Yesterday’s New Zealand local government elections were great for Labour right around the country.
As well as many council and local board successes, the mayors of Auckland, Christchurch, Wellington, Whanganui and Rotorua are now all Labour members. This means that 49% of the New Zealand population has a Labour mayor – which is very impressive.
In Wellington, Labour did particularly well. Not only did they retain the Lambton Ward council seat vacated by Mark Peck’s retirement, but they gained a seat in the Northern Ward with Peter Gilberd. And of course, Wellington has it’s first Labour mayor in 24 years in Justin Lester.
Lester’s campaign defied expectations and won with an impressive majority of almost 7,000 votes.
How did Labour get over the line? Highly targeted field work, and a lot of it. It’s not a new concept, but one that has just seen it’s best ever New Zealand execution. It’s a model that has seen extensive use in Australia in recent years (Victoria 2014, Federal 2016 and NT 2016 in particular) and has now proven it’s worth many times over. Sydney University’s Stephen Mills has written an excellent summary of the use of field campaigning in Australia in 2016 – check it out.
Firstly, Wellington Labour recruited an army of over 250 volunteers to knock on doors and make phone calls. Around 40% of the volunteers weren’t party members – they were regular Wellingtonians that were mobalised into action instead of rusted on branch members who would prefer to spend their time debating policy remits. From what I’m told almost all of the campaign’s regular canvassers had never taken political action like this before.
This small army, plus Labour’s candidates themselves, had over 60,000 personal conversations with voters during the campaign (these are phone calls or door knocks, just meeting someone at a street stall at a market doesn’t count)
Justin Lester personally spoke to 14% of the people who voted (the campaigns are given lists of people who have and haven’t voted, very useful to try and encourage people to vote who haven’t yet done so). Think about that for a second. If you voted in the Wellington City Council election, there was a 14% chance that the Labour candidate spoke to you – either over the phone or on your door step – that’s impressive.
And while the campaign went on for months, 10,000 of Labour’s 60,000 voter contacts were made in the last two weeks – when undecided voters were making up their minds and people finally got around to voting.
No doubt more analysis will be done of the results (particularly once the special votes are counted and included), but from the result one thing is clear: people power made a huge difference in the Wellington City Council election.
Labour’s newly created Community Action Network has 250 trained recruits who know how to talk to voters and make persuasive conversations.
This is how you win.
Netflix has launched with a roar in Australia and New Zealand, and research is starting to come in showing that the take-up has been huge.
Analysts predict that if Netflix were measured as a 24-hour station by Nielsen, it would have more viewers than ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox within the year.
This is yet another piece of evidence that very significant numbers of people are abandoning the traditional “ Movie Box” media. Also (radio, newspapers and magazines).
While I have no doubt that a very good (and expensive) TV ad campaign might have previously been able to win elections, there are more and more reasons why this is no longer the case.
If you were to sink the vast bulk of your campaign budget into TV ads, you should really stop and think about how many people would actually see them (and that is assuming they have any effect at all, of which there is limited evidence).
The envelope on which NZ Labour’s campaign review was written on the back of has unsurprisingly been leaked. Expect a witch hunt to distract from just how sub-standard the review is.
The content of the review, and lack-thereof, offer a fascinating insight into a party in turmoil. The actual 2014 general election campaign is skimmed over – most of the focus of the review instead seems to be the party’s organisational structures.
I’m going to go through the review and offer some thoughts. Starting with part 1 – General Election 2014.
Part 1 – General Election 2014
1A Campaign organisation
The late start under a changed leadership team left too little time to allow Labour to prepare and implement an effective campaign. In general, Labour’s campaign preparation was inadequate.
The new leadership team should make an immediate start on developing and implementing a coordinated strategic plan for contesting the 2017 election. A small and properly constituted Campaign Committee should be established at least a year out from the election and should be charged with preparing and implementing a campaign strategy which achieves buy-in from everyone, from the leader down.
While I don’t really disagree with the sentiment here, I find it an odd thing to open the review with (defensively stating “we didn’t have enough time”). David Cunliffe had a year between taking over as leader and the general election – which oddly is the lead time the review recommends for the setup of a campaign committee. I actually thought that the campaign committee was a standing committee, and if it isn’t, it should be. With three year terms no political party can afford to take two years off from campaigning.
1B Candidate selection
Candidate selection on the whole worked well and produced some excellent candidates. Late candidate selection hampered some 2014 electorate campaigns.
