Within hours of being returned to his Labor throne, Kevin Rudd was issuing a call to arms for the Australian youth. He implored young Australians to re-engage not just with politics, but with the Labor party, so they could start “cooking with gas”. After all, he said, the last three years had been a “huge national turn-off”.
This is not the beginning of Rudd’s campaign to re-engage young Australians with politics. He is a prolific user of social media, as are many young Australians. Rudd has over 1.2 million followers and an active presence on Twitter. Former PM Julia Gillard has just over 400,000 followers, and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has a very measly 145,000 by comparison. Greens Leader Christine Milne’s 23,000 followers barely register on the Rudd scale. Even a fake @KevinRuddPM account with one tweet has over 400,000 followers. He also has nearly 50,000 followers on Instagram. Rudd regularly updates followers on his life by posting photos of himself with his wife Therese Rein at the rugby, or with cuts on his face from shaving. The retweets, responses and comments left on his interactions on these two social media websites are overwhelmingly positive, with young women and men repeatedly declaring their love for a man who is essentially just another daggy 50-something dad.
Kevin Rudd has spent his time on the backbench quietly shoring up his youth support, and now it appears that he intends to exploit it. Under Julia Gillard, Labor’s youth vote slipped from over 50% in 2007 to 30%, and nearly a quarter of a million young Australians are still not registered to vote in the upcoming Federal election. 47% of Australians aged 18 to 24 believe that no political party represents them at all, according to research released by the Australian institute.
Kevin Rudd is not the first leader seeking to win an election by mobilising young Australians. Former Labor PM Gough Whitlam appealed to young Australians as part of his campaign to win government in 1972, campaigning on the policies of completely stopping the compulsory National Service scheme in the Vietnam War and lowering the national voting age to 18. Another former PM, Paul Keating, told a student protestor to “get a job” and do some work “like the rest of us” in 1995, only to find himself out of a job in favour of John Howard at the 1996 Federal election.
The challenge now for Kevin Rudd is to convert his large youth following online into real-life support. With the largest loss of young supporters from Labor going to the Greens, it’s not surprising that Rudd and his team have picked up a few of the Greens most popular policies. Rudd recently announced his personal change of heart on gay marriage and his intention to support it, a stark contrast to both his predecessor Julia Gillard and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott. Rudd’s deputy Prime Minister Anthony Albanese also confirmed on youth-orientated radio station Triple J that the Rudd Labor government intends to change legislation to make gay marriage legal and recognised in Australia.
Rudd’s attempt to win back the disenfranchised youth voters to the Labor party may have suffered due to an act of self-sabotage, however. His recent announcement of a new plan for tackling the number of asylum seekers who are attempting to reach Australia with the aid of people smugglers has been met with widespread condemnation from many parts of the community. With marches held throughout the country attracting thousands of people, mainly in the 18-24 (and younger) bracket, it is possible that this policy could further reinforce the allegiance of many young Australian voters to the Greens.
The National Broadband Network (NBN) is another policy that Kevin Rudd is using his Instagram and Twitter feeds to push. He intersperses pictures of his family with simple, bright coloured graphics declaring that the Opposition’s “Fraudband” policy will give people “1/4 of the speed for 3/4 of the cost” and photographs of re-worded versions of Kelis’ ‘Milkshake’ song. Rudd’s twitter feed appears to be aimed towards a broader audience, discussing the national school funding reforms, DisabilityCare, and retweeting praise for himself and the ALP.
In the weeks since his return to the top job, Labor’s two party preferred vote has jumped to be nearly equal with the Opposition’s. The week after Kevin Rudd regained the Prime Ministership, 22,000 people enrolled to vote with the Australian Electoral Commission. In a normal week, they have around 8000 people enrol. So far, it appears that young Australians are heeding Kevin Rudd’s call, however it remains to be seen whether his social media antics can act as insurance against some decidedly unpopular policies.
Kevin Rudd’s twitter: @KRuddMP
Kevin Rudd’s instagram: kruddmp