It’s not apathy – it’s disillusionment


227447_549790815059388_203648151_nI spent the weekend in Gisborne helping out with Mana’s campaign for the Ikaroa-Rawhiti by-election where our Te Hamua Nikora is up against reps from the Greens, Labour and the Maori Party.

No professional polls have been done so far – or if they have no-one is telling – however all the on-line polls give it to Te Hamua – most by a convincing margin. He has enormous public profile through his hosting of several popular Maori Television programmes such as Homai Te Pakipaki. But can he turn high public recognition into votes on 29 June?

I spent seven hours on Saturday going door to door in central Gisborne visiting homes where the electoral roll said there were voters enrolled on the Maori roll and eligible to vote. So with the election just two weeks away what were the impressions on the ground?

At least half the families were out on Saturday morning which is not surprising with school netball and rugby games on as well as weekend shopping. But of the people I spoke to who were enrolled and intending to vote the majority were in support of Te Hamua and many enthusiastically so. One of my fellow doorknockers was greeted with a spontaneous hug when he announced he was from Mana. Similar impressions have been gained from canvassing in other parts of Gisborne, Napier/Hastings and Wellington.

So while most pundits are picking the seat as Labour’s to lose, on the ground the feeling is very different. If I was a betting man I’d put money on Te Hamua to win.

Other impressions from this door-knocking in a low-income area with many state houses and high unemployment are stark.

Of those homes where someone was in I found at least 30% of the names on the electoral roll had out-of-date addresses. Where the current occupants knew of those who’d rented the home before about a third had shifted to other homes in Gisborne a third to other NZ centres and a third to Australia.

This is vastly different to what one would find in a middle or high-income area-income area where housing stability is much better.

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We shouldn’t be surprised by any of this. Families in low-income areas have much less stable employment – they are the first laid off and the last to be rehired in a recession – and they don’t have the housing stability which comes from home ownership or guaranteed tenure. Their family lives are typically much more stressed and fragmented and government policy is set to increase the tension from 1 July. The nastiest National minister since Ruth Richardson – Paula Bennett – is seeing to that.

In the midst of all these stresses and strains, as soon as a low voter turnout is reported commentators “tut-tut” and cite “voter apathy” as the reason for the seeming lack of political engagement. For example the Maori Party’s Na Raihania on yesterday’s Marae Investigates gave the “apathy” answer to explain why Maori were not engaging with the opportunity to swap from the general roll to the Maori roll.

But when I engaged people in conversation about the by-election it became very clear that the apparent lack of interest of so many was not apathy but disillusionment. People were interested in the politics which shape their lives but had no hope that anything significant would be changed it they voted.

This disillusionment is growing throughout the world where people have repeatedly voted for one thing but have always been delivered the same harsh, family-unfriendly policies. Whether it’s Labour or National the 1% get richer while most of the 99% struggle.

Mana aims to bring hope back to politics for struggling families and I hope Gisborne’s Mana-door-knock-hugger will have his excitement rewarded on the 29 June.


  1. Indeed, John; disillusionment rather than apathy.

    The 800,000 who did not vote in 2011 have disengaged from the democratic system.

    Anyone who can identify a strategy to re-engage these voters and re-politicise the electorate will be a genius. It’s supremely ironic that in an era of the internet – the greatest communications tool since the invention of writing – that people are less engaged.

    What happened between 1981 – when the nation was mobilised on an issue – and now?

    Right wing voters generally remain motivated to participate and vote. Rightwing voters (or swing voters who currently support the Nats) understand the power of their vote..

    Once we identify why they remain engaged, we can apply the same to others for whom the vote is the only weapon that can be effective.

    • Anyone who can identify a strategy to re-engage these voters and re-politicise the electorate will be a genius.

      Easy, have them be the ones making the decisions. Do that and we will see a major change in the way that society is run. The rich and their supporters (otherwise known as National and Act voters) will whinge about it but we all will be better off.

    • What happened between 1981 – when the nation was mobilised on an issue – and now?

