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Election 08: Looking for Labour’s laggards

Election 08: Looking for Labour’s laggards

By Gordon Campbell

Image manipulation – Lyndon Hood


Labour has won the popular vote in eight of the last twelve elections, Michael Cullen reminded the troops at last weekend’s Labour Party conference, in a little motivational aside. Good effort, can be done again etc. The first prize for the winner this year being…that Labour would then get first dibs on talking to Winston Peters about forming a government. Coming second means you get to match the bid, and raise it.

Given the polls right now – and I’m meaning for Labour, not for Winston, who was already sitting nicely near the threshold on the last Morgan poll - winning the party vote looks like a tall order. It claims to have a secret weapon : non voters. No joke. Labour aims to find them, phone them, ferry them, and do whatever it takes to get them out.

Last week for instance, Labour Party president Mike Williams made the point that some 540,000 people who were registered didn’t vote in the 2005 election. That’s despite the fact Labour made a concerted and highly successful push to rally support in south and west Auckland on election day. This year, the party organisation aims to roll the same kind of effort out all over the country.

Labour has known about this untapped gusher for years. “In 2002,” Williams told Scoop, “We were on 77% turnout, and turnout is falling across the world in democracies similar to ours. We did an analysis after that election and it became obvious that the vast bulk of these people were over-represented in safe Labour seats. The seat with the highest enrolled non-vote was Manakau East, and it has 14,000 of them.”

Right. A quick flick through the Chief Electoral Office’s E9 publication on the 2005 election bears him out. Election turnout in 2005 was 80.92%, a figure skewed low by the Maori seats, where voter turnout averaged out at only 67.07%.

Despite that celebrated Labour 2005 election drive in south and west Auckland, voter turnout languished down in the 70s only in seats won by Labour candidates (Christchurch Central, Mangere, Manakau East, Maungakiekie, Te Atatu and Mt Roskill) and by Jim Anderton in Wigram. Incidentally, informal vote counts were high in those seats also – and spectacularly so in Wigram. Which suggests that once Williams finds the people he’s after, a bit of coaching may be needed.

“We know who they are,” Williams says. ‘Youth, Maori and Pacific people.” Youth is always a toughie. This election, Williams estimates about 190,000 youth will be eligible to vote for the first time.

Beyond that… Williams ticks off the numbers. About 70,000 of the registererd non-voters last time were in the Maori electorates. Beyond that again…” In Manakau East alone, there’s 14,000. Mangere 12,000. Manurewa 13,000. These are high numbers. We did a bit of research to find out who they are, and we found a lot of names, and interviewed them. They’re overwhelmingly Labour, if you can get them out to vote.”

Right now nationwide, Williams concedes, he knows the targets for his drive only as blocs, and not as individuals ready to be doorknocked or phoned. “There are certain groups that have a much higher tendency not to vote than others. The poorer you get, the higher the likelihood of not voting. So you use mesh block statistics to predict who those people are. “

Among Pacifica people, he continues, the non-vote among registered voters is as high or higher, than among Maori. At around 40%. “These are huge blocs. We got from a huge amount of tele-canvassing [ in south and west Auckland] the names of these people. And we canvassed them. We found first of all, that 30 % of them actually remembered voting Labour last time. Although they didn’t. “

If all that effort in 2005 still left the target areas well adrift of the national turnout then Labour clearly has a quite mountainous job on its hands to find its lost and strayed sheep in say, the country’s provincial towns and rural areas. Or in Rongotai, or in any parts of urban New Zealand outside Auckland for that matter. Moreover…if people who are Labour leaning couldn’t be bothered to vote last time when faced with the hardline agenda of Don Brash, why should the same people feel more motivated by the prospect of John Key?

“Well, “ Williams replied, “ you heard Helen Kelly from the NZCTU [at the Labour conference.] In many ways [National] are just as hardline as they ever were. Industrial issues loom very large with these people, we found : what do I get paid, how many hours do I have to work, do I get holidays, do I get extra money for public holidays, that sort of thing. I think we’ll be able to motivate them again. Remember, we only really focussed on west Auckland, south Auckland last time.”

Right. Which raises the small matter of party resources. With only six months to go to the election, Labour has managed to identify only the blocs and not the individuals that it plans to identify, contact and mobilise. At the very least, won’t this require a major last minute scramble by Labour officials ?

“Yes, it will. But remember, we’re doing it all the time. We have massive tele-canvassing operations all over the country. We are a lot further advanced than we were last time.” And is Labour using robo-calling to help with the job ? “No, “ Williams concludes. ‘We use humans.’


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