Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s increased presence on the nation’s FM radio airwaves is a brave move – but it could backfire if voters believe he is “slumming”, according to a media expert.
Mr Turnbull has embarked on an FM radio blitz, chatting about Game of Thrones, taking a trivia quiz with former AFL footballer Brendan Fevola and enduring hostile questioning from some pro-same-sex marriage presenters.
That could mark a shift in approach signifying the PM is keen to reach out to younger voters, said one expert.
“It’s an attempt to make Turnbull look a bit more friendly with that demographic and make him seem like a liberal, open-minded ‘cool’ guy rather than the conservative leader of a right-wing political party,” University of Queensland academic Graeme Turner told The New Daily.
It comes amid reports the PM is being urged to embrace ‘underdog’ status ahead of the next election and for the Coalition to focus on attacking Opposition Leader Bill Shorten.
Emeritus Professor Turner, who has researched the way John Howard used talkback radio to his advantage, said the former PM “went on talkback because he knew he would get soft treatment and supportive phone calls”.
“What’s Turnbull is doing, he’s braver than that,” Emeritus Professor Turner said.
“As we’ve seen already, some of the interviews have been pretty aggressive. He’s had to defend himself. He’s doing the hard yards to persuade people inclined to oppose him that there’s something to him.”
Mr Turnbull has been consistently ahead of Mr Shorten as preferred PM in opinion polls, but a ReachTel poll last week that put the margin at 51.6 per cent to 48.4 per cent suggested the gap may have narrowed.
Since August 22, Mr Turnbull has used seven FM radio interviews at regional and metro stations to push policies such as the welfare drug-testing trial, government efforts to lower power prices and his commitment to keeping Australia Day on January 26.
He also appeared on Channel Ten’s The Project, giving his thoughts on the much anticipated boxing match between Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather.
In one particularly ferocious interview on August 22 with 2Day, FM host Em Rusciano accused the PM of giving a platform to homophobia.
In another, with Triple M in Albury, he was asked what it was like to “put your own beliefs aside” on same-sex marriage.
Spoiling Game of Thrones is a no no
Mr Turnbull also sparked headlines in more youth-oriented media last week when he dropped a Game of Thrones spoiler while chatting to NSW regional station Power FM Bega Bay.
Professor Turner said he believed there was a “real risk that that stuff backfires”.
“The one who was good at that was Rudd, partly because he came across as slightly nerdy to the point of being cool,” he said.
“Turnbull comes across as a privileged person and when he talks about that stuff the danger is it looks like he’s slumming. That’s the risk. It could look deliberate rather than a genuine interest.”
Toby Ralph, a veteran political strategist of many federal Liberal campaigns, said Mr Turnbull’s problems went beyond the type of media he chose to do.
“Burbling away on FM radio might lift likeability, but it’ll do little for leadership, and that’s the real job and the real fix,” he said.
But John Ridley, a former Victorian Liberal Party director, told The New Daily, that more FM appearances would allow Mr Turnbull to reach out to voters he’d lost.
“He’s got a lot of catching up to do. He has fundamental perception issues that he needs to address,” said Mr Ridley, who runs the political consultancy Clifton Group.
The Prime Minister’s office was contacted for comment.