Monday, 25 May 2009

campaigning in mt albert

i had to be in auckland this saturday, so took the opportunity to spend time on the mt albert campaign. i had a great time, and the campaign is very well-organised and vibrant. volunteers were coming through the door all day, and there was a really electric atmosphere.

i did some door-knocking on one of the nicer streets, and we got a reasonable response. there were some undecideds and a couple of i-don't-cares. funniest was one fellow who told me he was a definite nat, but would be voting for david shearer because of that melissa lee. and i think this is one the main problems she faces: she has alienated some of national's core support.

also did a spot of leafletting and got called a communist - well not directly. some middle-aged white guy said something along the lines of "are those pamphlets from that communist labour party?". yeah, really witty. i wish i'd asked him if his parents had smacked him when he was little.

it was certainly an interesting day, and it helped that it was bright and sunny. and once again, i have to hand it to the volunteers. all those people who put in countless hours for a cause they believe in and for no personal gain. it's so frustrating that the rest of the population don't realise the benefit they receive from these people who are basically the wheels of our democracy. there are the people who think about policy and put forward ideas and who debate the issues; those who work on fundraising; those who volunteer for the dull administrative work; those who pound the pavement, and plenty more.

these are the people who ensure the party functions and provides a vehicle for social democratic ideas to become part of government policy. i salute you all, you're doing a wonderful job.


Hugh said...

As you may well know, back in the day - the 70s and earlier, mostly - the major political parties' electoral machines relied almost exclusively on volunteer labour, and relatively little of their campaigns involved paying ad agencies, pollsters etc.

Do you think we'd be better off going back to those days? And do you think it would be possible?

stargazer said...

i don't know that i'd go for ad agencies & pollsters so much. but on the other hand, because there are small numbers of people involved, it puts an unfair burden on volunteers to do the work that is actually benefitting the country as a whole. if we didn't have strong political parties that provided credible alternatives to the ruling party, our country would be much worse off. in that context, i'm actually a strong supporter of state funding of political parties (with tough accountability and transparency rules of course) because what is being provided by the parties is a public good.

unfortunately, i don't see us going back to the 70's and the high levels of political party membership that we had then.

Hugh said...

it puts an unfair burden on volunteers to do the work that is actually benefitting the country as a whole.

Does that go for people volunteering for National too? ;-)

So what do you think has changed since the 70s, leading to political party membership falling off so steeply? It seems to be a phenomenon that's occurred across all western democracies. Obviously it's a product of apathy, but what's caused that apathy - and why doesn't it seem to have had an effect on other manifestations of political engagement, such as voting?

stargazer said...

Does that go for people volunteering for National too?well i did say state funding of political parties, not state funding of the labour party! so i guess that was implied... but having said that, i don't think the national party has that many on the ground volunteers. in 2005 they relied heavily on the exclusive brethren for things like phone canvassing and leaflet drops. more of their campaigning seems to be done via by mass media. and i have no idea how they develop policy. they hardly released any in the last campaign so it's pretty hard to tell.

re dropping of participation, that's a difficult one & i'm no political scientist. one factor would be the whole rogernomics followed by ruthanasia thing which left a lot of people disillusioned with politics. it was a period where parties were promising one thing before the election but doing something completely different afterwards.

second would be the loss of community, and more individualistic thinking. this would be as a result of a lot of the privatisation and right-wing philosophies going around in the 80s and 90s. the focus on individual responsibility over community responsibility leads to a lack of feeling the need to be involved in collective effort - hence the disengagement with political parties.

another factor would be lack of time. overall prosperity has increased, but only because many households have both partners in employment. this means housework and child-rearing activities have to take place after work, hence less time for other activities such as politics.

i'm sure there are plenty of other things that will come to me later. anyway, stop making me do all the work! what are your thoughts on the issue?

Hugh said...

Hey Stargazer, thanks for sharing your thoughts. Explaining this fall in political volunteerism is one of the holy grails for political science so I don't really have any answers, just a few thoughts.

I think there's a lot to what you say about the effects of Rogernomics and the fact that people don't live as much in their communities as they once did - this is sometimes summed up as 'atomisation' which is a slightly fanciful term but works well to summarise these factors.

I'm not actually sure that prosperity has increased overall - people may be earning more in dollar terms than they did in the late 60s and early 70s, but households on average spend a greater proportion of their income on necessities (food, rent etc) now than they did in the pre-Kirk era. So it may simply be a result of people having less time due to being less prosperous.

One aspect that you have missed is the rise in prominence of television as a medium for political campaigning, a phenomenon that largely corresponds to the decline of voluntarism. Accessing television is something that you need money for, not volunteers. So it may be that political parties are actually less interested in recruiting volunteers than they were 30 years ago, since there's a limit to how far volunteer labour can take you in an election campaign.

stargazer said...

actually, i wouldn't agree with your last paragraph. some traditional campaigning methods still work, particularly door-knocking and physical presence at things likes markets and fairs. i think push-polling was particularly effective in the 2005 campaign. i can assure you that parties are still very keen to increase the number of volunteers, to get the work done.

Hugh said...

Oh I wouldn't say it doesn't work, just that it's no longer the only game in town, as it was prior to the rise of TV-oriented politicians like Kirk and Muldoon. And yes, parties are still keen to recruit volunteers - but probably not as keen as they were back then. Admittedly I have no research to back it up, but that's my guess.