Electoral databases: Big Brother or democracy unbound?

Peter Van Onselen, Wayne Errington

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    19 Citations (Scopus)

    Abstract

    Modern political campaigning is becoming increasingly professionalised to the extent that in Australia today the major parties use electoral databases to assist with their campaigns. The electoral databases of the Coalition (Feedback) and the Australian Labor Party (Electrac) store information on the constituents of each House of Representatives seat. The information gathered in the databases, such as the policy preferences and party identification of individual voters, are used by candidates for House seats to tailor correspondence to swinging voters, and to identify potential party supporters. Party organisations aggregate the information in the databases and use it to conduct polls and focus groups of swinging voters, and to tailor policy development and campaign strategies. Electoral databases have the potential to improve the level of communication between elected representatives and their constituents. There are, however, a number of ethical problems associated with their use. While the usefulness of the databases to the major political parties is undeniable, their use underlines the trend in modern campaigning towards targeting swinging voters at the expense of the majority of the electorate. Considerable public resources are devoted to the smooth operation of the databases. They would be much less effective were political parties not exempted from the Privacy Act. The use of personal information collected by members of parliament by political parties should be more closely regulated. Despite the wishes of the major political parties to keep their operation a secret, the advantages and disadvantages of the use of electoral databases should be more widely debated.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)349-366
    Number of pages18
    JournalAustralian Journal of Political Science
    Volume39
    Issue number2
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 2004

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