Election 2013 media panel

Confusing voters: Is there a doctor’s wife in the house?

The team at 891 ABC Adelaide provided a moment on Monday morning that showed one of the challenges radio broadcasters will face explaining this election to their listeners. How do you find adequate language to describe what’s happening in the key constituencies?

Once they had got past the inevitable SA angst about relevance on the national stage, presenters Matthew Abraham and David Bevan moved on to a more forensic discussion of the marginal constituencies in Adelaide that could go either way on polling day, along with the ABC’s resident pollster, Anthony Green.

Amidst much apologising for the use of the term Matt and Dave introduced a group of voters who they felt could confuse the picture in Adelaide where Kate Ellis has a majority of 7.5% for Labor: doctors’ wives. Apparently they’re the pollsters’ worst demographic nightmare - ‘natural’ Tories who nevertheless have enough to have time on their hands to worry about liberal causes! They lurk confusingly for the electoral analysts in the top right hand quadrant of the ABC’s snazzy new Vote Compass, where apparently no major political party dares to tread.

We saw the best and the worst of election radio at this point in morning drive time. The apologies showed the presenters weren’t convinced this was a sound concept or comfortable with its obvious sexism. But elections, especially close contests in an era of post-ideological party politics, challenge our media to find language that’s up to the task of explaining what’s happening in a volatile electorate.

Not surprisingly, we can get metaphors that look helpful at first, but ultimately fail to explain very much at all. To make things worse, this language might be familiar to media insiders, but often comes across as confusing jargon to the audience.

Some redemption came when a listener looking for clarification phoned in from Elizabeth to ask what they were talking about: Who were these doctors’ wives that made Adelaide such a dangerous place for innocent pollsters? She left apparently satisfied with the 891 team’s definition, but there was no opportunity for further discussion of the phrase’s latent misogyny.

Radio’s ability to connect and react to its audience’s concerns is its greatest asset as a medium. But broadcasters will undoubtedly face many such challenges in the coming weeks, especially when they’re searching for language to explain what will surely be one of the most complex elections for decades.