After the first week of the election campaign, Audrey Young looks at some of the campaigns, who is running them, what their war chests look like and what makes a good one.
This week marks the start of the “crunchy time” of the election campaign, according to a proven expert in the art of political campaigning, Steven Joyce.
What happened last week was merely the prelude to what comes after the Treasury today updates its Budget forecasts in the Pre-Election Fiscal and Economic Update.
Joyce would probably not call campaigning an art and as much as the media like humour to lighten a campaign, he doesn’t see them as a fun time.
“I’ve been a fan of boring campaigns.”
By boring, he says he means “tidy” and to focus solely on what the public need to know.
“They are a fairly gruelling marathon for the participants,” he said.
Joyce ran five of National’s campaigns from 2005 and he got so good at it that Labour copied National.
It was plain for anyone to see that National had a successful formula in having Joyce as campaign chair with overall responsibility for strategic decisions and Jo de Joux as campaign director, responsible for the operations side of the campaign.
Labour adopted a similar structure in 2020 and appointed Cabinet Minister Megan Woods as campaign chair and backroom apparatchik Hayden Munro as campaign manager.
Both parties should perhaps thank Australia.
Joyce in his recent memoir On the Record compliments the Australian Liberal Party for sharing many of its campaign plans with him on a visit in 2003, before his first campaign in 2005.
Incidentally, Joyce also revealed in the book that the person originally sized up to run National’s 2005 campaign had been Scott Morrison, then the Liberals’ director in New South Wales, but who eventually made himself unavailable and went on to enter politics and become Prime Minister.
He also revealed a few campaign tips in his book such as the importance of avoiding big-brand advertising agencies who might want a big say on strategy.
“That’s harder in politics because the client, being the politician, spends their lives working on the strategy and the tactics. Ultimately in politics, the brand has to be carried by the politicians.”
Joyce and de Joux were not part of the last campaign for National, which polled 25.6 per cent under then leader Judith Collins. But the old hand de Joux, a Christchurch-based communications specialist, is back for this campaign with senior National list MP Chris Bishop as campaign chair.
The party has hired a space in Petone for its campaign HQ, with its usual base in Thorndon being too small.
Woods and Munro are back in charge of Labour’s team, and the Labour HQ is based in a high-rise building in the Wellington CBD.
Such is the level of rivalry between National and Labour, neither side would reveal what time of the morning they have their first Zoom call with the core campaign team - afraid it might give some advantage to the other side.
Labour cautiously confirmed the first call takes place between 5am and 8am.
So what makes a good campaign? It usually involves winning, but there are exceptions.
National’s 2005 campaign, Joyce’s first, was arguably one of the best. National improved by nearly 20 points from 20.93 per cent of the Party vote in 2002 to 39.1 per cent in 2005 and theoretically had the numbers to form an alternative Government, albeit a five-headed one.
Joyce deliberately avoids giving his reckons about the current campaign, despite the first week having gone well for National leader Christopher Luxon.
But he says a good campaign has to “give the public a good idea of what a government might look like after the election, particularly on policy”.
“I think the next couple or three weeks are going to be the crunchy ones.
“The question is whether the public are losing interest in the current Government or not.
“People are getting into the polls a bit because they are trying to sense that but I think there is quite a long way to run yet.”
Joyce also says that elections are not always the right time to have a big battle.
“Sometimes it is good to have a real battle but other times the public are not there. They don’t want a battle. They just want to know what you are going to do.”
It also depended very much on “where the public’s head is at”.
For this campaign, there was a serious choice for the public about sticking with the status quo or going for a change, and some serious issues.
“So they are in a very serious mood would be my sense.”
Joyce agreed that everything that happened on a campaign needed to be in pursuit of the party message. If you looked too distracted, that counted against the party.
“One of the things the public are looking for, they are looking for the parties to hold their shape, if you like, to stick with their message,” he said.
“Everybody, at different stages of the campaign, all the key players, get put through the fire and that’s fair enough. They are auditioning to be part of a government or to continue in government so the public are looking to see how you go under pressure. That’s important.”
Green Party co-leader James Shaw has now notched up a lot of experience in general elections, this being his sixth campaign, and his fourth as an MP.
“In my experience across six campaigns, the Green Party is in better shape than it has been before.”
Like most other parties, the Greens now avoid issuing dozens of policies.
It has become more selective and has honed it down to seven policy priorities with a more detailed and expansive manifesto.
