Talking to pollies: You’re forum or against ‘em
I have always been sceptical of televised people’s forums. I always assumed that the audience participants were not truly uncommitted voters and that poll results or “worm” results were not a true reflection of the event.
I have often felt the programs are simply propaganda designed for the question under review. In this specific case - to implement a carbon tax.
An audience member of a recent ABC episode of Q & A confirmed my scepticism. They claimed the whole thing is staged from start to finish including the producers urging the audience to look thoughtful just in case the cameras panned in on their faces. This audience member claimed they were contacted by email for possible questions and every question was deliberately hand picked from those submitted.
I was recently invited by an online polling company to participate in a nationally televised Peoples’ Forum on the carbon tax.
The polling company was seeking people from all political persuasions who were genuinely uncommitted on carbon tax policy. I was allocated to the forum featuring Opposition Leader Tony Abbott.
Attendees keen to ask a question simply gave their name to an official and were allocated a place in a queue. There was no attempt by officials to read or screen questions and consequently the political leaders had no forewarning of questions to be asked.
Before it started I had about one hour to mingle with other attendees. All present were certainly passionate about the topic of carbon tax and held views either in favour or against. There was plenty of discussion, however, that indicated that an alternative view would be considered if either political leader could mount a convincing argument.
Both the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader answered unscripted questions, some of which were predictable. The answers given by both leaders were largely predictable including evasive non-answers to some questions. Many in the audience remarked afterwards that they felt so bombarded by information that it was difficult to digest.
While many attendees were willing to express strong views for or against carbon tax beforehand, only about 30 per cent of those present were willing to ask a question. I was seeing the “silent majority” up close and personal.
All political parties acknowledge the power of the silent majority in determining the outcome of elections and former US President Richard Nixon confirmed this when in his 1969 campaign he famously said “And so tonight – to you, the great silent majority of my fellow Americans – I ask for your support.”
I left convinced that my scepticism of this type of event was unfounded and it accurately represented a cross section of voter opinion. The exit polls indicated that some in the audience were influenced by the arguments put forward by the political leaders on the night.
A televised forum is a very public way for voters to display their passion on unpopular measures and to check the views of their elected officials. For me the Peoples’ Forum was a genuine success.
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