Can changing consumer behaviour help make Australia a republic?

Recently I was asked to join Steve Price on radio for his weekly media and marketing segment with Paul Gardner (you can listen to the recording if you have a spare 20 minutes.)

The topic of discussion was the re-emergence of the Australian republic debate and whether Australians are more open to it now than they were back in 1999 when the referendum was held.

As part of the preparation for the discussion, I thought about shifts in both the media landscape and consumer attitudes over that relatively short time frame. I don’t know why I was so surprised by the extent of change, perhaps it is because 1999 feels like just a few weeks ago (or is that just me?) regardless I thought the findings and opinions worth sharing.

My view was that based on the changes in both consumer attitudes and the media landscape, the Republican argument would stand a much better chance of a referendum victory now than it did back in 1999 (when, spoiler alert, they lost!!!). Based on an increased global perspective, consumers now understand the concept and importance of national independence more – an important tenant of the Republican argument.

The extent and pace with which this expanded global perspective has permeated the Australian population recently has been extraordinary, largely due to a combination of:

* Direct experiences – overseas travel has increased 130% since 1999 vs a population increase of just 30%.
* Global media exposure – eg. 2 million unique Australian views of the Guardian last month.

What this means for the Republican movement is that a greater percentage of the population has a better appreciation of the benefits of independence particularly with reference to decision making around national and global issues (e.g. military conflict involvement).

The monarchist movement in 1999 cleverly used a platform “Now is not the time”. So rather than take on the Republican movement head on, they played on the apathy of the public and turned the debate into an issue of prioritisation – ie. there are more important things to worry about right now. The unfortunate Republicans lacked a messaging strategy to counter that particular argument and couldn’t create a compelling conversation about how maybe “maybe is the time.”

Today though, the way consumers engage in social and political topics has dramatically changed. The digital landscape has exploded since 1999 and Australians have become power users of a number of these platforms.

Just take a look at some of the “then and now” stats:

* Australian Internet penetration 40% (1999) vs 90% (2015)
* Facebook users 0 (1999) vs 13 million (2015)
* Smart phone penetration 0% (1999) – 80% (2015)

And Australians don’t just use Facebook,  they are voracious consumers:

* 13 million active users each month with an average time spent of 1.7 hours per day.
* 1 out of every three minutes on a mobile is spent on a Facebook property (Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Messenger)

So what does this all mean for Australia’s likelihood of getting a ‘yes’ vote if another referendum were to be called?

Unlike in 1999, these platforms would help the Republican movement a provide greater level of understanding of a nuanced position via mass conversations. The latest Australian stats showed on average, of those that have discovered new information on Facebook, 60% would go on to learn more and about 35% of people who have discovered a business or product on Facebook would share that with their friends. The Republican movement needed people to be jolted from their everyday apathy and it needed people to understand why change was important. It also needed to provide tailored messages to different groups of consumers, a complex mission that they were unable to deliver on in 1999.

The Republic issue is not exactly front of mind for most Australians today but its advocates and supporters would have a much better chance of creating meaningful debate in 2015. The ability to reach Australians in a mass-personal way means the movement could address a range of concerns, and highlight a number of different benefits to different constituents.

Independent thinking about independence? It could be just around the corner.

Andrew Siwka
@andrew_siwka