News National Malcolm Turnbull’s FM radio strategy is a sound move – but a poor substitute for good policy
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Malcolm Turnbull’s FM radio strategy is a sound move – but a poor substitute for good policy

Malcolm Turnbull
PM Malcolm Turnbull couldn't 'rap' his way out of butting heads with Waleed Aly. Photo: Network 10/The Project
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It’s become just that bit harder to ignore federal politics since Malcolm Turnbull began his FM radio blitz in August. At least that’s what the PM and his strategists are hoping.

According to his official website (and as reported by The New Daily here), the PM has ramped up the number of chats with FM radio hosts from less than five a month in May, June and July to nine FM appearances in August and 11 this month.

The shift to youth-oriented radio stations appears to be the latest strategy being trialled by Mr Turnbull in the hope of turning around the government’s poor standing in the opinion polls.

Although not all FM stations are targeted at young audiences, they’re still one of the few communication channels that can consistently reach that demographic.

The PM is at least right in judging that the youth vote will be a big deciding factor in the next federal election.

According to research by The Grattan Institute, one of Australia’s more reputable think tanks, “voters under the age of 34 are seven percentage points less likely to vote for the Coalition” than the national average. The institute also found that more young people are voting in elections, with the proportion of 18-year-olds lodging a vote increasing from 50 per cent at the 2013 election to 70 per cent in 2016. This percentage is likely to increase again next election, given that young voters have been energised by the same-sex marriage postal survey.

The Australian Electoral Commission reports that over 98,000 new voters enrolled during August so they could participate in the SSM survey. Nearly 18,000 of those voters are aged 60 and over, and they tend to vote conservative. Even if they vote for One Nation or Cory Bernardi’s party, most of those votes will return to the Coalition through preferences.

However nearly 48,000 of the new voters are under 20, and the vast majority, 74,000, are under 30. Spread out across the nation, that number may not appear to be much, but just like votes on election day, it matters more where they are counted. Ten of the Coalition’s marginal seats saw an influx of new young voters thanks to the postal survey, with 70-80 per cent of all newly enrolled voters in those electorates aged under 30.

Malcolm Turnbull needs to win over those younger voters if he is to have any chance of winning the next election.

That explains the PM’s new love for FM radio, and also his appearance on the youth-oriented commercial television show The Project this week.

In case you missed it, Mr Turnbull used the opportunity to slap down Tony Abbott – the self-proclaimed champion of free speech – for trying to censor US musician Macklemore, who’ll be performing a song in support of marriage equality at the NRL Grand Final this weekend.

The live studio audience appeared to enjoy Mr Turnbull’s repudiation of his nemesis and his corny attempts at rapping, even if these efforts were a poor substitute for actually standing up to Mr Abbott in the Coalition party room on the issue.

But it’s going to take a lot more than navigating questions about whether the PM and wife Lucy like to “Netflix and chill” if Malcolm Turnbull is going to rehabilitate his opinion poll standing by courting the youth vote.

The PM is also going to have to be a lot more empathetic and authentic when answering criticisms on the things that young people actually find important – issues like university fees, home affordability, and jobs.

Paula Matthewson was media adviser to John Howard in the early 1990s and then worked for almost 25 years in communication, political and industry advocacy roles. Paula tweets at @Drag0nista.

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