Melbourne: No accident

The mainstream media told us that it was a lucky fluke that Adam Bandt won the seat of Melbourne a second time. But as Sam La Rocca explains, this win was no accident.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

In the face of a national swing against the Greens of over 3%, Melbourne managed to lift our primary vote by 7% and record the highest Green Senate vote of any federal division at just under 35%. Greens results in Melbourne did not come by chance. We researched, analysed, prioritised and planned our campaign. We were willing to make the hard decisions about not just what to do, but what not to do, and then we worked really hard to make it happen. So what can other Greens’ campaigns learn from our experience?

In 2010, Adam made history and won Melbourne with a primary swing of 13%. But in 2013 we expected the old parties to collude on preferences, which meant we needed to hold our base and lift our primary if we were going to win in our own right. It was ambitious - something no other minor party has done before.

The result in Melbourne was no accident. There were a range of factors that led to the result we got including strong support for Adam, disappointment with the old parties and our investment in effective communications including outdoor advertising. But the critical factor was our planned grassroots community engagement strategy.

The first thing we did was identify our win number – exactly how many votes we needed to retain the seat – 5833, or just over a 5% swing on top of last time. Then we worked out where these votes could come from in terms of demographics and geography. Which voters were most open to us? Which voters did we need to shift? What is important to these voters? We used publicly available information such as that from the ABS, looked at our booth-by-booth voting patterns, and conducted focus groups to better understand the communications challenges that Adam and the Greens face in building support.

Once we had identified which Melbourne voters might be willing to shift, we developed an outreach strategy to be rolled out over the three years to communicate directly with them. We knew we needed to shine a light on Adam’s track record in parliament and the Greens commitment to looking after people and the environment. We also had a good story to tell about what Adam had done to stand up for Melbourne’s values and his work for individual constituents.

We also knew we needed to build a people-powered campaign to compete with the old parties’ deep pockets and the media’s two-party political perspective. So our election campaign strategy in the final year focused on one-to-one community organising to make voters the heroes of our campaign and deliver our message. We worked out how many doors we had to knock on and how many phone calls we had to make to have enough meaningful conversations directly with voters. We knew that one of the most powerful ways to connect with people is by volunteers sharing why they support Adam and the Greens, so we worked out exactly how many volunteers we needed to make all those calls and knock on those doors, and then we went out and recruited them.

In the end almost 600 people volunteered on Adam’s campaign and we did our best to train them from the start so they all knew what our strategy was, their role in it, and how to do what we were asking them to do. If they were going to commit, we knew our volunteers needed to trust in our numbers and feel confident they could have effective conversations with the community. And we did. So much so that more than 90% of the people who answered our volunteer survey said they had a good time and will come back for more. Which is good because there is so much more to be done.

Sam La Rocca is Adam Bandt’s Chief of Staff.