There should be a strategy developed for early selections and electorates with limited potential to generate a significant candidate pool. Attention should be paid to the transparency and fairness of the process for drawing up the list and to the structure of the list.
Oh candidate selection worked well, did it? The late selection bit is rubbish too – it is one area where Labour actually did really well. Six months out from the election Labour had selected all but seven electorate candidates, well ahead of Nats, Greens and NZ First.
Yes there should be a strategy developed for early selections, but this was done following the 2012 Coatsworth/Shearer review. What this review needed to do was ask *why* didn’t it happen – or is it simply misinformed.
The campaign was undoubtedly hindered by a shortage of financial resources. The finance available was less than in earlier campaigns, though only a little less by comparison with 2011. Labour must do better in this respect in 2017. Labour must build greater confidence in its ability to win and to form a successful government, and – in addition to building its database of online donors – it must use high – level business and other contacts, supported by a strengthened group of professional fundraisers on the staff team, in approaching the corporate sector and other potential sources of funding for donations.
We need more money. This could pretty much be the title of the review. Let’s see if any action is actually taken.
Perceptions of tension around the leadership and disunity within caucus seriously undermined Labour’s credibility with voters and frustrated any attempt to present a Party that was ready for government.
It is imperative that Labour acts – and is seen to act – as a disciplined and coherent team that is ready for government if it is to win the trust of voters in 2017. As a key element of this process, the senior leadership team within Caucus should be given greater prominence and responsibility throughout the three years.
Yes, leadership was a problem. However the review conveniently ignores the harsh reality that the party was facing an election with a deeply unpopular leader. I’d be interested to know if this review panel has actually seen the research the party did on leadership? Yes, caucus disunity was a problem for David Cunliffe, but only in so far as it had been for every single Labour leader before him. Though I don’t have any hard stats to back this up, I actually think the party and caucus seemed pretty united during the campaign, and I certainly don’t recall any leaks against the leader (as had happened previously).
Sadly, the recommendation the review provides (giving the senior leadership team in caucus more prominence and responsibility) doesn’t really seem to be a solution to any problem, real or imagined.
So, we’re at the end of the General Election 2014 section of the review, and we have the following recommendations:
1. Form a campaign committee a year out from the election.
2. There should be a strategy for early selections. The list selection process should be “transparent and fair”.
3. More resources are needed for training candidates, campaign managers and volunteers (this was 1C, which I haven’t covered because it’s totally uncontroversial)
4. We need more money, and to do that we need more professional fundraisers in head office.
5. Giving the senior leadership team in caucus more prominence and responsibility.
I challenge any member of the Labour Party to take a look at that list and tell me that it adequately addresses the problems Labour’s campaign in 2014 faced.
Part 2 – Policy and Positioning
This section has a list of policy and positioning recommendations which it tells us are not actually recommendations, because they first need to be passed to the Policy Council and then the Media and Communications Unit in the Leader’s Office. I’m going to ignore it, as the party almost certainly will (after Patrick Gower has finished mocking 2G).
Part 3 – Party Governance and Organisation
This truly is the strangest part of the review. It goes from making recommendations based on problems Labour faced in 2014, to just making stuff up. I’ll try and summarise, but forgive me if I end up rambling, due to the nature of the subject matter.
3A – Party legal status
This is an issue I’ve heard about before, and still to this day don’t really understand (the review doesn’t go into much detail). I don’t know why it was a problem, or what the review is recommending, so hopefully the new general secretary will be able to finally resolve this.
3B – National level organistational structure
This section a series of recommendations. Sadly the review doesn’t mention what problem they are trying to address. Here is what they suggest:
1. A new sub-committee of NZ Council, the Executive, which would include the Leader, President, two senior Vice Presidents, General Secretary, and three Party members elected directly by the membership. Tasked with developing and implementing campaign strategy as well as selection criteria.
2. Maintaining and expanding the NZ Council to include an ethnic representative.
3. A Campaign Committee to be appointed by NZ Council.
4. Sector groups to be reviewed (yes, this review recommends more reviewing).
5. Te Kaunihera Māori, the Māori section of the Party , should also undertake a review (are we seeing a pattern here?).
As I said earlier, I don’t really know what the problem is the review is trying to address here. I would actually assume that the new Executive and Campaign Committees would conflict and potentially hinder each other’s work.
