Young voters are looking for substance

Bill English has tried some trivial photo ops, but Geoffrey Miller writes about more substance being important seeking the young vote in  Forget the spaghetti pizzas – it’s substance voters are looking for.

It’s that time again when politicians pull out all the stops to do what they think will make young people vote for them.

At the 2014 election, Kim Dotcom spent some $4m largely targeting the youth vote.

That was an expensive flop.

Both Labour and the Greens were also keen to target young voters, which were given the label of the “missing million” and assumed to be chiefly latent support for left-wing causes. And for the most part, the focus was on “getting out the vote”, rather than changing the substance of the party platforms to offer something non-voters wanted.

They seem to think that all they need to do is advise non-voters and new voters how good they and their policies are and they will get the missing votes.

Of course, it is not just the left which has sought to target younger voters. Ironically, National has probably been more successful at picking up young voters. Many of John Key’s stunts – singing Gangnam Style, planking, making derp faces and so on – reached a much wider audience.

Key’s frequent appearances on non-political media – such as More FM – helped with this, but these only worked because the stunts suited Key’s personality. Bill English’s efforts – such as his spaghetti pizza selfies – look contrived by comparison.

I think that voters are more likely to be deterred rather than attracted by contrivances.

This time around, much of the left’s focus seems to be going on putting forward younger candidates.

Greens have lauded their new young candidates, and Labour had a go at promoting Jacinda Ardern (they seem to have backed off that a bit).

The assumption is that young voters are attracted by young candidates – but is this really true?

Bernie Sanders attracted young voters in the US, Jeremy Corbyn attracted young voters in the UK.

Take Winston Peters, for example. With Peters being 72 and the face of the SuperGold card, most assume New Zealand First has no real hope of attracting a large pool of younger voters. Yet during this year’s Orientation Week at Victoria University, Peters reportedly attracted hundreds of students on a summer weeknight to hear him speak.

I think new voters are looking for something different than the same old National and the same old Labour.

What about the ethnicity of candidates? Corbyn and Sanders are both fabled ‘old white men’, yet have managed to appeal to significant numbers of non-white younger voters. On the other hand, Winston Peters, part-Maori, has traditionally found his biggest voter base in elderly Pakeha New Zealanders.

Another probable fallacy is that more female candidates will automatically attract more female votes.

Substance over style

The lesson from the surge of young voters for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party in the UK is that to get young voters to vote, you need to give them something to vote for. In Corbyn’s case, this was a traditional, ideologically-driven left-wing manifesto which included an end to student fees, nationalisation of railways and increasing taxes on the rich.

Labour’s announcement this week that they will reduce the number of foreign students (who don’t vote anyway) is unlikely to impact on the young vote, except for those who don’t like the anti-immigration message.

Social media was a part of Corbyn’s success – as it was for Bernie Sanders – but only as an adjunct.

Social media campaigning is seen as essential – and it probably is, to an extent. But…

In New Zealand, part of the appeal of Winston Peters has traditionally been the repetition of simple policies against immigration and in favour of elderly voters.

Peters excels at old fashioned person to person public meeting campaigning, and hardly uses social media. But he’s after 10-15% of the vote, not 50%.

All parties will be looking for votes from wherever they think they can get them.

Peters attracts a substantial protest vote who don’t care about his lack of substance or his refusal to say what he might do in coalition negotiations, but he is as old school as a politician can get.

Don’t discount TOP. They have substance in their policies, they have passion and drive in Gareth Morgan, and they have a country that is getting tired of National but hasn’t warmed to Andrew Little and Labour.

And Greens seem to have hit a support ceiling, hence their trying to attract young voters, female voters and Maori voters. But can they offer substance to such a wide range of voters? Where is their substance on the environment? It risks being overwhelmed by all their other targets.

Add the dual leadership of Turei and Shaw and it’s hard to know what the Green substance is supposed to be.

English can do substance if he sticks to his strengths rather than associating himself with slippery spaghetti.

Little promised straight talk but squirms outside his rehearsed lines.

Will anyone step up and demand attention through substance? No matter how old or white they are, or not, they could attract all sorts of voters.

Key’s departure “will leave Parliament exposed”

Geoff Miller and Mark Blackham suggest in an NBR article that when John Key leaves Parliament (he has indicated he will stand again next year) the inadequacies of Parliament will become clearer to voters and leave it more exposed to a Trump like reaction.

Key is insulating New Zealand from growing discontent around the world with status democratic systems.

It could also be argued that democracy and government in New Zealand isn’t in as dire a situation as in the UK or the US, where voters have revolted against the same old.

Mr Key is our own populist politician. Like Trump, he is wealthy and not a career politician.

