The Sunday Star-Times has produced an interesting article on the role of emotion in people’s voter choices leading into this year’s General Election.
While the results are not great news for Labour supporters, it’s the first poll of its kind to be made public in NZ.
There’s a lot of controversy over whether we ought to be encouraging the issues of perception in NZ politics. Many within Labour describe this as ‘Americanisation’, which they believe should be fought off with a very big stick. At the same time, many within Labour are mystified as to why after two years of producing complex media statements, holding ernest public meetings and articulating rigorous policy debate from the opposition benches, their message doesn’t seem to be getting through to the public.
Perhaps this poll shows one reason why. Die-hard democratic academics like Drew Westen and George Lakoff have been banging their heads against the wall as they’ve watched democratic candidates lose election after election despite polling higher than their republican opponents on matters of policy.
Westen and Lakoff show that people vote for candidates that appeal to their emotions, which is something the Republicans have learned to used to their advantage. In 2004, while Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry hoped that doggedly sticking to policy issues would win him the presidency, President George W Bush set about portraying Kerry as a weak-willed, flip-flopping intellectual and meanwhile built his own brand as a beer-drinking, gun-slinging, true-blue American. Although voters tended to support Kerry on policy, Bush’s ‘middle-America’ brand was better understood by voters and his campaign was successful.
This is an extreme example and I would never encourage this brand of politics to hijack NZ’s policy debate. However, John Key’s ‘smile and wave’ strategy is straight out of the Republican handbook and has helped produce one of the most popular governments this country has ever witnessed.
So leading into the election campaign, the challenge for Phil Goff is this:
Will you too doggedly stick to the policy issues and brush aside the issues of perception as if they are dirty American-style sideshows, or will you develop an ethical brand to compliment your manifesto in a way that reaches out to ordinary kiwis and demands they know what Labour really stands for?
For some guidance, hat tip to the big man.