I’m supposed to be working on my book today, but Massey Uni Political Scientist Claire Robinson has written something in the Herald about politics:
If recent history is anything to go by, the 2014 general election result has already been decided.
Despite the current centre-left Labour/Greens bloc looking competitive, history tells us National should have the 2014 election in the bag, again.
How is this possible when there is a lot of water to go under the bridge between now and the next election? The Labour Party has only just got a new leader and not a single cent of money has been spent on campaign material and advertisements by any political party. Surely voters will be waiting to see what tricks David Cunliffe can pull out of Labour’s hat before coming to a decision?
Well, it’s counter-intuitive, but election campaigns in New Zealand don’t actually make much difference to the outcome of elections for major parties (although they do for minor parties).Data gathered from the New Zealand Election Study since 1999 shows that on average almost 54 per cent of voters will make their decision about which party to vote for before the election campaign.
Well that’s true. Lots of voters make their minds up before the election. When these voters are asked if they identify strongly with a particular party they’ll generally say they do. They’re mostly core voters. People who are farmers or members of Trade Unions, or who just have strong loyalty towards a particular party. But over 30% of people who voted during the 2011 election made their mind up during the campaign. 30%! 30 freaking %! The whole reason political parties spend huge amounts of money and energy campaigning during election campaigns is because a THIRD of the electorate makes up their mind during those campaigns. Campaigns are crucial! Campaigns make a HUGE difference! Campaigns!
And moving on . . .
David Cunliffe will need to convince National voters that his recent rekindling of Labour’s relationship with the union movement is also in their interests. It may have worked to shore up Cunliffe’s leadership ambitions, but persuading more conservative centre-right voters to swing to the left will not be such an easy ask . . . Conversely for Labour to grow they need to take votes off the Greens, which means that they can’t become too chummy either.
And of that gigantic white block of non-voters, 30% voted for the Labour Party in 2008, and 45% have a favorable or very favorable view of the Labour Party. So if you’re a Labour strategist are you looking at core National voters who have already made their mind up to vote for the National Party? Claire Robinson thinks you are. And, hell, twelve months ago she was right, let’s give her that. But that’s not the only option. Nor is capturing Green voters. Enough people used to vote for Labour and didn’t vote last time to swing the election for them.
I don’t know who is going to win the election next year. It’s going to be decided at the margin and the margins are filled with uncertainty. How will Cunliffe perform during the actual campaign? Goff was dreadful and you can see that impact in the polls: Labour lost about 4% during the campaign period. And who predicted that the ‘teapot tapes’ thing would happen and that National would handle it so terribly, bleeding voters to New Zealand First and getting Winston Peters back into Parliament?
But I do know the election isn’t in the bag because the people who always vote for the same party have already made up their mind to vote for the same party.