By Associate Professor Jennifer Lees-Marshment, University of Auckland

At election time we like to think politics is all about policies and principles - not profit. But while electioneering isn't about getting money, it is about getting votes and marketing is fundamental to that process.

Political market research is used by all parties to help them formulate policies and communication. Public polls and surveys also serve a democratic role in conveying voters' voices that might otherwise get lost in a process more than often dominated by elites - not just including politicians but the media and academics.

Take Vote Compass, for example. The online voter education tool run by TVNZ has not only engaged the public in discussing their views in relation to party policies; it has also indicated issues that parties are responding to...or neglecting.

Business theories at core argue companies need to create products the market wants. Politics is no different. However political marketing research has also found that parties are not always so responsive; if they stop serving their 'customers', loss of support depends on what the competition is doing.


Politics is more complex and slower than business. New parties don't spring up as easily as new businesses when the establishment rests on its laurels and stops innovating. Research on marketing by parties in government shows the longer parties are in power, the less responsive they become to the public mood. The weaker the opposition, the faster they descend into complacency.

Whilst this might not be seen with National in the headline polls, it is with more detailed market research. Vote Compass - which asks about 30 policy areas - has suggested there are a number of issues National might be neglecting. Respondents thought that inequality and affordability is the second most important issue after the economy.

Some 67 per cent said the Government should be doing more to reduce the gap between rich and poor, and 64 per cent that the minimum wage should be increased, while another 60 per cent wanted corporations to pay more tax. Over half, 55 per cent, felt that wealthier people should pay more in taxes. Questions on the environment such as funding for DOC and fracking also suggested a strong pro-environment sentiment which helps to explain the growing support for the Greens.

But marketing theory tells us it's not just the core product that counts; the overall brand and reputation for delivery is important. This is also seen in politics - it's not just party policies that make up a party's product.

A clear majority of Vote Compass respondents thought Prime Minister John Key won the first TVNZ leaders' debate; he was rated the highest of all leaders on the likeability scale (5.7) whereas David Cunliffe scored not just lower than Key (3.4) but lower than the leaders of the Greens (3.6, 3.5) and NZ First (3.7). As shown by other Herald articles , the broader perception of political consumers about a leader and their party also count.

Economic competence has been a core part of National's campaign brand, and Steven Joyce, National Campaign Manager as well as senior minister, has always understood political marketing research. Delivery capability - whether voters think a leader is capable of running government, has costed and believable policies that can actually be delivered after the election - is a really important part of winning elections. Key's move on Judith Collins was a logical marketing strategy - her resignation as minister prevented further damage to the overall brand and Team Key's core strengths of capable, trustworthy government.

The Greens also understand the importance of delivery and branding: their $1 billion plan to tackle child poverty was based on an increase in income tax amongst those earning over $140,000. They released a full breakdown of their spending and tax priorities which were independently audited - aligning to their three core brand components of a smarter economy, cleaner environment and fairer society. Labour leader David Cunliffe has not has the time to design, let alone build, positive brand equity for himself or his party.

Political marketing management is a fundamental part of political practice in both elections and government. How effectively the main parties have shown such responsiveness combined with delivery competence will be seen on election day.


But whoever wins the election will also use marketing in government. They will use market research to identify and understand their target markets, public relations to maintain a positive image, crisis management to handle inevitable problems that develop in power and delivery marketing to show progress on fulfilling their promises. Universities around the world, including Auckland, are pioneering cutting-edge research and teaching in this area. Business tools and concepts are relevant to all areas of life.