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john hewson cake

Written by Mitch Collier, Media and Communications Consultant

The early months of 2022 will likely see Australians head to the polls for another federal election.

There are many variables that go into determining the result of an election. The popularity of the respective leaders, policy agenda, track record, and the public’s appetite for continuity or change can all influence electoral outcome. 

But one key ingredient is the ability of leaders to communicate their message. Effective messaging needs to be clear, concise, strike the right tone and resonate with voters.

Below are five communication blunders from modern political history. Some of these politicians weren’t necessarily wrong in what they were technically saying but failed to communicate in an effective manner, while others mentioned just didn’t seem to know what they were talking about (we’ll let you judge for yourselves).


John Hewson 1993 

The 1993 election was dubbed the ‘unlosable election’ for the Liberal Party. Labor had been in government for 10 years, had removed a popular Prime Minister in Bob Hawke, and Australia was still reeling from a devastating recession. 

All was going well until then Liberal Leader John Hewson couldn’t clearly explain whether the cost of a birthday cake would increase under his proposed GST. Ten days later Hewson lost an election after leading in every poll throughout the campaign. 


Sarah Palin 2008

Sarah Palin burst onto the international political scene in 2008 when John McCain chose her as his running mate for the US Presidential election. At first, she was a smash hit with an impressive performance at the Republican National Convention.

But things quickly unravelled when she faced more intense one-on-one interviews, most noticeably the now famous Katie Couric interview. Foreign policy is an area where you need at least some knowledge if you’re to become the Vice-President of the world’s largest superpower.



Neil Kinnock 1992

Opinion polls showed Neil Kinnock on track to lead UK Labour to victory at the 1992 General Election. There were numerous reasons that contributed to John Major winning an unlikely re-election, but Kinnock’s bizarre exuberance before his campaign launch speech was definitely one.

Prior to giving what was about to be the most important speech of his career he broke out into triumphalist cries of “we’re alright!”. It came across on TV as both cocky and cringe worthy. Things certainly weren’t ‘alright’ for him when Major defied the polls on election day to win.



Michael Dukakis 1988

The opening question Democrat candidate Michael Dukakis faced in the 1988 US Presidential election debate was his stance on the death penalty, specifically in reference to someone who had ‘raped and murdered’ his wife. The ethics of asking such a personal and sensitive question in a presidential debate has attracted as much scrutiny over the years as the answer that Dukakis gave.

A socially liberal Dukakis gave an answer outlining his opposition to the death penalty. A response that, from a technical perspective, many would agree with. What attracted criticism is that Dukakis didn’t provide an emotional response to the hypothetical of such a heinous crime being committed against his wife.

Ironically, the Dukakis team has prepped for the question. Both his father and brother were murder victims and he was to open with that personal experience before pivoting to ‘but despite this I think there are more effective means than the death penalty…etc’. Dukakis didn’t follow the script and it left many voters feeling he lacked passion. He ended up losing in a landslide to George Bush senior in November 1988.



Diane Abbott 2017

Veteran UK Labour politician Diane Abbott was lined up for a stock standard radio interview on the Party’s policy during the 2017 General Election to recruit 10,000 extra police officers. She quickly found herself in trouble when asked what the cost would be and she jumped from number to number. Needless to say, she was taken off the campaign trail after this interview.

An example of how being inadequately prepared for what should be a run-of-the-mill interview can derail a campaign’s message for days.



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