Ideally, how democracy works is that you vote for what you want and, writ large, you get it. It is not a perfect model even if everyone sticks to that fundamental tenet. In practice, of course, the reality is far different, for three main reasons:
- Political parties manipulate their messages and their tactics to try and get more votes than their policies would attract on ‘interest’ grounds alone.
This perennial issue was pursued by Machiavelli, of course, but also considered at length by the Italian Communist, Antonio Gramsci, who was imprisoned for his opposition to Mussolini. How do you get people to support a regime that basically limits their own power and works against their interests? The answer is to persuade people that your party understands and is in line with their interests. In short, use Crosby/Textor techniques to ensure what you campaign on is a ‘dog whistle’ for people who would not otherwise vote for you.
The downside of this is that if you get caught being less than authentic, or even are suspected of being less than authentic, this will work against you. Collins’ prayer moment was, however in line with her beliefs, crass and badly handled. It grated. People believed she prayed to attract votes.
Talking about grating and crass, a New Conservative candidate has reported receiving intimidation and death threats throughout his campaign for spouting his Brash-like ‘one law for all’ (meaning dishonour the Treaty, of course) policies. In Taranaki, FFS. What did he expect? He is now bravely going where no sane person would go, using “his platform to speak out against the death threats and blatant intimidation he has received”. Honestly, what do you expect for trampling on history? At least it has given him something to talk about on the hustings.
2: People try to affect the outcome by voting tactically.
People may try to use their votes to influence a particular outcome. This might be, for example, “I voted for X Party to make sure that Y Party has a coalition partner”. Or, for example, voting for Chloe in Auckland Central to ’save’ the Greens. These are valid approaches, but you may not get what you want in voting this way. In terms of the Chloe vote, however, this makes political sense because, if the Greens were below the 5% threshold, and Labour’s vote fell a little, we could end up with a National/Act majority. Labour should definitely dog whistle that a strategic vote in Auckland Central offers a teensy bit of insurance to Labour against this happening. But parties, and especially the Labour Party, historically find this hard to do.
3: All sorts of barriers are put in people’s way to prevent them voting, if at all, in their own interests.
I just love the early voting booths all over the place which are, of course, intended (along with enrolment up to and including election day) to make sure that as many people as possible vote. The other side of this coin, though, is that hard to reach voters may often be disengaged from politics and therefore more vulnerable to falling into the traps of point 1 above. I do think that National has been running a strategy to attract the votes of certain groups who are historically low turn-out voters, to wit, Pasifika (especially Samoan origins) and Christian voters (i.e. those with strong Christian beliefs who want to vote on those beliefs). The list is undoubtedly longer than this, too. However, such tactics may backfire, because people are not stupid (see point 1 above).
On the other hand, there may be a growing minority of voters with extreme rightist views in New Zealand. The move leftwards by Act has opened up space on the right for Advance NZ and the New Conservatives to slug it out for 2-4% of the vote. This could become a problem in future elections (but not yet this one), as MMP opens the door for such groups to enter parliament and influence policies.
I really like that, this last week in particular, Labour has announced a lot of policy, some of which is quite dear to my heart. The most substantive is the commitment to continue on the justice reform programme. But there are others. Isn’t it strange how things emerge during elections? Labour has announced it will ban conversion therapy, the practice of trying to make gay people straight. I am not sure that making it an offence is the way to go, though, as it may merely drive the practice further underground or make martyrs of ‘converters’ if arrested.
Having written all this, which should largely be obvious but is not always so (except for Daily Blog readers, of course, who have a superior understanding of politics), merely underlines the crying need for one more crucial policy: comprehensive civics education in our schools. That, in practice, might mean that New Zealanders at last vote for what they want, and get it.
Dr Liz Gordon is a researcher and a barrister, with interests in destroying neo-liberalism in all its forms and moving towards a socially just society. She usually blogs on justice, social welfare and education topics.