It launched its main policies earlier than the other parties, with its last big policy on oceans launched on Sunday - they’re always on a Sunday.
Shaw said the party prefers to make its big announcements on a Sunday because it is easier to get a crowd then, and the Sunday night television news audience is the biggest of the week.
The policies were well thought through and clear, the candidate line-up was strong and the ground campaign for door-knocking and phone-calling was the strongest it had ever been, he said.
“It just works.”
“After six election campaigns, you do develop a lot of experience, and while I pay a lot of attention to the data, I think I’ve also developed some pretty good instincts about how campaigns are going and my instincts are telling me for the Greens, this campaign is going very well.”
Every campaign was different and each one was built on the one before.
“It has been a layering of experience, expertise, good data, honing our practices and we are getting quite good at winning,” Shaw said.
“My sense is that we are on track for the best result ever and our track record shows we are a stable and responsible Government partner who at the same time is able to stretch Labour further than [it] would otherwise be prepared to go.”
Act leader David Seymour said he was having fun on the campaign.
“The trouble is we are running out of historical figures who might vote for us.”
He caused outrage a few weeks ago when he told a meeting in Upper Moutere he believed Nelson Mandela would vote for Act were he alive today. Then it caught on. He has said a similar thing about Kate Sheppard, economist Milton Friedman, and Mauī. He originally said it about the chiefs who signed the Treaty of Waitangi when he gave a speech in te reo Māori at Waitangi in February.
A successful campaign according to Seymour is one that allows people to connect with the party, one in which people’s faith in democracy improves and one in which Act would be the only coalition partner for National.
The Act bus, dubbed Big Pinky, was launched last week for a tour of 75 towns and cities across the country. It was good for morale, said Seymour. It had a sense of fun about it, was highly visible and carried a lot of people and equipment.
As important was the colour of the bus - and Seymour says the addition of pink to the party’s traditional yellow and blue colours has helped to invigorate the party.
That was a decision he made after visiting Germany in 2018 to find out how the Free Democrats party, which had been voted out of the Bundestag in 2013, got back in 2017.
“One of the things they told me is that they had added the colour magenta. At the time I thought they were nuts but they seemed to believe this made a big difference.”
Seymour said he was not sure what else to do in the 2018-2019 era, so he copied their colour scheme.
“I didn’t see it coming at the time but it has made an enormous difference because it has given a whole lot of people permission to look at the party again, and in particular, it has given women an opportunity to look at the party again.
“When you see Karen [Chourr], for example, wearing a magenta scarf, it is quite natural, but it is also a party colour.
“It has changed the tone of the party and I think it has brought us closer to our true values which are ultimately very humanistic and anti-authoritarian.”
National and Act have a clear advantage over the other parties in terms of money raised for the campaign (see below), although the only donations that need to be declared so far in 2023 are those over $20,000.
Spending is capped for election advertising in the regulated period three months before election day (July 14 to October 13) to $1,388,000 for parties contesting the party vote plus $32,600 per electorate contested by a party candidate.
The total election advertising limit for a party that contests the party vote and stands candidates in all 72 electorates is $3,735,200.
Advertising costs paid for from the broadcasting allocation don’t count as election advertising expenses, nor do any survey or opinion polls, transport, office space, free labour, the costs of replacing hoardings, or venue hire.
Labour’s Woods is confident her party will be able to run a very competitive advertising campaign to ensure New Zealanders know Labour policies and what could be at stake under National, Act and New Zealand First.
It would be running a “people-powered” campaign, with the vast bulk of income coming from thousands of people making donations when they can.
“We’ve never been a party that had relied on very large donations from mega donors. "
She acknowledged that in Labour’s first week there had been distractions from new campaign policies such as free dental care for under 30-year olds and 300 extra police, because of a series of wrong statements by MPs.
“Both myself and the Prime Minister have made it very clear to candidates we expect them to get their facts right.”
But she said it was clear that hundreds of thousands of voters had not yet made up their minds and Labour would be laying out its plan to help fix the cost of living.
“Our job over the next five weeks is to make sure that people hear that plan.”
Campaign slogan: In it for you.
Campaign chair: Megan Woods
Campaign manager: Hayden Munro
2023 over $20,000: $608,804
TOTAL $1.23 million
Notable donors 2023: Mark Todd, Rail and Maritime Transport Workers Union, Maritime Union, Meat Workers’ Union, E Tū, Karl Maughan, Dick Hubbard, Phillip Mills, Islay Little, Dairy Workers’ Union.
