14 October 2020

Why does Canberra have so many corflutes? And is it just us?

| Campbell Rhodes
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Parties use corflutes because they work. Probably. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Like the poplar fluff and the swooping magpies, spring elections mean both corflutes and complaints about corflutes. Have you ever wondered, why does Canberra seem to be swamped by these things every election? And is it just us?

Certainly the posters are hard to ignore. Of course, that’s the point – you’re not supposed to ignore them, you’re supposed to pay attention! But why are there so many? Why does it seem like we’re swimming in them?

It comes down to a confluence of three factors: our electoral system, our geography and the culture of Canberra.

The Hare-Clark Five

Canberra uses the Hare-Clark electoral system, and voters choose five members per electorate. Because the voters of each seat have to choose five people, there are more candidates than you’d get in a typical state or federal election.

Because the seats are so small and the candidate pool so large, there’s a glut of advertising around. On top of that, you have to choose all your preferences yourself as each party’s candidates are also running against one another.

One way for a candidate to bust through is name recognition, because there will only usually be a handful of candidates in a seat with any kind of city-wide profile. Everyone else has to hope enough people know them, and the easiest way to do that is to put their name and smiling face in as many places as possible.

READ MORE Corflute congestion drives a stake through voters’ hearts

Spreading Out

I’ve not counted them and it’s possible we don’t have that many more than you’d find elsewhere, but the corflutes are concentrated so you notice them more. Our seats are some of the smallest in Australia and the posters are crammed in tightly, so they seem overwhelming.

Add to this the way Canberra is laid out. We have town centres, surrounded by suburbs, connected by long arterial roads.

The most common place you see these corflutes is along these major connecting roads like Yamba Drive, the Parkway, or the Monaro. They’re the perfect spots for this kind of advertising – long stretches of blank roadside and no competition for space (except for other corflutes!)

And, of course, we don’t have billboard advertising in Canberra at any other time. That makes the sudden efflorescence of corflutes all the more jarring.

The Bubble

The public sector is the biggest employer in Canberra and a lot of government happens here. While there are plenty of locals who don’t particularly care about the ACT election, the ‘Canberra Bubble’ probably means those that do care tend to care more, and thus the intensity of the advertising is ramped up.

Individual candidates use a lot of social media and direct mail, as well as posters, to get people interested, leaving the TV and radio spots mostly to their leaders and parties. An engaged electorate means there’s more chance a candidate’s message will be heard.

Does it work?

Not a lot of research and analysis is done on ACT elections, and there’s no scientific way to really judge whether or not the corflute-bombing tactic pays off.

My instinct is that it probably does, because of the aforementioned importance of name recognition. Couple this with a basic tenet of advertising in general, and politics: if it didn’t work, they’d stop doing it.

It’s only for a few more days everyone! Hang in there!

Campbell Rhodes is a Canberra writer and political researcher.

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russianafroman10:37 pm 17 Oct 20

Election’s over, time to get rid of these things. If we’re actually allowed I’ll gladly take some of those stakes for my tomato bushes.

South Australia has already banned the use of political corflutes. Its about time ACT did the same.

Such a glass half empty article! So many for the stakes and corflute:

tomato stakes
lining sheds
building play houses and huts
temporary flooring
covering broken windows
DIY signs
props and theatre sets
paint boards for kids
snow sledding and more!

russianafroman8:19 pm 14 Oct 20

Yeah but the majority aren’t being used for those purposes and instead are ending up in water catchments and strewn all over the road after people deliberately hit them

Those of us who take an ongoing interest in local issues know who we are going to vote for and are not going to be persuaded by conflutes. But the majority of Canberra voters don’t really care and will always vote for the same party because it gives them a warm inner glow of self delusional moral superiority, irrespective of the merits of their chosen party or candidates. Those who always vote Labor will remember the names on the red conflutes and those who always vote Liberal will remember the names on the blue conflutes.

Political advertising can work against candidates too,
I’ve seen a trailer being towed around Molonglo promoting a particular candidate.
I’ve also seen it and its vehicle parked on the side of the road for extended periods of time.
I’m not suggesting they are doing anything illegal at all, but to me it seems like a way of getting around the restrictions on roadside advertising.

That sends a message that the candidate is very willing to push the limits of the letter of the law while going against the spirit of the law.

Not really the attitude I want in an elected representative (and yes most if not all politicians could be described like that, but such blatant actions sit poorly with me).

Every time I see that trailer on the side of the road, the chances of me voting for that candidate drops.

Completely agree Spiral, but doesn’t seem to have harmed the current MLA whose vehicles became notorious a campaign or (probably two now) ago for being caught multiple times on the old ‘bad parking’ threads on Riotact.

I think the proliferation of corflutes has been an aspect of the ACT that has been embraced legally and culturally. ACT tends to be very lenient with roadside corflute advertising compared with councils in other states/territories. Corflute culture is something that is seen as a distinguished part of ACT culture and is emulated in other Australian cities where there had been no corflute culture before. The irony when The Greens call for bans and limits on roadside electoral corflutes is that outside of election campaigns, many of the roadside corflutes across Canberra are for green-left issues and events and their advocacy against electoral corflutes may be more to do with their inability to match the amount of other parties’ corflutes instead of genuine environmental concerns. I do think that repetitive corflutes in the same location, irrespective of party or politician is over-the-top and imbalanced.

The Greens don’t seem to have used them this year.

It shall be interesting to see if that makes any difference to their results.

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