A complex mindset of electors during polarising times

Elections are festivals of democracies. The festival of March 2021 WA state election started on 24 February 2021. The festival culminates on 13 March 2021, the Election Day.

A long and hard election campaign

I kicked off my election campaign about six months ago — in early September 2020 — when I started announcing my thoughts — on our current issues and future challenges — via local newspapers and social media. As I had a lead of about four months, my rival candidates from the two large parties had open access to my thoughts at the time of announcement of their names as candidates for Bateman. Unlike them, my campaign has undoubtedly been very long and consuming. Unlike them, I also don’t enjoy disproportionately large pools of resources — man and money power — posters and IT / internet campaigning . In particular, the last two months have been quite strenuous for me, both physically and mentally draining, during which I walked every street of every suburb. In the last two months, except for the 5-day lockdown period, I walked an average of about 4 hours each day.

An unusually long Early Voting period

In this election, due to Covid-19 considerations, the early voting period stretches over a long period of 18 days, which includes 13 voting days, each from 8 am to 6 pm. Such a prolonged early voting period severely disadvantages and stretches the resources of smaller parties and independent candidates, much to the benefit of the two larger parties. It also has the potential to significantly wear down the candidates and their volunteers before the Election Day.

In the first week of early voting, at the Gateway Booragoon centre, apparently as a show of camaraderie, candidates from smaller parties and independents were seen freely chatting and exchanging their thoughts. Unlike their rival candidates from the two largest parties, they appeared to enjoy a much higher degree of autonomy, something similar to small business owners as compared to the representatives of larger businesses.

During the last one week, at the early voting centre, gaining respect from my rival candidates and their volunteers has been a major win for me. Most people seem to have liked my campaign and policies. Interestingly, after meeting me and knowing my thoughts, the volunteers of different parties have shown surprise at the preferences made by their parties. Obviously, not all preferences have been made by the bigger parties based on ideologies and merits of rival parties and candidates.

Divisive projects

During my campaign, many electors contacted me to know my views on various controversial issues and the points noted on my election pamphlet. I have tried my best to clarify the issues raised to their reasonable satisfaction.  For example, on 8 February 2021, I received an email from an elector who initially wanted to know my preferences and indirectly assess whether I was a Liberal or Labor supporter. As it turned out, he also wanted to know my stand on a controversial highway project, Roe 8 extension, which has seemingly divided the stakeholders along party lines. The project was started initially by the erstwhile Liberal government but subsequently dumped by the current Labor government, citing environmental concerns, mainly for attracting the Green voters. The following is the chain of emails:

Dear Bill, my name is … and I saw your recent flyer in my post box with a great interest. Although I agree with what you said with the current issues at hand, I wouldn’t mind knowing where you put your preference to. Upon receipt of this email could you kindly advise me please? Warm regards.”

My immediate response was as follows:

“Dear Mr …Thank you for your email and a positive feedback. As for the preferences, our suggestion is as follows: Vote 1 for Bill Koul (Western Australia Party) and Vote 2 for the party that you want to form the government? I’ll represent the electorate to the best of my capability, as promised – be our voice and work constructively with the government – for the betterment of my electorate and the state of WA – without wasting any time.  We believe in constructive, middle-of-the-road, politics to address a range of peoples’ chronic issues and potential future issues – in a timely manner – and not in offering any short-term, patchy solutions. One must treat the root of a problem and just the symptoms. I hope this email is helpful. Best regards, Bill”

A day later, on 9 February 2021, he responded as:

Thank you for replying, will you be preferencing Liberals, Labor or Greens? Thank you.”

I replied as follows: 

“Dear Mr … I believe your email is in relation to my personal preferences. Frankly speaking, at this stage, it is a little difficult for me to confirm it, as I have not seen the agenda or the policies of other nominated candidates … My decision will be based on what is best for Bateman and WA. I’ll wait till the Election Day to finalise my personal preferences. Regards, Bill”

Seemingly, not happy with my response, he continued:

Thank you for your non-committed reply, I can tell you will be backing Labor. I will not be voting for you in that case, regards.

Early morning, on 10 February 2021, I responded to him as follows:

“Dear Mr … Good morning. Your vote is very important for me and I hope you rethink your decision based on what I am committed to do. For the last one month, I have been walking around 20 km each day through the streets of the electorate and trying to reach out to people. I have taken full time off my work and dedicated it to the electorate. I am not a career politician but I am committed to serve the people. I assure you that you won’t be disappointed with my performance. Regards, Bill” 

The gentlemen then came straight to the point:

Thank you for your reply, you must have a view on Roe 8, 9. Are you for or against this project? Thanks.”

