The Importance of Perception in Politics



Perception is everything in politics. And one of the many successful tactics used by National in the election, was to perpetuate the perception that they were more credible and sensible than the Opposition. That perception won the day for middle New Zealand voters.

Casual voters could take comfort in the perception of the National Party as ‘a steady set of hands offering stability’. This was in contrast with the ‘loopy Greens’ and Kim DotCom being the tail that wags the dog – Labour, itself portrayed as weak with divided leadership.

The National party represented ‘a growing economy’, offering ‘jobs, prosperity and tax cuts’ as opposed to punitive ‘tax and spend’ intervention from Labour. National offered leadership against threats to law and order both domestically and internationally –and so what if it requires mass surveillance, ‘if you’ve got nothing to hide you’ve got nothing to fear’.
National successfully appropriated popular environmental and social concerns and adapted them to suit their own purposes. So before the election we had policy promises that seemed to end shark finning, protect popular recreational fisheries from trawling; that created new marine reserves, and fenced off farm waterways.

Where necessary, there was also lip service to social concerns such as housing affordability and inequality. Even though the National party policies in these areas were less than convincing and failed to deal with the real issues upon deeper analysis, they cultivated the perception, that National was the catch all, moderate, responsible party that would address the wider range of issues affecting New Zealand and New Zealanders.

Voters, using the National narrative to frame their perceptions could easily look at a divided left and see parties that were fighting among – and in some cases, within themselves. These were parties that sought to represent workers, but wanted to put up the retirement age. Admittedly, both Labour and the Greens moved closer to the centre in many ways, but if you could have all the policies you wanted and have a ‘stable government’ led by the ‘likeable, nice Mr Key’, why would you look elsewhere?

Abetted by media clearly hostile to impartiality and to a change of Government, the Opposition hardly stood a chance. The fact is, the Opposition parties were batting against history when they contested the 2014 election. Since the 1950s no two term Government has failed to be re-elected for a third term. The odds were always against a change.
John Key’s ‘steady-as-she goes’, casual leadership style, where crisis leaves him unruffled, almost untouchable, is well supported by Steven Joyce, Bill English and Gerry Brownlee. In terms of their ruthless intelligence and slick perception management, the National Party are formidable

At least until the left can create an equal perception of competency and strong unified leadership, across the parties represented, National will continue to prevail and to be preferred by the majority of voters in the middle.

TDB Recommends


  1. “Since the 1950s no two term Government has failed to be re-elected for a third term”
    Labour 1984-1990? If we don’t get basic facts right analysis is suspect.

  2. All summed up well Christine,

    You put your finger on it when you said,

    “Abetted by media clearly hostile to impartiality and to a change of Government, the Opposition hardly stood a chance.”
    We sent an open letter to all opposition Parties to stop the election process clock, when signs appeared over this media bias requesting they order an investigation into the “biased media” around the time of the TV one choice of using Hosking’s as anchor for the two leaders debates someone chose TV one as more worthy of Two of the three only debates, all showing a nasty campaign of plans to minimise opposition exposure to fair use of media.

    National clearly used all media to blacken the voter choice and if opposition had taken our advice and formed a united front against NatZ plan to use our media as a propaganda tool the election may well have turned out very different.

    So your summary is a reflection on our worst fears that came to be, and pity the opposition didn’t move decisively when we warned them.

    All thast remains now we say is for all remaining opposition Parties to form the united front now and force Government to sever half of our remaining asset of our public TV/Radio known as TVNZ/RNZ and give half to Opposition to use in their manner for how they choose.

    This would then offer the public a clear choice as the Government now begins the worst period of slash & burn of social changes to social assistance programs, RMA employment law, and further asset selling beginning with selling of state housing.

    Opposition please wake up before it is again to late.

  3. For that to happen you will firstly need to have a wholesale ‘clean out’ of our current media stock and replace them with a more highly skilled, ethical, impartial breed , where truth and fact is the only datum and their own personal ‘opinion’ is kept to themselves .
    The paid ‘commentators club’ would also need to be dissolved , and public announced political polls prohibited within 6 months of an election.
    Without the electorate being subjected to vested interest influence, the 2014 election would have returned a very different result !

  4. If National is able to command 40-45% of the vote by itself then I think the left has to put up an alternative Block that represents a Govt. in waiting. To this end I can’t see any other alternative than Labour and Greens merging – and very soon. They have to look like a credible alternative, partners who respect each other and can work together. Indeed they need to show how the two of them together are better than the sum of their parts.

    Then voters will have a real choice knowing that whichever block has to work with yet other parties will at least be the strong partner by far. Otherwise, as you point out, there is only one stable option, and even if on the numbers there could be a left/centre coalition of 3-4 parties it will always be easy to paint it as unstable.

  5. “At least until the left can create an equal perception of competency and strong unified leadership, across the parties represented, National will continue to prevail …”
    and isn’t that what Dirty Politics is all about? As Labour have pointed out, there is no equivalent to Whaleoil on the left (thank goodness), so until National are exposed for “cheating” in the popularity “perception is everything” stakes, we have to wait for “right” to out

  6. Is there no one in the progressive side of politics capable of running a persistent marketing campaign?

    The people on the consolidating side have cornered a set of positioning words and phrases, and trained their advocates to parrot their words at every opportunity – as Christine Rose has pointed out ATL. Utterly relentless, year in and year out – as it has to be to position themselves in the ‘buying public’s’ mind.

    But the progressives? Yeah-nah. All over the place chasing Bright Shiny Objects and Next Big Thing catch phrases.

    At the next navel-gazing of the progressives – could someone hand out copies of Ries and Trout and make them both read and implement?

    PS – Do the MSM still take paid advertorials? And opinion pieces? I seem to recall Bryan Gould and Chris Trotter know the art of both entertaining and positioning over the long haul.

    That’s what happens when the old trade union training ground and ‘client contact’ is allowed to fade into slumber and not be replaced. The message has no messengers.

  7. Perception is everything, and an illusion. Hannah Arendt wrote in her book Totalitarianism some acute descriptions of the process, which ring alarmingly true of the Key strategies:

    “Totalitarianian leader has simple-minded, single-minded purposefulness to choose those elements from existing ideologies which are best fitted to become the fundaments of another entirely fictitious world.

    The world at large usually gets its first glimpse of a totalitarian movement through its front organizations. The sympathizers, who are to all appearances still innocuous fellow-citizens in a nontotalitarian society, can hardly be called single-minded fanatics; through them, the movements make their fantastic lies more generally acceptable, can spread their propaganda in milder, more respectable forms, until the whole atmosphere is poisoned with totalitarian elements which are hardly recognizable as such but appear to be normal political reactions or opinions.

    Fellow-traveler organizations surround the totalitarian movements with a mist of normality and respectability that fools the membership about the true character of the outside world as much as it does the outside world about the true character of the movement. The front organization functions both ways: as the fagade of the totalitarian movement to the nontotalitarian world, and as the fagade of this world to the inner hierarchy of the movement.

    In the centre of the movement, as the motor that swings it into motion, sits the Leader. He is separated from the elite formation by an inner circle of the initiated who spread around him an aura of impenetrable mystery which corresponds to his “intangible preponderance.” His position within this intimate circle depends upon his ability to spin intrigues among its members and upon his skill in constantly changing its personnel. He owes his rise to leadership to an extreme ability to handle inner-party struggles.”

  8. Dialey.
    This is a fantastic analysis of the current situation.
    You have really tapped into the machinations of what’s going on.
    Oh for an educated electorate. Things would be so different!

Comments are closed.