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Damaged corflutes, fake political ads, vandalism and graffiti: How elections are won on the streets of Australia

If elections are battled on the streets and decided in the polling booth, then this year's spate of corflute vandalism and graffiti would suggest a political showdown to rival a Mayweather challenge is coming on May 21.

In the nation's capital and in Kooyong, Victoria, where incumbent treasurer Josh Frydenburg resides, police are investigating a spate of far-right graffiti targeting candidates.

The treasurer's corflutes have been defaced with images of neo-Nazi paraphernalia while Canberra's Kim Rubenstein has faced similar anti-Semitic messaging on her street signs.

Meanwhile, Queensland Police are seeking information following the theft of up to 1000 election signs in the far north marginal seat of Leichhardt.

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In some areas, political signs implying independent candidates have affiliations with various parties or groups have popped up.

For example, in Canberra, a series of corflutes have been installed on streets, suggesting independent candidate David Pocock has allegiances to the Greens party.

Pocock's corflutes have also been targeted by vandalism who have cut out his face entirely.

In the Illawarra, United Australia Party candidate for Cunningham, Benjamin Britton was similarly defaced (pun intended) at the beginning of May.

So how much does the vandalism of corflutes and political street ads cost candidates at the polling booths?

"Politics is a very impressionistic game and a lot of voters will vote based on their general impression of the leaders," said Dr Jacob Deem, political scientist at University of Central Queensland.

Dr Deem told ACM that it's hard to judge how people's votes might be swayed by vandalism.

"It's unlikely that, what I would call run-of-the-mill vandalism, so you know, drawing a moustache on someone's face, it's unlikely that that really has a significant impact," Dr Deem said.

"But what we've seen recently with, for example, putting Greens stickers on some of the independent candidates, that is potentially a little bit more insidious because that creates sort of misleading perceptions in voters' minds about who the candidates are and who they're aligned with, what they stand for.

"There's a potential that that kind of interference with other parties' or other candidates' campaign material would have an impact on the result in that seat and potentially the nation as a whole if this election comes down to the wire."

The Australian Electorate Commission (AEC) fields complaints about political advertisements in all forms.

The Electoral Act sets out rules for corflutes that regulate the kinds of messages that can be displayed, where the signs can be placed, how long for, and what size the signs can be.

But the AEC does not regulate truth in advertisements. As the AEC's commissioner Tom Rogers explained earlier this year, "Elections are essentially a contest of ideas between opposing parties. One person's truth can be another person's lie".

The AEC's job is then to ensure that the advertisements are appropriately authorised via the disclaimer statements (often appearing in black) at the end of television advertisements, and at the bottom of corflutes.

"That way people can work out where information is coming from and form their own judgments about the truth or otherwise of political issues," Mr Rogers said.

At the very least, Dr Deem said, corflutes and advertisements are important for building public recognition for a candidate.

When these images are tampered with, the results could be a loss of votes for that candidate, though, Dr Deem admits, that is hard to measure.

"It's hard to say what campaign material itself does to encourage someone to vote for a particular candidate," Dr Deem said.

"But there's no doubt that cumulatively it is important for candidates to get those billboards and those sorts of things out there. Name recognition is hugely important at the polling booth.

"People don't like to vote for someone who they feel like they've never heard of or don't know."

Focus group research has indicated that in the past, a person's perceived approachability on a corflute can directly impact voters' likelihood to choose their name on a ballot paper.

"There's been some research that shows, for example, that smiling in the campaign photos increases someone's likability by about five per cent," Dr Deem said.

"So there's no doubt that there is some value and some importance to those campaign posters.

This story Corflute wars: How political ads and vandalism costs votes first appeared on Newcastle Herald.