Mr Key’s inherent anti-political nature frequently motivates him to behave in ways which we would not previously have expected from a prime minister.

In some cases, such as in the ponytail affair, MrKey has gone too far and ended up apologising for his actions. But generally, his non-conventional style and willingness to make fun of himself have helped him to stay astonishingly popular – despite being eight years into the top job.


Much to the annoyance and frustration of his opponents and especially of left wing activists.

When Mr Key leaves, his populist touch will go with him, exposing the public to a parliament awash with careerist politicians who play it safe, deal in slogans and spin and have no way to forge a genuine bond with voters as Key has done.

The question for many of New Zealand’s MPs ahead of the 2017 election is whether they will heed the lessons of 2016’s Brexit and Trump political earthquakes.

If politicians dish up election campaigns that keep to the stale and uninspiring establishment recipe, they will guarantee and intensify voter backlash.

With Key still in play this may not happen directly in next year’s election, it may still come down to the economy and the Government’s handling of it versus the alternative that looks like it will need to be Labour+Greens+NZ First. Many voters are scared by Labour+Greens let alone the triumverate.

But if National don’t start to show that they recognise real problems with the current way of doing democracy and make genuine and significant moves to address it they could be setting themselves up for a major fall when Key steps down.

Key’s departure may well leave new Zealand exposed to a voters’ revolt.

Politicians versus ordinary people

Professionalised politicians are increasing out of touch with the lives of ordinary people.

This is believed to be a major factor behind the surprising Brexit vote in the UK and the rise of Donald Trump in the US>

Geoff Miller and Mark Blackham make some interesting points in an NBR article on the growing disconnect of parties and Parliament from ordinary people.

New Zealand’s political environment is now largely a professionalised machine. A whole generation of MPs can no longer truly emphasise with many New Zealanders.

A third of New Zealand’s MPs have only ever worked inside the government system. Another third built no real career before they tried to get into Parliament.

So two thirds of MPs don’t have much ‘ordinary New Zealand’ experience in their working lives.

For most current MPs, the secret to being elected is attending a well-regarded secondary school, going to university and joining a political party on campus and finding a job in the public sector or as a political party staffer. After making the necessary connections with the right people inside the parties, the final step simply requires a little behind the scenes manoeuvring to secure a place on a party list or safe seat and make it into Parliament.


By failing to forge careers unrelated to politics, the current crop of MPs largely lacks genuine insight into the lives of New Zealanders who live outside the Wellington political establishment.

It has become a career path as opposed to some time out from real life to represent the people.

The insight they do have is handicapped by political and media machines that smooth out language and ideas. Populists like Trump are extreme reactions to these very real inadequacies of the current political choices the machines generate.

Voters are disgruntled with ideology driven by politicians’ agenda rather than by the reality of ordinary lives. They prefer the sincerity of Trump-like passion to the crafted emptiness of professional politicians.

John Key has a bit of the ordinary person touch, warts and all (but nowhere near the warts of Trump).

Who else in Parliament competes with him on that?

Bill English is the opposite, a political insider – but isn’t he one of the perceived strengths of the Government, the steady-as-she-goes money manager?

Andrew Little is struggling to appeal to labouring union type people let alone the wider constituency. Interestingly Annette King is probably Labour’s most respected politician and she has been around for quite a while.

But not as long as Winston Peters – he has nurtured the maverick outsider vote for about a hundred years, but has been part of the political bubble so is hardly a fresh new idea.

Greens are struggling to appeal outside their own bubble, adored within their professional middle class constituency but hardly resonating with the poor they try to represent.

Peter Dunne is as same old as one could get.

Act’s David Seymour is probably the only semi prominent Member of Parliament prepared to buck trends and do things differently. And he has age on his side  – or relative lack of age, born in 1983 compared to Peters born in 1945, over twice as long ago. Seymour is 33, Peters is 71.

Outside Parliament the Cannabis Party have been trying for decades and compete well with the also-rans but will have make a dramatically different impact to get into parliament

The only outsiders on the radar at the moment are Gareth Morgan and his new TOP party, and also the NZ People’s Party who will test their appeal in the Mt Roskill by-election.

New Zealand’s party system along with MMP are an obstacle to populist outsiders, but in the current era of political surprises anything could happen.


More generalist and careerist MPS

A new study has put numbers to what has often been suggested – that today’s MPs have less traditional backgrounds (like farming and unions).

A third of MPs are political careerists with limited experience outside public service and politics. “Over 30% of them have entered Parliament after careers exclusively spanning government, public sector or politics.”

“If you have no real career other than politics, you are unlikely to want to rock the boat. Challenging the establishment will seldom be in a career politician’s best interests.”

New Zealand MPs are now less likely to be from traditional careers in business and unions, and more likely to be generalists who turn to politics as a career, according to a study released today.

