Information Flow and Voter Decision Making in the 2001 Australian Federal Election: The Role of International and Domestic Issues

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Abstract

This article examines the role of TV coverage in voter decision making during the 2001 Australian federal election campaign, called just weeks after a major asylum seeker incident and the September I I terrorist attacks. It does so by exploring voters' differential reliance on two distinct, high profile sets of issues that dominated media election campaign coverage: the domestic issues that had been the focus throughout the election year (especially health, education, and taxes) and the international issues that assumed centre stage just before the election was called (refugees and asylum seekers, terrorism, and defence and national security). Using an original content analysis of TV coverage and the 2001 Australian election survey, interaction effects models yield significantly different patterns of reliance on international and domestic for groups of voters. These effects are distinguished by the timing of individuals' vote choice, and the level of their existing political interest and information. Moderately interested voters, who largely decided their vote choice about the time the election was called, were the most likely to cite international issues as the key to their vote choice. Voters with lower levels of political interest, deciding just before or on election day, were significantly more reliant on domestic issues. These patterns represent a variant on Zaller's (1989) model of campaign information flow, and suggest a single, high-intensity campaign-especially in Australia's compulsory voting system, which forces the participation of the country's least interested and informed individuals-can sustain within it two distinct issue agendas which voters with different cognitive skills and responsiveness to TV cues differentially utilize to inform their vote choice.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)397-412
JournalPolitical Research Quarterly
Volume58
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2005

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