News Analysis: We need to talk about Kevin

News Analysis: We need to talk about Kevin
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In the second installment of B&T’s look at the social election, Michael Batistich, head of insights and analytics at We Are Social, talks to ANDREW JENNINGS about whether being the darling of social media will be enough to get Kevin Rudd over the line come election time.

“Note to self: when rushing out the door in the morning, make sure you take care with the razor. It is sharp. K Rudd.”

So posted the freshly reappointed (and shaved) Prime Minsiter of Australia recently, smiling for the camera, sporting a sliver of bloody tissue on hisright cheek, while sharing the photo with his 35,000 Instagram followers.

Rudd then tweeted the photo to his almost 1.3 million followers. The moment of photographic levity, which followed weeks of Wild West antics in the Politick Australia, proved gold for sub-editors across the land.

“Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is in danger of becoming a faceless man,” pushed one leading newswire. “Kevin Rudd spilt political blood – his own,” quipped a prize horse from the Fairfax stable.

What Rudd’s spontaneous Instagram moment provided was a snapshot of something important, something his supporters whisper could yet carry him to a most audacious election victory.

“The shaving photo, like a lot of things Rudd is doing on social media, makes him seem more personable, more human,” says Michael Batistich, head of insights and analytics at We Are Social.

Rudd’s bounce in the polls since returning to the  leadership a month ago, and his huge lead over Tony Abbott as preferred PM, has been mirrored in public attitudes towards him.

“We’ve seen social sentiment towards Rudd spike to 30% positive against 43% negative, which is interesting because it seems to reflect recent polling,” says Batistich.

Even before he regained the ALP hotseat late last month, and set his sights on reeling in opposition leader Abbott’s once unassailable lead, Rudd was starring in viral videos, chatting with fans and virtually kissing babies on social media.

Rudd’s recent challenge to Abbott to a series of debates sent Twitter into a tizzy, while the flexing of his authority by ordering historic changes to Labor rules that will ensure no sitting Prime Minister can ever again be removed by the party’s “faceless men”, also caused a social stir.

Rudd was at the centre of almost 1,400 Twitter conversations within an hour of the making the “faceless men” announcement.

Interestingly, on a typical day, Rudd can be discussed 400 times in any one hour on social media. Before the Labor leadership spill last month, the ‘Rudd-effect’ on social media was merely a talking point, now that he’s in charge, it’s a constant.

Experts believe that it’s become a powerful weapon heading into the election against Abbott. The spike in polling and social media conversation comes as Rudd continues to enjoy a boost in approval ratings. The latest Newspoll gives him a massive 22 point lead as preferred PM over Abbott.

Sentiment towards Abbott has remained between negative and neutral for the past three months. But Rudd’s popularity has lifted Labor’s primary vote to its best since the last election and put the government dead even with the Coalition after preferences.

Since Rudd was restored as PM, Labor’s primary vote has risen nine percentage points to 38% to equal its level at the August 2010 election. In the same period, the coalition’s primary support has fallen six points to 42%, below its election level.

“Rudd has about a 10 factor social media advantage over Abbott,” says Batistich. “One of his advantages is that he’s already built up a community that is fairly active – he’s never really forgotten about engaging in conversation with people.”

Although Batistich has not noticed a huge grassroots engagement by either candidate, he says there’s been a genuine conversation among the Australian public around the political process.

“What we’ve seen is engagement in the political debate, people talking about it, expressing their views, making comments about one politician over another, one policy over another,” he says.

“We’re not seeing active campaigning at the moment on social media, but that may yet come. “Rudd has such an advantage on social media because he’s been turning up week in week out, commenting, retweeting, responding to people. He shares posts about local community activities, so he has gone towards the grassroots.”

Batistich says Abbott, with less than 200,000 followers, doesn’t have that reach. “It humanises Rudd more, it’s his strength against

Abbott, who seems much more at arm’s reach to people. People can reach out to Kevin, give him a big hug, like everyone seems to be doing in Australia right now.

“He’s playing it well, social media is further humanising the PM.”

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