar it was to the victories of Donald Trump and the Brexit movement.

In all three cases, the results bucked predictions and the same has happened in other, less well-publicised elections as well. As they say in the detective novels: “There’s no such thing as a coincidence". 

This article is an attempt to explain what happened and outline how Morrison and the Coalition snuck through into 1st place.

Use conservatism to your advantage

Forgive me for the cliché, but there are two kinds of people in the world: those who want everything to stay as it is and those who don’t mind change. The former is usually called conservatives (or traditionalists) while the latter is usually called progressives or, sometimes, small ‘l’ liberals.

Conservatives tend to be pessimistic about the effects of change. They see it as only ever making things worse. They’re always scared of losing stuff because of change, either stuff they already have or that which they expect to get. This applies even if change could give them more of both.

Progressives are more optimistic about change. They see it as the only way to improve life which, by definition, it is. However, conservatives often refer to progressives as "dreamers" because they see their new ideas a crazy, pie-in-the-sky optimism.

The strange thing is that both groups start out the same. They’re just normal people who are struggling to survive and are happy to do things the way they’ve always been done.

Until, one day, a progressive sees a better way. You might think that a good, new idea would be welcomed by all but that’s not always the case.

Conservatives see many new ideas as a threat, or at least that’s been the case for the majority of new ideas, inventions and scientific breakthroughs throughout history.

Conservatives and progressives clash most times an invention or a breakthrough is made because conservatives think they will lose something because of it. This makes progressives the real movers and the shakers of the world.

They’re the people who dragged us out of caves and onto the Moon. They’re the visionaries, the explorers, the scientists and the inventors, because they see change as an opportunity rather than a threat. Which is why conservatives hate them.

 Conservatives are a weapon that can be used to turn voters against change. As soon as you mention change, you scare off half of all voters, and after they’ve done their darndest to spread their fear, quite possibly the other half as well.

This was most obvious in Bill Shorten and Labor's ambitious policy programme. Yet they fell flat in the face of conservative impulse. 

Voters can be manipulated

Democracy can be as dangerous as despotism. In Ancient Greece, it was used to condemn Socrates to death for daring to question the rule of the mob. Even the forefathers of the United States knew that democracy was flawed, which is why they included a section in their constitution to get rid of a bad, democratically elected governments.

But probably the worst thing about democracy is the potential for voters to be manipulated by force, coercion, bribery, fear and misinformation. If voters can be manipulated, elections can be swayed, especially if mob-mentality takes hold.

The repeated Coalition talk of "death taxes" and a "retiree tax" are emblematic of the deception required to win "unwinnable" elections.

 You only have to sway a small minority

 On a recent episode of the ABC program, You Can’t Ask That, ex-Liberal MP Richard Evans said something that caught my attention. Evans said that 48% of people are rusted on Liberals and 48% are rusted on Labor supporters which leaves just 4% or voters to decide most elections.

That 4% is the swinging vote and the bloc is the key to winning any election because they are only people that politicians really have to worry about. This represents a huge saving in advertising costs.

Conservatives are easily scared and therefore easily manipulated

 As we have seen, conservatives are naturally opposed to change. Of course, some are more opposed to it than others but some are downright frightened of it. The latter are the best ones to target.

Conservatives often claim to be the backbone of civilisation but, the truth is, they’re actually the ones who hold it back. They have opposed most great reforms or ideas ever proposed, from democracy and the abolition of slavery, to equal rights, the theory of relativity and same-sex marriage.

To them, change means only one thing, loss, so they prefer civilisation to stay exactly where it is (or, if possible, to return to some previous version). And because they fear change, they will oppose anything that might upset the status quo, which makes them excellent pawns to use in the game of politics.

Fear of change makes conservatives easy to manipulate.

Fear can spread like wildfire


Fear is all very well but it’s not much use unless it can be spread amongst the voting public and, while the 4% of swinging voters may be the target, a shotgun approach is the most effective way to reach them.

The more fear you spread, the more swinging voters you will hit.

The easiest way to do this is by spreading fear among the general population in the same way that Chicken Little in the eponymous movie spread fear in the farmyard by claiming that the sky is about to fall. The Chicken Littles of this world are "agitators".

Agitators were used to great effect during the Russian Revolution. They walked among the crowds as Bolshevik leaders were speaking, making comments like, “He’s right you know,” and “That’s true!” (of course, in Russian). 

Together, two or three skilled agitators could help sway a crowd of thousands.

In Australia, this role fulfilled by the likes of Alan Jones, Ray Hadley and the Murdoch Media. They can turn anything the Coalition says into biblical truth and anything the ALP says into the spawn of Satan.

They don’t need to be right, they just need to say so because anything they say gets mentioned on morning TV and radio.

Once an idea gets repeated, it becomes implanted into people’s minds and difficult to dislodge. Add to that millions of fake emails and Facebook posts from untraceable sources and the message of fear can grow until it becomes mass hysteria.  

Fear is negative news and negative news never really goes away. It just keeps piling up until it becomes so big that it cannot be ignored. Negative news "weighs" ten times more than positive news. This means you can’t dislodge one piece of negative news with one piece of good news — or even 10 pieces of good news.

Once it’s there, it sticks like mud.

And so the Coalition won

So, if you want to win an unwinnable election, you only have to influence the middle 4% of voters and, to make life easier, you can manipulate conservative voters and agitators to influence them for you. Their inbuilt fear of change will do the work for you.

In the recent Election, the ALP gave the Coalition everything it needed to frighten conservative voters: a blueprint for change.

Once the Coalition got small groups of easily frightened conservatives on side, they used them to spread the message of fear and, soon, even level-headed people began thinking like frightened conservatives. That’s how you win an unwinnable election.

Tom Orren is a retired head teacher.

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