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Support for the Voice is failing: Blame it on the Yes campaign
After a strong swell of support early in the game, support for the Voice referendum has turned and is in steady decline. As the campaign wears on, voters are switching from Yes to No, with recent polling showing that, if conducted now, the referendum would not be successful.
The Yes campaign has to take responsibility for the swing towards No. From celebrity gaffes, to moralistic sermonising, to shocking revelations of Trojan horse intentions, team Yes has done little to reassure uncertain or soft No voters that voting Yes is a safe bet.
Polls show voters switching from Yes to No
The referendum will propose an alteration to the constitution to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders as the First Peoples of Australia by establishing an independent advisory body to Parliament and Government, called the Voice. For the referendum to pass, a majority of people in a majority of states need to vote yes.
Polling conducted by Newspoll for The Australian showed that not only is support for the Yes campaign slipping, but the No campaign is gaining ground. In this poll, the No vote has overtaken Yes in both overall majority, and in the all-important state-by-state count, with four of the six states (Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia, Tasmania) indicating a No vote and just two (Victoria and New South Wales) delivering Yes vote majorities.
Another poll reported in the Sydney Morning Herald similarly showed the No vote overtaking the Yes vote last month. Support remained high in Victoria and NSW, but had dropped off in other states. 18 per cent of voters polled were undecided.
Unlike Newspoll’s results, Tasmania returned a Yes vote in this poll. However, the SMH reports that due to the small sample size in this state, the result should be, “treated with caution.”
A third poll of regional east coast areas showed the lowest recorded support for the Voice from any poll so far. The poll, conducted by Australian Community Media's research division, had a large sample size (over 10,000 respondents). Only 38 per cent of respondents said they would vote Yes. 55 per cent of respondents said they would vote No, and seven per cent were undecided. By comparison, Newspoll results showed that 62 per cent of regional Australians intended to vote No.
Loss of support a result of self-sabotage
I joined Chris Smith on TNT radio last week to discuss a few topical issues, including the question of why support for the Yes campaign is sliding (Click here and queue to 14:00 to listen).
I argue that the Yes campaign is failing largely due to self-sabotage. I am one of those voters who started out leaning towards Yes but has since revised my position and will likely vote No. As I told Chris, I’m a university educated, city-dwelling laptop worker. People like me like the idea of the Voice (this is confirmed by The Australian poll).
However, to vote in the referendum, Australians need more than a ‘nice idea’ to work with. This is where the Yes campaign has come up short.
5 ways the Yes campaign has sabotaged itself
Inarticulate, not enough detail
Lack of detail is the biggest setback for the Yes campaign, which has prevaricated on the fine print. Official campaign materials use DE&I language of aspiration and inclusion to speak broadly of representation and empowerment.
However, many of the specifics are to be determined through the post-referendum process. In other words, ‘don’t worry about the devil in the detail - just trust us, ok?’ This hasn’t been helped by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s (Albo) inability to clearly articulate what the Voice is, and how it will work.
Celebrity and corporate allyship smacks of tokenistic inauthenticity
When Albo wheeled out American NBA star Shaq O’Neal at a press conference late last year to discuss the Voice, he drew strong criticism. What did an American sports star have to do with an Australian referendum? Did Albo understand the seriousness of changing the constitution or did he think this was some kind of commercial sponsorship deal? Since then, pharma giant Pfizer and a slew of other corporate entities, sports teams and celebrities have pledged support for the Voice, contributing to the perception that this is a politicised popularity contest moreso than a serious national discussion about reconciliation and constitutional change.
Moralising - ‘Only racist bigots vote no’
The Yes campaign has tended to reduce the No position down to one of moral failure or bad intent. This is bound to get Undecided and soft No voters offside - the very people the Yes side needs to swing. It’s well established that, if you want to change someone’s mind, you must first begin by demonstrating that you can understand and articulate their position. The Yes campaign has struggled to do this. (Click here to see below tweet)
Doublespeak raises fears of Trojan horse
In recent weeks, two leading Yes campaign figures, Thomas Mayo and Teela Reid, have been revealed to have stated publicly and unequivocally that they view the Voice as instrumental to achieving ‘reparations, land back, paid rent’. Mayo has suggested that the Voice can be used to strong-arm politicians by ‘punishing’ them (presumably with cultural and media pressure) if they don’t do what the advisory body recommends. Mayo has criticised Australians for believing the headlines, yet has not retracted his statements. Meanwhile, Minister for Indigenous Australians, Linda Burney, denies that the Voice will have any power other than providing advice on four key areas of concern (health, education, jobs and housing), but she says that these areas of priority will not be legislated and will be ‘based on trust.’
Playing down legitimate concerns
Albo and Burney (both of the Labor Party, which is campaigning for Yes) have responded to legitimate questions and concerns in turn with irritation, hand waving, moralising, or insistence that the concerns are unjustified. None of these responses are likely allay concerns among voters seeking clarity and reassurance.
No for now, but there’s still time
As support for the Voice declines, so do Albo’s approval ratings, which have hit their lowest level since he was elected in 2022. But, public opinion is fickle. There’s still time to flip the vote back to Yes, with the referendum not taking place until later this year (the date is as yet undetermined). A sharp change in Yes campaign strategy will be required to turn the polls around. A new grass-roots community funding initiative may do the trick. A little bit of help from Meta probably won’t hurt either.
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