“Dear Mr … Thank you. I am not against any project that helps common people, eases daily life, is sustainable and deemed important for the state of WA. As a professional engineer, with experience spanning over nearly 4 decades, I have learnt to think outside the box and provide robust and sustainable engineering solutions to projects that have been considered to be difficult.  Being an engineer, I am a ‘can do’ person. Engineering, science and technology make things happen. A problem can have several solutions but no problem is insurmountable. Patience and application are required. Regards, Bill”

There was no further communication after the above email. It is noteworthy that, for winning voters like the above gentleman, the Liberals are again running their campaign in favour of the Roe 8 project and, interestingly, have given a higher preference to the Greens to win their support.  

Earlier, in January 2021. during my door-to-door campaign, I was awkwardly caught up between two friendly neighbours (perhaps relatives) in a cul-de-sac not far from Leach Highway, which is reported to bear a major brunt of the consequences of Roe 8’s stoppage. One of them, who claimed to be a civil-structural engineer with a PhD, was passionately in favour of recommencement of construction for Roe 8, whereas the other gentleman, seemingly older than the first one, was passionately concerned with the environmental ramification of the project and, therefore, completely opposed to it.

There are several other emails that I must respond to before the election day. Amongst them is an email about abortion from Pro Life.

A complex mindset of voters

The electorate of Bateman looks to be deeply polarised along red and blue party lines. The loyalty factor may potentially be the defining factor in this election, making even an educated elector completely disregard a good candidate, with good policies, from a third party.

The following five cases are currently at play:

  • The elector likes you but not your policies (or your party’s);
  • The elector likes your policies but not your appearance or background;
  • The elector neither likes you nor your policies (or your party’s);
  • The elector likes you and your policies (but not your party);
  • The elector likes you and your policies (and even your party) but still does not vote for you.

It is the last case that falls in a tricky grey zone where the elector’s decision will be driven possibly by a complex thought process, mainly by his / her perception about you, concerns about your performance, personal expectations and, above all, his / her previous loyalty to a particular large party.

Time alone will tell if the informed voters on the middle ground would be able to give a good third-party candidate enough votes to cross the line.

A divided electorate

This election is unique in many ways. On the back of WA’s enviable economic record and overall performance during the pandemic, both on the back of the WA government’s hard-border policy, the WA premier enjoys an unprecedented popularity in the state of WA and possibly elsewhere. In all likelihood, the Labor government will return with a resounding success. The sole point of interest remains in the number of seats that the opposition Liberal party will able to salvage.

The traditional Labor voters, irrespective of their educational and professional backgrounds, possibly see this election as an excellent opportunity to turn a new page in the history of their electorates and win traditional safe Liberal seats, such as the seat of Bateman. This makes them potentially disregard any other good candidate from a third party; howsoever good that candidate may be in terms of experience and policies. Interestingly, to win Liberal and independent voters, Bateman electors have received a letter from the desk of the Premier asking for vote in favour of the Labor candidate for Bateman. Not surprisingly, at the Early Election voting centre at Booragoon, the Labor candidate can be heard these days asking for votes in the name of the Premier.

On the other hand, going by the sheer number of posters in the streets and at the voting centre, backed by a large number of letters and pamphlets being dropped frequently in the letterboxes and a vigorous internet campaigning, the Liberal candidate for Bateman, supported by a large number of traditional Liberal voters, is trying everything possibly to win the seat. Similar to their Labor counterparts, the traditional Liberal voters too may possibly overlook good candidates from third parties.

We shall soon find out if the largely educated electorate of Bateman is politically aware and informed or if it is also influenced mainly by the colours (blue and red) of the two largest political parties and driven by their traditional political loyalty.

The electorate of Bateman needs an experienced, sincere and visionary member of parliament, one who can selflessly serve the entire electorate and easily handle and address the needs of those on the left, the right and most of us who are in the centre, and the Greens. One would hope the electorate of Bateman makes an informed decision before casting their sacred vote, taking into consideration the actual credentials and merit of the candidates.

Will voters of the Bateman electorate be able to look beyond the colours? Hope the colours don’t make their views of the future obscure to them. Hope they consider merit, experience and capability of all individual candidates in their decision making before casting their invaluable votes. Hope!

…. Bill Koul (Perth, Western Australia, 01 March 2021)

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