Dunedin lags lacklustre voting in the south

Voting returns are significantly down around the country, but Dunedin is worse than most. Voters are not inspired to take part in the most important of democratic processes, the election.

Southern voting returns as at last night (8 October) compared to a similar time last election:

2010 2013
Dunedin 36.3% 22.8%
Central Otago 45.0% 34.3%
Clutha 42.8% 35.4%
Lakes 33.0% 25.4%
Waitaki 38.7% 38.0%
Invercargill 46.1% 33.0%
Southland 31.7% 32.9%
Gore 39.9% 30.7%

Why is voting so much lower this election? And why is it worse than most in Dunedin?

There seems to be a resounding lack of interest in local body elections. There have been many opportunities for the public to assess candidates at forums but most of these have been poorly attended.

There are no contentious issues that have motivated public interest.

The current mayor and council have diminishing levels of public satisfaction (2013 DCC survey).

There is no obvious strong contender for the mayoralty despite lukewarm support for a mediocre incumbent mayor.

Local media coverage has been balanced but largely uncontentious:

  • Candidate coverage has been reasonably fair but has failed to highlight significant differences or contentious issues.
  • Incumbents milk news coverage but this has been mostly bad or discouraging news.

National media coverage has been uninspiring, limited and very selective.

I have personally tried to promote and provoke social media interest and discussion but response has been very modest.

It’s too late to rev up the current election. It will be up to the incoming mayor and council to make sure they are seen as far more relevant in the lives of Dunedin people – that means engaging much more effectively.

Ironically doing exactly this has been a key part of my campaigning, but the people aren’t listening and the media have not been interested in reporting or examining this.

The bad news is that this election is more of a lottery than usual. Far too few people are interested enough to vote, and many of those voting base their decision on very superficial reasons.One woman rang me and told me they are voting for me because I was dressed more smartly than the incumbent on local television (I wore a tie). Another person said they wouldn’t be voting for me because I was “too nice” for the job.

The good news is that the campaign has provided an opportunity for very fruitful networking and I have a list of people who are interested in establishing a strong group outside council to promote the interests of the people in council. Depending on results there could also be some councillors who are prepared to push far better engagement from the inside as well.

This may help boost public interest in the next election. It could start a revolution in doing democracy – that is my aim.

It’s obvious that the public and the media will take a lot of convincing. I’m up for it.