      Well, that’s pretty easy: New Zealand has become more democratic. 30 years ago politicians lacked the social science tools they now have. Now they are able to pitch to the electorate in a much more canny fashion than they could before. Just as advertisers have become much better at pitching products to niche markets, so have political advertisers. This is one reason for the bland and idea free politics we now have – it’s a vote getting mechanism, and it works, otherwise they wouldn’t do it. They used to be able to lecture the electorate more, but now they can’t (compare Muldoon to Key, for example).

      We have dull, middle of the road politics, because that is what wins elections. After all, most New Zealanders are middle of the road people.

      The other thing is that people have wised up to democracy. Any student of politics knows that you can’t translate individual voter preferences into a collective preference (this is a logical, not practical, problem). Hence, to expect the outcome of an election to represent the “will of the majority” is to expect an impossibility.

      It should be no surprise that governments manage to do things that so many people hate, and yet keep getting elected: that is how preference aggregation works – just because most of us don’t want something to happen does not mean that we won’t vote in a way that ensures the opposite.

      All this is, is people crying that democracy won’t do something that it by its very nature can’t do.

      • Democracy could but we don’t have democracy – we have representative democracy. Different kettle of fish altogether. To bring about actual democracy we need the people making the decisions and not representatives which, as you rightly point out, don’t actually represent the people.

        • You referring to binding referenda Draco? Would be a nice change to all the ignored referenda we currently have… or referenda which leads to a committee which then has its recommendations ignored (ie. MMP). Or possibly you are referring to something else? Quick, throw me the carrot you are waving called democracy

          • Here.

            The ability to have discussions and to vote on a mass scale. I see it as a way to devolve from central government made up of representatives that only represent the rich.

  2. I think the low turnout in polls is the result of a generation of “dumbing down” of society that began in the 1980s. Back then and into the 1990s people voiced their concern about the “dumbing down” of society, examples of such being the decimation of the public service, opening tertiary studies to competition between providers, and making TV1 and TV2 commercially driven. Now no one talks about the “dumbing down” of society. I think this is because whereas a comparison could be drawn then between what had previously existed and what was happening then, now a new lower base has been in existence for nigh on 20 years. This process is not irreversible but it will be a long slow climb back the other way, going against the forces that have become entrenched since the original wave of Rogernomics. The present government is what you get when you have successfully dumbed down a society. And it is preparing the way for potentially something even uglier in the future.

    • How can you say this? New Zealanders have more access to information than they have ever had before.

      The media is the way it is because that is what more people will watch, given a choice.

      • The problem also Tom is the people who don’t have access. Yes there are still many families out there without computers and internet access.

        Or the older generation who – quite frankly are given a raw deal with computers and access.

        There is also the issue of access to specific parts of a web site – I have to say citizens advise have some good people who cut through rubbish on some of our government web sites and get you to the page you need. But if you look yourself you can get lost for hours finding the right page or document.

        That said, that is government web sites – who goes through all the dross and misdirection on the media sites on the internet?

        Who has the time to read all the tweeter feeds?

        Information can be hidden in plain site – good trick that – and other information can be released at 4:45 on a Friday afternoon – *I just wannna go home*

        And yes I agree wholeheartedly with Frank… is it good information?

  3. Agreed. Thirty years ago significant numbers of voters would not have hesitated to express their outrage if our elected representatives sprang nasty surprises when they got their backsides on the Treasury benches. But over the years the public have learned to expect duplicity from our MPs. Why bother voting when the voters are treated with contempt?

  4. I agree with the disillusionment conclusion. Politicians today focus more on selling policy and less on representation. The erosion of union representation and the performance of the last 2 Labour governments has left a large demographic feeling under-represented. That’s not just a failure … it’s an opportunity.

    • Yep, we have to see it as an opportunity but it’s not an opportunity that Labour can utilise as they’re too a) supportive of the current paradigm and b) untrusted because of that support.

      • No of course you wouldn’t trust those bastards, how many of the crop there now have actually acknowledged the damage they did back in the eighties!

    • Voting online is essential to the development of democracy from the elected dictatorship we have now to true participatory democracy.