The study, by political researcher Geoffrey Miller and public relations expert Mark Blackham, researched and compared the career histories of all 121 Members of the current Parliament.

They found that business owners, agriculturalists and unionists have a falling share of voice in their traditional parties, and have been replaced by people with no specific career interests, or careers limited to government and politics.

Miller said 23% of National MPs had experience working in a business, and only 10% of Labour MPs had worked in a union.

Miller said that while Parliament had become more ethnically and gender diverse under MMP, the range of prior occupations was becoming increasingly narrow.

Miller added that younger MPs were especially likely to be beholden to the parties they represented because of their decision to pursue politics as a profession.

Blackham said the rise of generalists reflected both a change in employment patterns in the wider community, and a perception that politics was an employment option as well as a calling. Almost a fifth of MPs had no definable career before politics.

“Parliament is reflecting something ordinary people are experiencing; the tendency to go through a range of jobs rather than a single career. Wide experience of life may well help MPs to understand the public they represent.

“But there is a less creditable trend toward seeing politics as an employment option. For these MPs, the job follows a working life solely in government or politics. This is a new phenomenon.”

Three major conclusions from the report:

  1. The traditional difference in economic sectors represented in the major political parties is extinct;
    National now has proportionately few farmers or business people.
    Labour has few unionists or blue collar workers, but is strongest in MPs with varied non-specific employment experience.
    The Party with proportionately the most business experience is New Zealand First.
    The party with proportionately the most activists is the Green Party.
  2. One third of our politicians have only ever worked in political jobs. Over 30% of them have entered Parliament after careers exclusively spanning government, public sector or politics.
  3. MPs are now reflecting the wider employment trend of having multiple careers or having worked in a wide range of jobs. Nearly 20% of all MPs have had ‘multiple’ careers.


Noteworthy findings

  1. 34% of MPs have a career history entirely working for the government in some form.
  2. The biggest category was “multiple” careers – where MPs have worked in various employment, and not followed a particular career or field of expertise. Labour had proportionately the greatest number in this category (one quarter of its MPs)
  3. The single most common career has been employment in the business world (19 MPs, and generally management work, not entrepreneurial or operational), followed by a career in government (15 MPs).
  4. There are 10 career politicians (vs. 12 MPs in previous Parliament).
  5. Labour Party now has a notable presence of MPs with careers in the Maori sector (5/32 MPs in 2015 compared to 3/34 MPs in 2014).
  6. New Zealand First remains dominated by MPs with business experience, particularly within SMEs.
  7. The Green Party remains dominated by those with a Unionist or Activist background (5/13 MPs).
  8. The two Maori Party MPs both have a background in education.
  9. Between the 50th and 51st Parliaments, Labour has seen a decrease in MPs with unionist backgrounds (3 vs 5 MPs).
  10. National has fewer agricultural MPs than the previous parliament (6 vs 9 MPs)

National MPs have a wider variety of backgrounds than Labour MPs but part of the reason for this is there are nearly twice as many.



I think that two significant factors behind choices to stand for Parliament now are:

It can be much more high profile with the chance of high media and opponent examination.

The time and cost commitment to standing as a candidate with a chance of being elected is high, especially standing for electorates. You pretty much have to dedicate several months at least to full time campaigning.

This is easier for people already employed by parties.

This isn’t as necessary for small parties (Greens and NZ First) where political unknowns can get in via their party list placement.

But even NZ First’s most recent MP, Ria Bond, a hairdresser from Invercargill, had spent time working for NZ First MPs in Wellington.

Dangerous level of political vitriol

In a rare post political enthusiast Geoffrey Miller has written about New Zealand’s increasingly dangerous level of political vitriol.

This looks at recent online attacks on politicians and particularly the escalation of public attacks on MPs by throwing things at them.

A tremendously open political environment

In New Zealand we are used to meeting politicians on the streets, at school fairs and at sporting events. If you want to meet a Cabinet minister – or the Prime Minister – it is not particularly difficult.

But this is under threat due to a few stupid attacks, and too much glorifying and trivialising by media, insufficient condemnation and a lack of appropriate consequences.

Part of the reason for the escalation is anger and frustration about John Key’s ongoing popularity.

The far left’s increasingly desperate anger

There is little doubt that some voices on the left have become increasingly angry in recent months.

These are a vocal minority, to be clear. Radicals are by definition a minority.

In recent months, the anger has focused mainly on the TPP.

But another, more deep-seated reason for anger is John Key’s continuing popularity. Anyone who has dipped into the comments section on The Standard, or who follows left-wing activists on Twitter, or reads comments on the various activist Facebook pages knows how central John Key to the discontent.