Megan Woods, No 5 in Cabinet, and Hayden Munro, a former adviser to Woods, ran the 2020 campaign for Labour when it gained 50 per cent of the vote in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis. Labour’s permanent HQ in Willis St needs earthquake strengthening so the campaign HQ is now based in a Featherston St high-rise in Wellington. The party has about 10 fulltime field officers working with volunteers. The campaign launch was September 2. Cabinet Minister Willie Jackson is running the campaign for the seven Māori electorate seats.
Campaign slogan: Get our country back on track.
Campaign chair: Chris Bishop
Campaign director: Jo de Joux
2022: $5,116, 035
2023: 2023 over $20,000: $2,124,516
TOTAL $8.26 million
Notable donors 2023: Christopher and Michaela Meehan, Jonathan Schick, Calum Manson, Buen Holdings, Warren Lewis, Trevor Farmer, Jeffrey Douglas, Christopher Banks, Velocity Freight.
National List MP Chris Bishop is in the chair for the first time but the experience comes from de Joux, who was previously the operations honcho in five campaigns with Joyce. Party HQ is in Petone. It held its campaign launch on Sunday September 3 in South Auckland.
Campaign slogan: The time is now.
Campaign director: Chennoah Walford
Campaign committee conveners: Rohan O’Neill-Stevens, Gina Dao-McClay
2022: $413, 359
2023 over $20,00: $587,686
TOTAL $1.4 million
Notable donors 2023: Marama Davidson, James Shaw, Robert Morgan, Suzy and James Cameron, Greg Payne, L.F. Tapert, Mark Zeman, Michael Lookman, Betty Harris Estate, Weft Knitting Company, Phillip Mills.
Chennoah Walford was the deputy director in 2020. She then went and worked with the Greens in Australia and returned to campaign fulltime in New Zealand. The campaign committee includes the co-leaders and is convened by Rohan O’Neill-Stevens, a Nelson city councillor and deputy mayor, and Gina Dao-McClay, the Green candidate for Mana. All Green MPs’ salaries are tithed and the co-leaders’ cumulative donations reached more than $20,000 this year. The Greens launched their campaign on Sunday July 23 in Wellington.
Campaign slogan: Fresh thinking, real change.
Campaign manager: Stu Wilson
Campaign director: Nick Wright
2023 over $20,000: $1,594,725
TOTAL $4.4 million
Notable donors 2023: Neale Underdown, David Richwhite, Craig Heatley, Align Farm Investments, Christopher and Banks, Murray Chandler, Graeme Hart, Trevor Farmer, Dame Jenny Gibbs, Nicholas Mowbray, Sir Peter Vela, Christopher Meehan.
The campaign manager is party loyalist Stu Wilson, who has worked on every Act campaign since 1999. He is assisted by Nick Wright, an Australia-based professional consultant from Sentio, who trained under right-wing US political communications expert Frank Luntz. Its campaign HQ is based in Parnell, Auckland. Act is running a two-ticks campaign in Epsom, held by leader Seymour, and in Tāmaki, where deputy leader Brooke van Velden is challenging National’s Simon O’Connor. The campaign launch will be on Saturday September 17 in central Auckland.
Tē Pāti Māori
Campaign slogan: For an Aotearoa hou [new]
Campaign chair: John Tamihere
2023 over $20,000: $50,000
Notable donors 2023: John Tamihere
The campaign is run by a committee including the party executive, the two co-leaders, and John Tamihere as party president. He is a list candidate, as he was last time, although only symbolically at No 28 out of 30, and is running the campaign. He is a major donor, the only one over $20,000 this year. Tē Pāti Māori launched its campaign at a Matariki festival on July 14, organised by Te Whānau o Waipareira, whose chief executive is Tamihere.
New Zealand First
Campaign slogan: Let’s take back our country.
Campaign director: Darroch Ball
2023 over $20,000: $581,141
TOTAL $1 million
Notable donors 2023: Dave Muller, M.J. Wyborn, Hugh Barr Estate, A.J.R. Finance, John Bayley, T. Farmer.
Darroch Ball, a former New Zealand First MP, is the campaign director. After the party was voted out in 2020, Ball led the party rebuild and became president for a time. He accompanies leader Winston Peters to campaign meetings and works from campaign HQ in Ponsonby. The party launched its campaign at the convention in July and is not having another. It has announced candidates for 30 seats so far and its list will be released on Thursday.