5 lessons for Labour from Obama 2012

The US election is always a sight to behold, and this week was no different. To be honest, you shouldn’t expect anything less from the most expensive election in human history, with over US$4b spent!

Mark Ferguson at the British website LabourList has written a list of five lessons that Labour can take from the Obama victory. While our MMP system means that we need to have a nationwide focus, and can’t simply pump all our energy into marginal areas as they do in the UK and US, I believe there are quite a few similarities between the lessons Ferguson has identified and the New Zealand situation. I highly recommend you read the full article, but for now, here are his five lessons:

1. Polling works

The first point, polling works, is never going to win an election in New Zealand, but it certainly can help. Unlike in the UK and the US where polling is used to identify marginal areas and the issues important to them, electorate level polling is a far less important tool in MMP situations.

2. GOTV works

The failure of Romney’s GOTV effort is an interesting one, and I may write about that more in depth in future. In any country where turnout is gradually decreasing, smart GOTV efforts can make all the difference. Of course, this won’t be an issue any of my Australian colleagues will take any notice of!

3. The ground war beat the air war

Here Ferguson is advocating for the effort of volunteers on the ground as opposed to fancy television ads. With our very regimented campaign broadcasting system (and the accompanying public funding), we have a far “fairer” system. Which means that by default, the “ground war” is always going to be vitally important. What form that takes is a matter for debate.

4. The debates matter (but not too much)

This should be a point that few New Zealanders would challenge. In 2002 the polling worm essentially got Peter Dunne back into Parliament with a menagerie of United Future MPs who would have never thought they actually had a future in Parliament just a month earlier. Ultimately it didn’t change the composition of the government – but it did effect the race in a noticeable way.

5. The government doesn’t always lose when the economy is in a mess

This is going to be something the Labour Party in 2014 pays attention to. We can’t simply rely on National’s economic mismanagement to get us over the line.

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