  5. Kia Ora Chief! Pai o korero me te mahi patoto kuaha! Knocking on doors and actually asking people is important. Polls these days are in big trouble given the shift to cell phs, social media, and the inability to get robust samples. So door knocking, particularly in lower socio economic areas, who typically have low response rates, is essential for Maori electorates. It is far too easy to blame it on apathy. A key thing that is important in the Maori electorate is age. Approx 41.7% of the Ikaroa Rawhiti district is under 30 – half of which are over the age of 15. This group are hard to get motivated politically, regardless of income or education. Like the old people say – kei tamariki ana: young folks do what young folks do. Large numbers are in blue collar jobs and/or out of work. Disillusionment is a fact for many who are on struggle street. The key pre-election question is what can parties do for them? The next one is what have the parties delivered to date. One final thing: I think internationally, voter engagement is an issue. For those of us who believe in democracy, and want more than glib answers as to why the voter / turn out rate is decreasing, we need better more robust research. But as a first step, door knocking and asking people is essential. Kia kaha!

  6. It’s no mystery as to why people are so disillusioned . The question is ; what will it take to get people to re engage with their responsibility to maintain their democracy ?

    Isn’t it fascinating ? How hard it was to get Democracy and how easy it was to give it away .

    There are clues in there as to what needs to be done however .

    Firstly , identify the mechanisms the Neocons ( or neoliberals as they’re known here ) used to steal away with our democracy .

    1/ They demonized then dismembered the Unions .

    2/ [They] pitched a series of negative truisms at us . Usually in the form of using the hallowed Tax Payer argument . ” Why should the Tax Payers of New Zealand be expected to pay etc etc …

    3/ They gutted public broadcasting and are now plotting to bury it in the back yard . They did that by supplanting confederates within those organizations so that they’d poison our information infrastructures from within . I literally gag when I hear Kathryn Ryans voice . Just a little bit of sick . When I hear her voice I’m reminded of a hot , oil smelling old car and being sandwiched between two sweaty aunts who’ve used far too much hair spray . We’re traveling along a winding , dusty gravel road and I really , really need to be sick .

    4/ The solution ? Firstly , the reverse of points 1 to 3 . Then I’d say more hardship . Bring it on bennett . I hope that lumbering fiend gets even tougher . And she will . She’s as dull as clay and can only do what she’s told . My hope is that she’ll get so tough people will have to say STOP ! And once that tipping point is reached , all Hell will break loose . As history shows us .

    The only reason we’ve not gone there by now is fear . Fear grips our hearts . We’re terrified of everything . We’re constantly told , day in , day out , to be afraid . Cancer , car crashes , drinking , smoking , fucking , riding your bike , swimming , eating fatty foods , cell phone towers , recreational drugs , dogs , neighbours , other people generally . Foreigners , Islamic’s , Asians , Maoris , Whites . Fuck it ! Save time and just be afraid of everything . And we are ! We’ve become a High Viz society of chicken shit , ‘fraidy cats !

    ” A life lived in fear is a life half lived ”

    Our Government isn’t afraid of the collective us . They truly don’t care what we think . Of our grievances or are mindful of our demands . A Government that isn’t afraid of it’s people isn’t a Government . It’s a fascist state .

    Paula Bennett knows that what she does , her policies , her cruel and ghastly fear peddling actually hurts us . Let me write that again . She-knows-that-she-hurts-us . We pay her to hurt us ? WTF ? Seriously … W.T.F. !

    Here’s a few ideas for how to get tougher, Big P . While you stump , flat footed to your own demise .

    Work camps for children , user-pays education , death squads , dawn raids . Slavery ! There’s an idea ! Enslave the poor . After all , someone has to do the dirty work .

    Who maintains the sewers in paula bennetts neighbourhood ? Some poor bastard deserves a gold medal and a million dollars , but what does he get ? Substandard wages , increasing living costs , anxiety , fear and frustration .

    Might as well go to the pub , get pissed and punch a stranger out in the car park aye ?

    Them One . You Nil .

  7. This post is spot on for me at the moment.
    I am so angry at what i am witnessing that i have come to a place where i think nothing will change and i have considered not voting.
    And have entertained thoughts of violence out of sheer frustration with the clutches of coporate greed. I’m not a violent person?
    So thanks for the korero John and Mr Tibble, i’m back on track. Kia kaha Mana!

  8. Some Maori leave their enrolment forms on the fridge or where other mail go therefore they forget about it. This is not intentional however that’s just the way it is with some Maori until 6 months or more down the track they find it and think shit forgot about that.