3C – Local organising
The recommendations in this section are a mess. They recommend cementing the LEC (electorate committee) as the main unit of power, not abolishing branches but removing any power they have. It also recommends finally abolishing regional councils, which should have happened when Hubs were implemented. However it still leaves in place the regional reps on NZ Council (which will never be allowed to get smaller) and regional conferences will never die. Sadly review doesn’t touch on how the “Hub” organisational model worked or didn’t in the general election.
3D – Affiliates
Precis: the affiliation model is broken (also, we get no money from them).
The main recommendation that there should be a working group to “examine the most effective way for affiliates to be integrated into a campaign strategy.” And it also handily points out that the money gained from unions is small, but doesn’t have any recommendations on what to do about that.
3E – Candidates
I’m going to quote the first line of this section: “The real question appears to be how the Party identifies candidates and then prepares and supports its candidates before, during and after the election.”
I’m sorry, does it?
It also then goes on to say:
“One of the most criticised aspects of the last election was the process for selection of list candidates”
Really? Not the fact that you got 25% of the Party Vote?
It then goes on to make the following recommendations to change this ‘problem’:
1. Any member with 10 signatures should be able to nominate for the list (this is raising the current threshold, but it’s still so low it doesn’t matter).
2. All nominations should be vetted (and presumably vetoed) by a three-person “Vetting Committee”.
3. Moderating Committee should change to being composed of the NZ Council + 4 members of caucus (does that include the members that already sit on NZ Council).
These three recommendations are the most incredible thing in the review. They’re proposing to centralise power in a way that would make Muldoon blush. While they complain about a lack of democracy and transparency, their recommendations propose the opposite. Amazing.
3F – Fundraising
The main recommendation here is to put in place a capital fund to pay for campaigns. And to do that they want to “unlock the significant resources held by local entities of the Party”. Good luck with that.
At the end of the day this review is a mess. However the biggest problem will be if the party focusses on the guff in it (I can already imagine the fights that changes to LEC and regional council rules will cause) and continues to ignore the very real political problems it faces – which remain largely unaddressed.
Given this review is a waste of the envelope it was written on, it will be interesting to see how the new leader and president react (I can’t imagine the current General Secretary doing much to improve the situation).
There are few people who would doubt that digital is becoming an increasingly important component of political campaigns. Sadly I can no longer find the source for this graph, but it’s one that I’ve shown a few times recently to convey that both sides of politics are embracing digital as an increasingly large chunk of their campaign expenditure (in the US at least).
One of the quaint things about election campaigns in New Zealand is the disclosure of electoral expenses, in order to enforce their spending caps. This allows us to very accurately examine what political parties are spending, and what they are spending it on.
Now that the 2014 election expenses have been released I’ve been able to compile what the various parties spent online, and there are some interesting numbers… (data here if you can’t see the full table)
|Social Media||Websites||Display Ads||Misc Digital||Total Digital Spend||Total Spend||% Digital|
While I wasn’t surprised to see that both the Greens and Internet Mana spent a large proportion of their budget online (at 9.2% it’s a higher proportion than the 2012 Obama campaign) – to be honest I was surprised the Internet Mana party didn’t spend more. The only other minor party that made a substantial investment was ACT – presumably getting David Seymour’s video far and wide.
What is surprising is both the huge proportion of their budget that National spent online (18% is much higher than I’ve seen in any other political campaign). As well as investing reasonably heavily in social media and a rather good looking website, they totally saturated online display advertising. It looks like they totally dominated in this space.
By contrast not only did Labour spend a tiny amount of money, but even the proportion of their total spend on digital was small.
This led me to wonder what this looked like compared to the 2011 election. So I dug out those numbers and compared…
|Total Digital Spend 2011||Total Spend 2011||% Digital 2011||Change between 2014 and 2011|
Surprisingly the Greens dropped their digital spend as a proportion of their total campaign budget, but I imagine this is probably because their total campaign budget was so much larger this time, and much of their additional resource was allocated to TV. They still spent almost three times as much online in 2014 as they did in 2011.
While National outspent Labour and the Greens on digital in 2011, they dramatically increased their spend in 2014. To be honest, I’m really taken back by it. You don’t think of the Nats as being on the cutting edge of campaigning, but I’ve never seen a political party invest so heavily in digital media before. Let’s hope the new look Labour team decide to do things a bit differently.
This data has been hand coded from the election expense results. There will be data entry errors on my part.
I’ve broken the 2014 data down into three sub-categories of digital spend: social media, websites and digital display advertising. Apologies for not doing this with the 2011 data.
