New data shows health not registering as a major election issue

May 16, 2022

Health is failing to cut through in the media coverage and on social platforms despite the country being in the midst of a pandemic.

Health was a dominant issue in the 2016 and 2019 elections, yet according to
media monitoring data powered by Meltwater and analysed by London Agency, it is failing to
cut through in the media coverage and on social platforms despite the country being in the
midst of a pandemic.

This defies popular consensus earlier this year that the election would be a referendum on
the government’s handling of COVID-19. That health hasn’t been a priority makes the task of
getting a message out in the media that much harder for medical technology, IVD and
pharmaceutical companies.

Samples taken from two recent weeks of the campaign (April 20-26 and April 27 – 3 May)
found Labor has consistently maintained the higher share of voice over the Coalition in
traditional and social media, with other parties struggling to land at all. Share of voice is
defined as the of total number of media stories and social media conversations about an
organisation, compared to those of its competitor.

While plenty of policies have been announced by both major parties, this data suggests only  a couple have been driving the bulk of the media discussions on health.

In the week leading up to April 26, trending themes skewed towards the Coalition, which  would explain why words such as “economy”, “political marketing opportunity” and “truth”  appeared frequently; all terms associated with discussions on the Prime Minister. 

The past week has the seen the focus switch to the cost-of-living crisis, with related terms  such as “inflation”, “interest rates” and “mortgage” featuring prominently. 

In both weeks, health took a back seat to more salient as war in the east and economic  issues in the west raged on. 

When you dissect health as an election issue*, the Coalition leads in terms of volume of  coverage, owning 52% of the discussion. However, it also trends more negatively on  sentiment at 36% and only 13% positivity, compared to Labor’s even split for negative and  positive coverage at 22%.

The disparity in sentiment correlates closely to the key themes dominating health  discussions on both parties. 

Labor is running on a traditional platform of aged care, Medicare and funding for hospitals,  which pulls through in media coverage. 

Conversely, the word “cuts” appears frequently in Coalition-focused health stories, while the  Prime Minister’s misplaced “blessed” comment on not having children with disability drew  fierce criticism. Actual policy announcements appear to have been lost in the noise, which  will be a concern for the government. 

Interestingly, the Coalition’s attack lines aimed at Labor for re-running the 2016 ‘Mediscare’  campaign have not carried into social media conversations. Conservative-supporting News  Corp titles running quotes from key Coalition spokespeople have done most of the heavy  lifting on this topic.

Some key events driving the election discussions around health in the media: 

April 1: Labor goes big on aged care in the Budget 

April 13: Labor pledges to establish Medicare bulk billed urgent care clinics. Greens call for gender surgery to go on Medicare. 

April 17: Senator Anne Ruston announced as the candidate to take over from Greg Hunt as  health minister if the coalition is re-elected. Reporting of the appointment focussed on  Ruston’s historic comments on the sustainability of Medicare, which in turn produced a drag  on sentiment in the coverage. 

April 21: PM criticized for saying he is “blessed” to not have children with disability. Dylan  Alcott and Labor respond which further amplified the negative coverage. 

John Emmerson, Manager Director of specialist healthcare communications agency London  Agency, says it is surprising that COVID-19 has been a tepid issue so far this campaign. 

“So far in this election health has been the dog that hasn’t barked. The pandemic has  dominated our lives for the last two years, so it is surprising that reporting of the federal  election hasn’t followed trends seen in state elections where the handling of the pandemic  has been decisive in the final outcome. 

“It’s far for from over, but what we’re seeing are more traditional issues dictating the health  discussion. This is probably welcome news for a COVID-weary electorate, but the health  industry should note the pandemic dividend is only temporary and now might be the time to  start preparing for what comes next.” 

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