Over 95 per cent of RSA members supported New Zealand's current flag and the RSA's campaign to keep it, the association's CEO, Dave Moger, told the 24-hour Flag Summit.
Moger, one of many panel guests invited to take part in the flag debate hosted on Newstalk ZB and iHeart Radio in the 24 hours between 8pm Monday and Tuesday,
defended the association's stance.
The RSA has been a vociferous opponent of changing the flag and has asked members to follow the tactic of encouraging voters to write "we support the current flag" on the ballot paper of the first flag referendum, a move which has angered some RSA members.
However, Moger said: "I have genuinely been surprised by the level of support for our current position and our campaign position. We have 100,000 members and you could expect some diverse opinion out of that - but I have been overwhelmed.
"I travel round the country all the time to district meetings and RSAs and I always ask people what their position is and I have been astonished at the overwhelming nature of their support [for the current flag]."
However, Flag Consideration Panel chairman Professor John Burrows, another panel guest, said the RSA move to informalise the voting papers by writing in an option not catered for on the paper, was flawed.
People who did not state a preference for the flags in the first referendum risked losing their chance to influence the choice of the new flag if there was a vote for change.
"In my view, we have a voting population of about 3 million. From my discussions and travels round the country, I think about 2 million of them have been silent so far - and voting properly is the only way to find out what they are thinking."
The first referendum is designed to rank the five flag options in an order of preference from November 20 - December 11 with the second referendum (a vote between the flag chosen by the preferential voting system and the current flag) timed for March.
Chief electoral officer for the Electoral Commission, Robert Peden, told the panel the RSA tactic meant such votes would not be counted towards the overall result.
But Moger said: "Our membership believe the current flag represents our heritage and our place in the world and it has stood the test of time. They are saying they are not against change but are for the current flag.
"Informalising the voting paper is an additional option. Informalised voting papers are counted and reported. It's an option if you have already made up your mind you want the current flag.
"But the last thing we want is for people not to participate in the first referendum. We want people to participate and, if they have a preferred choice, to make it count. But if they don't want any of the current options, then we are advocating an option that will be counted separately and will send a message."
Burrows: "Informalised votes can happen for several reasons including people making a mistake, so it may not send a message. But you also lose any chance you have of influencing a new flag if there is a move for change. To my mind, you have a chance to say that [what the RSA recommends] twice - and I don't understand that."
Asked by host Kerre McIvor whether the RSA stance was petulant, Moger said: "No, a decision about the referendum has been made and we want everyone to take part - not taking part is not an option or it is the worst case option."
The 24-hour Summit is running through the night from 8pm tonight until 8pm Tuesday, the first broadcast from the iHeart Radio lounge in NZME's new flagship headquarters on Victoria St, Auckland city. It is being simulcast on Newstalk ZB from 8pm-5am Monday/Tuesday and continues on iHeart until 8pm Tuesday. People can join in by:
• Texting questions to TEXT 92-92 keyword "Flag"
• Social media (NZ Herald's Facebook page)
• Calling 0800-NZFLAG to leave a message or ask a question
Panel guests appearing during the 24 hours will include Flag Consideration Panel members Professor Burrows, Peter Chin, Julie Christie, Rhys Jones and academic and flag historian Malcolm Mulholland. Other guests taking part in the panel discussions include business leaders like Malcolm Rands (Ecostore) and Murray Thom (Personalised Plates founder), entertainers Oscar Kightley, Lizzy Marvelly, Jackie Clarke and Tim Beveridge, Moger and Maxim Institute think tank CEO Alex Penk. Broadcasters Petra Bagust, Jason Reeves, Oriini Tipene-Leach, Tim Fookes and John Cowan will also take part as will university professors and lecturers including Claasen, Professor Peter Lineham (both Massey University) and Dr Felicity Barnes (Auckland) plus many more commentators, writers, bloggers and youth representatives.