A constantly updated list of hundreds of John Key’s “lies” on The Standard has been shared thousands of times on Facebook.

There is plenty of legitimate criticism of John Key and the government.

But anyone who has visited the left-wing blogosphere, or Twitter-verse, or the many Facebook pages know that there is a nasty underbelly.

Very nasty at times.

The risk of escalation

On Monday, David Cunliffe tweeted “I’m no great Brownlee fan, but politics is a tough gig and most people try to make a difference.  Doesn’t deserve it”.

Cunliffe’s tweet was in reaction to a tweet by scientist and Green Party activist Dr. Sea Rotmann, who had tweeted: “I’m just glad that NZs proud tradition of throwing things at senior politicians stays alive and well”.

Acceptance and encouragement like that is as big a part of the problem as those nutty enough to do throw something, or to make stupid comments online.

Let’s tone down the rhetoric

That’s good advice for many online forums, including this one.

We are talking about a small minority who hold a visceral anger to the government.

For a handful, this anger is so visceral that that they are willing to take physical action, as seen in the Brownlee and Joyce incidents.

Again, this is a tiny minority.

We have every right to criticise, make fun of, even mock politicians.

We should not tar genuine opposition to the government with the same brush.

We should have robust debate. More than that, we desperately need it., especially given the weakened state of our parliamentary opposition.

Protesters are doing the job that Labour and the Greens currently are clearly not doing adequately inside parliament.

There is nothing wrong with a peaceful protest.

But hurling objects at MPs is not peaceful.

So far, the incidents have been harmless.

Unless politicians, media and people online recognise huge risks of not confronting and quelling the anger and inappropriate behaviour it could escalate to something far more serious.

Like New Zealand, Sweden long had a tradition of personal, retail politics in which politicians rub shoulders with voters as apparent equals. That’s what one expects in a small country.

But there is one big difference between Sweden and New Zealand.

Sweden has suffered not one, but two political assassinations. The first, in 1986, was the murder of then Prime Minister Olof Palme.

The second, in 2003, was the killing of foreign minister Anna Lindh.  Had it not been for her untimely death, Lindh was in line to be Prime Minister.

We should keep Sweden’s experiences in mind when reflecting in the increasingly dangerous level of political vitriol that New Zealand has seen in recent months.

It’s worth reading the whole post – New Zealand’s increasingly dangerous level of political vitriol.

Could it get worse? Easily. This week someone is in court for threatening to put 1080 in baby milk formula. He said in court yesterday he just cracked one day.

This is more of a left wing problem, simply because of timing, we have had a centre right Government for the last seven years and anger and encouragement of anger has been getting worse over that time, often fueled by social media.

I saw many despicable attacks on Helen Clark when she was Prime Minister, and these still continue to a lesser extent. And there’s been ongoing nasty attacks and abuse directed at the procession of Labour leaders since Clark stepped down.

Andrew Little is lower profile and less powerful so gets less but he still gets unfairly attacked. It should be noted that he was on hand to personally support Gerry Brownlee immediately after that attack. I’m sure all MPs are aware of an uneasy about potential escalation.

Key happens to be the PM copping most of the attacks but the Joyce and Brownlee incidents show that no one is immune. The person who attacked Brownlee said he could have targeted Key instead.

I think our political leaders have a responsibility to jointly stand up against escalations – and them behaving better in parliament would help set an example.

Media have to seriously look at their complicity in glorifying and encouraging anger and bad behaviour. They should be responsible for more than click harvesting.

And prominent people in social media and blogs should also speak up against the worst of anger and personal attacks online.

“The Downfall of Kim Dotcom”

Political junkie Geoffrey Miller details The Downfall of Kim Dotcom – How the Internet entrepreneur’s venture into New Zealand politics went off the rails.

Kim Dotcom’s foray into the tiny and normally rather placid world of New Zealand politics brought global interest to the South Pacific nation’s recent election – culminating with the involvement of other outside heavyweights, including NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.

Ultimately the über-wealthy German immigrant went head to head with the country’s prime minister – and lost. Dotcom ended up failing spectacularly – describing himself as political “poison.” His Internet Mana alliance, personally bankrolled by Dotcom to the tune of nearly NZ$5 million ($3.9 million), failed to win a single seat in New Zealand’s 120-seat parliament in elections held on September 20.

He summarises:

In May, Kim Dotcom described his pet political party as his “gift to New Zealand.” On election night, he was forced to concede that his very brand had been toxic. For John Key, Dotcom turned out to be the gift that kept on giving. New Zealand voters’ loathing of Kim Dotcom and his tainting of the country’s left played no small part in delivering Key’s center-right National Party a landslide victory.

After the election, a jubilant Key had only one piece of advice for the defeated Dotcom. “Go away.”