How narrative is transforming political campaigns

An interview with Stephen Donnelly, the man who brought storytelling to Australian politics (and helped elect Daniel Andrews in the process).

29 Nov 2021
Written by
The Story
Reading time

Democratic nominee Barack Obama makes a campaign stop on Sept 21, 2008 in Charlotte, NC. Photo: Shutterstock

When Stephen Donnelly set off with a few mates to crash the 2008 US presidential election, he assumed he’d return home with some good memories, a few campaign badges and maybe a little jetlag. Little did he know the trip would set off a chain reaction that would culminate, six years later, in the historical election of Daniel Andrews as Victoria's premier, and a new career for Donnelly schooling progressive leaders in the art of public narrative.

While in America, Donnelly observed the groundbreaking methods the Obama campaign was using to mobilise people to vote. The trick was deceptively simple: place personal narratives at the heart of your messaging and people won’t just listen—they’ll act.

Armed with the Obama playbook, Donnelly returned to Australia and helped the Victorian opposition marshal an army of storytelling volunteers. Together, on phone calls and front porches, Daniel Andrews' volunteers told over half a million personal narratives, each one helping to wrest control from the Liberal Party.

In the final episode of the first season of our sister podcast StoryCraft, Donnelly talks about the rise of public narrative theory in politics, how the Andrews deftly used it to become the first Victorian opposition leader in 60 years to defeat a one-term government, and why storytelling can be an effective tool for anyone trying to create change in politics, the workplace or even their personal life.

Listen via the player up top, or subscribe to StoryCraft on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Sign up to
The Story Newsletter

The best of the website, with bonus newsletter-only trimmings. Delivered to your inbox every so often.