  9. The general populace is not suffering enough yet.

    Remember that the French Revolution only got underway after thousands of peasants had starved. And the Russian Revolution was only successful after millions had died on the war front.

    As long as NZers have Sky TV subscriptions, and there are huge numbers of obese people ‘covered’ in tattoos waddling down supermarket aisles wit trolleys full of luxury foods there will be no change. “Shall I buy food or get another tattoo? Another tattoo would be nice.” Ergo, no food problem yet.

    As long as the government can keep printing money to maintain the illusion of normality there will be no change. Of course, the collapse of Japan, which is underway, will after the money-printing machine.

    The big changes will come after 2014, when global oil extraction falls off the cliff (were still on the end of the plateau at the moment), and the industrial food system starts to collapse.

  10. In my opinion those today who vote do so because they have something to vote for – “play the game” to either protect or gain on what they have. The Right – particularly the wealthy – this Government has demonstrated it’s worth. The swing voters – I assume many are middle class – some pleased, others disgruntled: a miniscule number ascending, many static and many progressively descending towards the ranks of the Precariat.

    Māori voter turnout – low, youth voter turnout worldwide – low. Two groups who feature prominently in the disadvantaged sector of society – little or no wealth to protect and going by the track record little or nothing to possibly gain from “the game”. For acquaintances un/under-employed, ever dare ask who they’ll vote for in an election? A question best asked jokingly to avoid some of that flurry of abuse at the politicians from hitting yourself.

    As I see it, the longer we “play the game” under the rules of Neoliberalism, the underdog will remain the underdog, with many the only advance out of the arena is into hopeless captivity under the strong-arm of the Neoliberal overman.

    We live in a world that arose from figures that duped and hijacked the public, nationally and internationally and has strengthened their grip through Globalisation. The well-being of the market is a priority over people.

    It’s perplexing how the Left lacks vision. Election after election is contested with policies to tinker with the Neoliberal status quo; all of which, at best, will provide a temporary reprieve from the march of the inevitable.

    Where’s an innovative solid alternative for the disillusioned to yearn for?

    For those who’re serious, shouldn’t the Left respect the need for an organised global consensus/movement. What lasting significant reforms can possibly be achieved with the Opposition contesting the status quo separately in their respective countries in a global environment dominated by the markets, finance and elite ultra-rich? Each nation is a market whose people and leaders are to be punished if they even consider non-conformance.

    Devising and developing an alternative is sensible considering the current system that venerates risk, should it fall at least an alternative could possibly act as a beacon of order and promise in any ensuing chaos.

    Developing an alternative or securely keeping the extremes of the current system in check would require incredible brilliance and cooperation to deliver, something to consider for all those who fell/fall out of favour with the current system – better to indulge in formulating solutions than hopeless despair. Someone with messianic charisma to lead the way would be helpful.

  11. Procrastinator – you’re not alone

    ” Even when we speak of peaceful revolution founded in civil disobedience, if you think that an unfailingly polite, neat, and manicured revolution is a contradiction in terms, you’re correct. A well-mannered revolution is one doomed to fail. In the current circumstances, polite, rules-abiding challenges to authority have been rendered irrelevant and utterly without meaning.

  12. Frank:
    “It’s supremely ironic that in an era of the internet – the greatest communications tool since the invention of writing – that people are less engaged.”

    Are you sure you are using the right metric there? For those who understand democracy as intimately bound up with the state, the changes the Internet have wrought make no sense. ‘Why aren’t these people voting?’ They ask. Because they are realising that whoever you vote for, government wins.

    Last election I voted for a small party who seemed to be saying at least some of the right things. They didn’t reach 5% and I might as well not have bothered. Instead of leaving the house that day, I could have had more democratic input online.

    As Draco suggest with his link to Loomio – a online platform for consensus decision-making born of Occupy Wellington – people are getting more engaged with democracy, just not in the limited form offered by parliaments and elections. They are bringing it into their community groups, their organisations, their neighbourhoods, even businesses like Loomio itself, constituted as democratic, worker-owned social enterprises. As I said on Indymedia in the last days of the Occupy encampments, Occupy everything!

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