How a winning strategy played out in Sydney's most exclusive electorate

How a winning strategy played out in Sydney's most exclusive electorate

The successful campaign of independent Allegra Spender in Wentworth was built on family name recognition, well-target policies and well-funded strategically targeted advertising.

The daughter of the late fashion icon Carla Zampatti and a diplomat father, John Spender –a former Liberal member for North Sydney – Ms Spender was a high profile candidate. 

She overran her incumbent rival, the Coalition's Dave Sharma, with two powerful narratives: a champion of local issues; the need for a return to the political centre. 

Backed by an army of volunteers, she then spread her message via doorknocking and a prolific number of campaign posters. Her message was amplified online with a well-targeted advertising budget.

Campaign messaging: Local, with a side of local

Wentworth, in Sydney's eastern suburbs, is one of Australia's wealthiest and geographically compact electorates. 

Local community based messaging was a central part of her campaign. 

As independent research found, constituents felt that the incumbent Liberal member, Dave Sharma, was "pushing a national agenda to locals and avoiding local issues".

By contrast, Ms Spender's campaign was seen as "focusing more on local issues and at the same time linking them to national issues".

This appears to have resonated with voters online. 

During the election period, Ms Spender's Facebook page received 33,100 interactions - more than double what Mr Sharma's page recorded. 

On Twitter, she now has 20,000 followers compared to Mr Sharma's 12,000 - despite him posting nearly four times as often during the campaign.

Analysis of Google Trends also shows that searches for Allegra Spender were more common than searches for Dave Sharma throughout the campaign, most notably on May 8 when they participated in a Sky News debate.

In Sydney's eastern suburbs, Wentworth is one of Australia's wealthiest and geographically compact electorates.

While Mr Sharma was more prolific on social media, when Ms Spender did use it, she focussed on local issues - and got better engagement as a result.

She had an assortment of community and high profile endorsements in her campaign including her former principal, businesswoman Jillian Broadbent and local celebrities such as Simon Baker

Ms Spender also spruiked comments from former Wentworth representatives, including an endorsement from former independent Dr Kerryn Phelps and pro-independant comments from former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull

She also platformed long-term Liberal voters to help support her election narrative that the Coalition had lost its voter base. 

Mr Sharma, by contrast, relied more heavily on traditional political endorsements and joint community events with other federal Liberal ministers.

Advertising: Ms Spender way out in front 

Across Google and Meta platforms, Ms Spender outpromoted and outspent Mr Sharma in advertising, affording the candidate greater visibility and building of her brand. 

Ms Spender released advertisements consistently throughout the campaign, maintaining visibility.

Early campaign adverts tended to have high audience reach, helping promote Ms Spender’s candidacy and policy platform. 

Closer to the election, Ms Spender’s advertising audiences became more targeted and messages tagged to current local events or issues. 

Ms Spender was also promoted in other organisations advertising in the campaign including being promoted as second preference to the Greens, and through endorsements from local environment and media interest groups.

Mr Sharma again advertised on broader issues, touching on the Afghanistan Resettlement deal and Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Unlike Ms Spender there was no dominant policy in his messaging, but themes included issues around the economy, small business and community endorsements.

Mr Sharma’s  presence was comparatively small early in the campaign with advertising increasing closer to the election.  

Attack campaigns

While many of the Climate 200 Indpendents ran on positive election messages, in the case of Wentworth, both candidate’s campaigns included strong attack narratives. 

In her attack campaign, Ms Spender used popular public criticisms of Mr Sharma focusing her attack posts on Liberals preference deals with minor party the United Australia Party, and the Nationals refusal to commit to a Net Zero agreement. 

Ms Spender also publicly condemned the candidacy of Liberal candidate Katherine Deves responding to the electorate's support for the LGBTQIA community. 

Many of Ms Spender’s highest performing Tweets and Facebook posts were centred on this criticism of Mr Sharma and the Coalition. One tweet criticising Mr Sharma for missing a local community debate received over 8,000 reactions and 1,500 retweets.

Her counter message was that she would return politics to the  “sensible centre" of politics spoke to the political history of the electorate.   

The seat is known for being a moderate Liberal stronghold and was held by Liberal Party member Malcolm Turnbull for 12 years.

Mr Sharma hit back at Ms Spender, accusing her of being aligned with Labor. However Mr Sharma’s criticism was often counterproductive resulting in public backlash against his campaign. 

An example of this was when Mr Sharma’ retweeting of criticism of Ms Spender’s endorsement by community activist Danny Lin - one of Ms Spender’s highest performing posts. 

In response public users ignored the criticism and instead responded with an assortment of memes mocking and criticising Mr Sharma for his voting history and political alliances.

10 June 2022


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