Thursday, March 06, 2003

Ex-parliamentarian, missing the blowtorch of voter cynicism, gets $100,000 of taxpayers’ money (academic sidekick included) to go down memory lane

Being in a focus group is a strange experience – the one and only I have experienced was a cross between that dinner-party-one-upmanship comedy sketch, and a barely concealed majority mood of “Why don’t you just shut the fuck up, you annoying mature age student type?” – the trempe de salle of just about any undergrad arts tutorial (only this time I was the annoying mature age student).

My point here is that focus groups can only cohere, exchange and reassemble – that is, focus – when they roughly comprise a demographic. I’m sure that this is acutely obvious to marketers, the inventors and main users of focus groups. Indeed, focus groups seem to be behind much of the science (or alchemy, take your pick) of demographic segmentation. Whaddya get then, when you gather together ten groups, each drawn from across the whole adult age spectrum, from ten different communities across Victoria? “Err, nothing” is pretty much the correct answer.

Applying the undergrad-arts-tutorial/mature-age-student litmus test for a start, the opinions of all but the very youngest are completely predictable, yet are paradoxically the most reasonant (if only because they get the most “air-time”). Thus, “Politicians used to (i) be much more honest in my day, (ii) march in the first row of the Moratorium protests, or (iii) partake with me in a long lunch before FBT killed it off”, etc.

Other than duly voicing a litany of tired complaints on an age-before-beauty priority basis, the focus groups did – to be fair – also manage to make some concrete policy suggestions. Considering the sultry microclimate that must have existed in each room, I am surprised as to how this may have been achieved. “By consensus” seems an unlikely vehicle here, considering the naked age and gender fault-lines within each small group. Probably, the focus group facilitator(s), would have engaged in some end-result-oriented interlocutory prodding, stopping just short of shouting “Shut the fuck up! [grandpa/ma]”.

In the end, though, this speculation hardly matters – what the focus groups did apparently all agree on was a comforting chestnut – a nostalgic salute to the cheerless, fascist-hype laden years of former premier, Jeff Kennett (the man who got Victoria the Grand Prix, and so much else, and the man who would probably still be with us if only he had got Leni Riefenstahl to direct and film a day in the life of his omnipotence):

“According to the study, voters want their MPs to attract international events to Victoria, create partnerships with international companies and attempt to make the state the envy of others”.

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