What is the Voter Choice Project?

The Voter Choice Project is a research project on the next Australian federal election (due to be called between August 2018 and May 2019) investigating why people vote the way they do.

The Voter Choice Project is a panel study. We will deploy a minimum of seven questionnaires or ‘waves’ to a panel of respondents in an effort to capture what forces or influences are shaping voters decisions. Specifically the study will look at:

  • personal conversation and influence of workmates, friends and family;
  • media consumption and influence, including social media;
  • direct contact with the campaigns of political parties and any influence they have; and,
  • vote intention at each wave – including level of commitment to that vote intention – to determine the time in the electoral cycle at which a voter’s decision is made.

A number of baseline political, personality and demographic questions will also be asked to assist in the interpretation of results.

Aim of the Voter Choice Project

The aim of the Voter Choice Project is to explore why Australians vote the way they do, with the hope of making election campaigns work better for voters. This involves finding out what personal, media or campaign influences voters respond to in deciding who to vote for, and when in the campaign cycle they make their vote decision.

There is a significant body of academic research and polling done on ‘who’ votes for which Australian political parties, their social and demographic characteristics, and their attitudes to the dominant political issues. However, the deeper question of ‘why’ people vote for a particular party or candidate, and ‘how’ or ‘when’ they came to that decision, is not well researched in Australia. This project is seeking to answer some of the ‘why’, ‘how’ and ‘when’ of Australian voter decision.

In 1940, a team of researchers at Columbia’s Office of Radio Research, headed by Paul Lazarsfeld, conducted one of the first major studies in voter behaviour in Erie County, Ohio. Published as The People’s Choice (Lazarsfeld, Berelson & Gaudet 1968 [1944]), it dispelled a number of myths about why people vote the way they do, including discovering that swinging voters were largely apathetic and disinterested (rather than highly interested and intelligent, as was believed by political operatives at the time), that media had a very limited effect on influencing people’s votes, and that personal connections were the most influential force.

A second study on the 1948 Presidential election in Elmira, New York, confirmed and deepened the understanding of voting as an inescapably social act (Berelson, Lazarsfeld & McPhee 1954). Over the years the Columbia theories have both been supported and challenged by numerous studies; however, their methodology, a multi-wave panel that tracks each individual’s vote decision process for a number of months in the lead up to the election, is used all over the world. To date, it has never been used in an Australian study. The Voter Choice Project is based on the Columbia studies and will be the first multi-wave panel study of voter behaviour in Australia.

From the results it is hoped we will come to understand the motivations of Australian voters in far greater depth and detail than ever before, learn when people are making their voting decisions, and who or what is influential in the public or private sphere in the formation of those decisions. The larger goal is to improve political campaigning, political news coverage, and political communication generally, to something that voters find worthwhile and useful.

The results can also be used in non-political ways by other organisations trying to reach people making complex social decisions, such as trying to get people to make healthier eating choices, waste less, or choose to support a particular social cause or idea.

Who is behind the Voter Choice Project?

The Voter Choice Project is lead by Raphaella Kathryn Crosby, a former political and communication strategist who has worked on many election and other campaigns in Australia, the US and Israel. She is best known in Australia for her time running the Australian Democrats, but has worked on all sides of Australian politics, counting organisations as diverse as Agribusiness Australia and the ACTU as former clients.

Raphaella is a member of the International Association of Political Consultants. You can connect with Raphaella on LinkedIn or Twitter.

The Voter Choice Project is an independent initiative to research voter behaviour and advocate for voters. It is not funded by, nor affiliated with, any political party.

The research is part of Raphaella’s PhD being undertaken at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), under the supervision of Associate Professor Bligh Grant at the Institute of Public Policy and Governance, assisted by Adjunct Professor Hilary Yerbury in the School of Communication. The study has been approved by the UTS Human Research Ethics Committee (HREC Ref No ETH17-1987).

This research is supported by an Australian Government Research Training Program Scholarship. (This is a standard PhD scholarship, not special government funding for the Project.)