I’ve compared the 2014 Internet Mana party with the 2011 Mana Party – very different beasts.
If you have trouble viewing this data on my blog, you can see the spreadsheet.
I’ve been contacted by Labour to point out some of the digital spending in their expense that I missed, I have updated accordingly and removed a paragraph from my post that is now inaccurate with the new figures. If anyone else spots mistakes or omissions I’m more than happy to make corrections.
There’s a lot of analysis about “why Labour did not win”. (Short answer: it was heavily overdetermined.) But this is about just one reason that is not why Labour did not win, one thing that almost certainly made no difference to the result: hoardings.
There’s various theories about Labour’s hoardings, ranging from the true – Vote Positive was a weird choice for a message – to the somewhat kooky – apparently we should have plastered David Cunliffe’s face over everything, as if voters might have somehow forgotten he was leader – to the utterly crazy – the claim that Auckland MPs were hiding party vote hoardings on back streets. These theories, of course, are always delivered with complete certainty.
But there’s a fundamental problem with these arguments: hoardings have very little effect on the outcome of elections. Hardboiled American political hacks have a stock phrase for this: “signs don’t vote”. It’s not quite fair to say they don’t do anything – seeing a neighbour’s fence with a candidate’s face on it does matter, because it’s an endorsement from someone in your community, someone who’s part of your broader social milieu. But a large billboard at the roadside? It just doesn’t make much difference. As an Auckland friend of mine sarcastically puts it, “I always make voting decisions based on what corflute on the street tells me”.
There’s some academic research to back this up*, and smart American practice is shifting this way. So, overall, if your theory of Labour’s loss relies on poor hoarding design or display, it is not a load bearing structure.
* Which I’m too lazy to look up right now, sorry.
One of the many quaint things about New Zealand politics, is the odd, round about way they deal with partial state funding of political parties, while mashing it into a spending cap, and leaving a mess of a solution that suits no one.
Basically, the Electoral Commission allocates money to each party based on a huge number of factors, including number of MPs, polling performance and this year they’ve even quietly announced that they are taking Facebook Likes into consideration!
This money can then *only* be used for the production and broadcast of radio and television ads. Not only is it ring fenced, but it also acts as a spending cap – parties can not spend any additional money on TV or radio than what they are allocated by the electoral commission. The one way that parties can somewhat get around this is if they fund the production of the ads themselves, so they can spend the full amount of their allocation on ad placement.
Is it an ideal system? Nope. Is it likely to change anytime? Of course not.
As a campaigner it really bugs me. Additional campaign funds, that you don’t even have to work to fundraise for, is fantastic. Having to spend the money on one of the least effective forms of advertising? Well, that’s just cruel. I would spend that money wisely on Pole Banner Hardware, after the intial investment this type of advertising has much more return.
Another odd, and very old fashioned aspect of the system is that each party gets a set amount of time to broadcast opening and closing TV statements. These are played together on TV1 about a month out from the election, and then closing statements in the final week. Just like last year, National have gone with something safe and dull, and Labour have tried something new and exciting. It’s cool to see just how good Labour’s offering is. But sadly it will be seen by very very few swing voters.
Anyway, here are this year’s opening statements…
Theirs isn’t online either. And their YouTube channel hasn’t been updated in five years. Suits their brand I guess?
Okay this is getting ridiculous. Theirs isn’t online either, and they haven’t updated their YouTube channel in a year.
And finally, I highly recommend you check out Steph’s reviews at The Standard.
And if you’re in NZ (or can figure out how to use a VPN so TVNZ thinks you’re in NZ), you can watch the full “programme” here.
Sometimes you just have to laugh.
Like at a senior MP sharing a story about how the leader is a liability…
Scary that 26 of Rawiri’s fan’s liked the Party Vote Green message!
Look, I know Labour’s electoral strategy relies heavily on hashtags, but please make that the last time anyone uses #ElectoralAct1993.
#Labour2041? As I said, sometimes you just have to laugh.
Seriously though, from what I’ve been told, an 8 page social media guidebook has been circulated to caucus and candidates. I have no idea if it covers this sort of stuff or not. But regardless, someone needs to be cracking some heads together (that Rawiri post has now been online for three days) and telling candidates that these posts need to come down, and not happen again. Like I said yesterday, when Labour are struggling to get their message out at all, they shouldn’t allow candidates (or the leader) to create distractions.