Curries and chicken coops: how good PR can impact political success

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Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s approval rating has risen to its highest in four months. From cooking curries to quarantining with photographers, how does good PR translate to political success? The Feed asked an expert.

Since Prime Minister Scott Morrison returned from a trip to Japan last week, he’s been self-isolating at The Lodge in Canberra.

Thanks to his photographer, who’s also been in quarantine, Australians know just what the PM has been up to. The Daily Telegraph splashed with these ‘exclusive photos’ of Mr Morrison taking calls in his boardshorts and working out on an exercise bike.

Positive media coverage has followed. The Today Show posted images of the PM practising barre and wrote an article about his comments that his first day of quarantine had ‘gotten off to a bad start’.

"It didn't start too well with the Blues going down last night," Mr Morrison told host Ally Langdon.

Some accused 60 Minutes of favourable reporting towards the PM last night after an interview between Mr Morrison and reporter Tom Steinfort.

Steinfort told the PM he dropped off Tim Tams and beer for his brother when he was in quarantine and asked, “have Jenny and the girls sent you through anything similar?”

“I must say, I'm very well looked after here… Of course, I miss the girls and Jenny, as people would expect. I mean, that's no different to everyone else in quarantine,” Mr Morrison replied, sitting beside a well-positioned family photo.

#60Mins began trending on social media, as some called out the interview for failing to ask hard-hitting questions.

“That wasn't an interview, that was a friendly chat,” one person complained on Twitter.

“It was like #60Mins were just having a general chit chat with their mate over a cuppa,” added another.

Questions about a COVID vaccine and border closures were also raised during the segment.

It comes the PM received some promising news this week: his approval rating, according to an Essential poll, has just hit 66 percent - the highest it’s been in four months. 

‘The everyday man’

Dr Mark Rolfe, an expert in political language and propaganda at the University of NSW, says political marketing has “always been important, not just recently with our glorious leader known as Scomo.”

He says political identity is possibly more important than policy issues.

“It’s something that has been going on for 200 years and yet, there is this idea that these past leaders didn’t indulge in spin,” he said.

Dr Rolfe says Mr Morrison reminds him of Joseph Lyons, the 10th Australian Prime Minister, who was elected in 1932.

“With Joseph Lyons, he takes the ‘everyman’ approach, the ‘ordinary suburban man with a family’ approach,” Dr Rolfe said.

“It’s the representation of the suburbs that carries through from Lyons to Menzies to Scomo,” he added.

Dr Rolfe says the Lyons family would organise photographers to cover their trips on the ferry from Melbourne to Tasmania.

“You’d see them sending them off at the pier or they’d send bits to photographers of Mrs Lyons redecorating the home, the Lodge in Canberra. It’s this emphasis on domesticity.”

He says Mr Morrison has also posted Lyonesque images of himself building a chicken coop for his wife and children at the Lodge and cooking up curries for the family.

‘Small poppy syndrome’ 

For Australians, Dr Rolfe says, it’s important that politicians appear down-to-earth and not too arrogant.

“Australians want you to admit that you shouldn’t be up yourself, and you should be just like the rest of us. Hence, you had John Howard wearing trackie dacks, watching the sport and leaping up when the Wallabies won over the All Blacks,” he said.

Opposition Leader, Anthony Albanese, has accused the Prime Minister of being “all photo op and no follow up.” However, like Mr Morrison, he has projected an image of himself as an authentic Aussie. 

He’s done so by telling his story of growing up in public housing and being raised by a single mother, as well as emphasising his affinity for The Rabbitohs, according to Dr Rolfe. 

Mr Albanese has also had a beer named in his honour in an inner-Sydney microbrewery, the ‘Albo Corn Ale Beer’, and was seen djing and drinking stubbies of Melbourne Bitter at a Victorian hotel in 2016.

“There’s a notion of hard work, of raising himself up from poor origins. That’s a message that appeals to Australians,” Dr Rolfe said. 

But Dr Rolfe says political PR is a balancing act as too much spin can make a politician appear disingenuine. 

“The difficulty these days is that media is so prevalent, it's 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” he said.

“There's a problem of too much coverage, which may either dial-up your prime ministerial message, or make people sick of you.”