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Australian Elections Essay

Institutional factors:

Institutional factors relate to the type of the electoral system used in an election. Institutional factors that can influence the election include compulsory voting, the type of ballot, gerrymanders and malapportionment.

Compulsory voting ensures 95 per cent of Western Australians participate in elections. However, it has been echoed by some academics that compulsory voting favors major parties. This is due to few people doing their own research into political parties and voting for parties they recognize through the media.

The type of ballot used in an election has the most influence on the outcome. In a preferential ballot a seat has to be won by an absolute majority. Which gives an advantage to major political parties. However, in proportional voting a candidate has to get a derived quota to be elected. This means that a small party or independent can get elected with as little as 20% of the vote.

Gerrymanders are also another major factor that can influence an election. Gerrymanders allow governments to redistribute electoral boundaries. Governments are then able to win more seats by reducing vote wastage in safe seats and shifting the wasted votes into marginal seats therefore giving them a better chance to win the marginal seats. This tends to favor the government because they have majority support to change electoral boundaries.

Malapportionment is another institutional factor which may affect the election outcome. Malapportionment is a calculation used to even out an uneven distribution of population. This is done by increasing the power of votes in smaller districts. The problem with malapportionment is that it tends to favor the party or independent who exploits the weakness in the electoral system.

Sociological factors:

Sociological factors relate to the values and attitudes voters believe in. When voters are attracted to a particular party this is because they tend to support relatively the same values and attitudes. This will often lead the voter to vote for the party they are attracted to. The values and attitudes people obtain are often related to experiences the voter’s life. The biggest influence on values and attitudes of voters is their family. The fundamental sociological factors include socioeconomic profile, ethnic background, religion, geographical location, age and gender.

Socioeconomic factors relate to a person ‘social class’. Social class structures of persons are generally divided by education achieved, employment category and income. Due to the recent blurring of policy in major political parities, voters have not been significantly polarized by the above three particulars. Therefore, socioeconomic factors don’t greatly affect election outcomes.

Ethnic background relates to migrant origins. Origins of ethnic groups tend to reflect in political opinion. Trends suggest that ethnic communities that come from oppressive regimes vote on the left wing -Labor-. However, ethnic communities that migrate from democratic countries tend to vote right wing -Liberal-.

Religion has become less of a factor in the outcome of an election. In the past religion has played a major role in Australian elections. This is due to mainly European migrants being either protestant or catholic. This division of religion ended in the 1940’s possibly due to World War Two. However, religious people generally cast a stronger conservative vote, relative to people with limited or no assimilation with religion.

Geographic location in Western Australia has caused strong political divides. These strong political divides exist between the rural areas and the city. This division is due to different political and economic requirements needed by rural and city Western Australia. These different requirements have been around since foundation so the political division has always been prevalent.

Age is an important aspect of the sociological factors. Mature age voters often support conservative right wing political parties. Where as, younger voters tend towards voting for left wing political parties. This trend for younger voters to elect left wing parties has been around since the 1970’s. Some of the early young voters stay loyal to left wing political parties.

Gender in the last 30 years has played a prevalent role in Australia’s politics. This is due to the social revolution of the role of women. Women’s votes tend to be for a conservative party. Some psychologists believe this is because women reject change more then men. However, history has seen that women’s votes seen to have been arbitrary and lacking in trends.

Political factors:

Political factors fundamentally relate to the ability of political parties to make successful decisions. Political factors that may affect the election include the government’s record, opposition performance, economic management, leadership, the electoral campaign and media.

The government’s record is an integral part of the party being re-elected. This is because re-election is a test to see if governments have avoided great controversy and delivered on performance. The examiners for the test are the voters. Great controversy can cause a government to lose an election. This is especially true when the controversy relate to money. This is because voters are scrupulous about were the money is being spent in the community. Performance of a government can be measured by how much they have delivered on pre election policy. If voters are disappointed about how much the government has delivered on policy they often wont trust the government for another term.

Opposition performance relates to how weak or strongly the opposition party has performed. In order for an opposition party to gain votes and possibly win an election. The opposition party must successfully identify a policy weakness of the existing government. The opposition party must then develop alternative policy options for the voters. However, if an existing government is clearly going to be defeated in the next election. The best tactic for an opposition would be to make few policy commitments.

Economic management is possibly the greatest factor in elections. Economic stability and profitability in a government is fundamentally one of the most important issues. Profitability is more than just a government being in an account surplus. It also includes the ability of a government to provide successful funding to public systems. Stability refers to no great economic fluctuations. Voters lose confidence in governments if economic conditions are always changing.

Leadership is important for a party. This is because often people look at the figurehead of the party, rather then the party as whole. Spin doctors or image consultants work on many factors of a leader’s profile. This is to make them as appealing to the public as possible. Leadership also includes how well the leader can hold the party together. This demonstrates a sign of strength to the voters. Strength alludes to the factors of authority and power.

The electoral campaign decisions a party has to make include timing to start the campaign, advertising campaigns and areas to target. Timing to start an electoral campaign is important. If a campaign is to close to the election date key policy may not be heard by voters. If the campaign is announced too quickly it will give the opposition time to criticize the policy of the governments. Advertising is expensive and if it is done wrong it can be costly, however, if it is done correctly it can win an election. In recent times Mass media is a great way to advertise this is due to its impact and coverage. However, mass media advertising has to be carefully constructed, this is to minimize any chance of a mistake. Where to target advertising can also be an important decision. Parties often tend to heavily advertise in marginal seats, however, this policy has been costly. This is because other seats have lost support for the party and swung to another party.

Media is seen as one of the greatest influences on modern politics. Due to the introduction of television and radio news about politics is always being articulated. This is because people use media as the main medium to decide on political parties. However, recent pools suggest that media being so influential is overrated. This is due to free to air media needing to gain ratings to sell advertising. Thus, if a political party is unpopular it would not be in the media’s best interest to support the party. As the media could potentially lose ratings. It is echoed by John Willmott that media doesn’t set political opinion it just merely enforces it.

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