Today David Cunliffe discovered the limits of his election strategy when a likely non-voter blamed Labour for the failure of unions, and called both National and Labour a ‘coalition of fuckwits’. This man is a prime candidate for being one of the missing 800,000 voters that Labour wants to reach.
I’ve always been sceptical of Cunliffe’s/Labour’s claim that they can turn out a significant chunk of non-voters, and this guy showed why. He was uninformed, a little incoherent, and really pissed off. He showed Cunliffe that a lot of people are deeply angry and disenfranchised by the political system, and that Labour does not have a strong claim to their votes.
This point was hammered home in a recent story by Michael Field for stuff.co.nz. Field describes how National MP Cam Calder has convinced some Pacific Island clergy to vote National rather than Labour. Labour had hoped to make significant gains amongst non-voters in South Auckland, but the social conservatism of many in the community could make this difficult.
Labour’s issue is that non-voters are not a homogenous group. Sure, some of them are disillusioned Labour voters, but some are Green supporters that don’t make it to the polls, and people who for one reason or another, decide not to vote.
So in response to the Pacific clergy story and Cunliffe’s exchange with his target voter, I thought I’d briefly outline some reasons why people don’t vote.
Ignorance (I don’t know): A lot of people don’t vote because they simply don’t know enough about political parties to have an opinion.
Apathy (I don’t care): A lot of people know enough, but don’t care enough to bother voting.
Rational choice (I don’t see the point): This is a pretty logical view at the individual level. One vote literally makes very little difference. A lot of people don’t believe voting is important enough to give up whatever they’re doing.
Alienation (They don’t/can’t represent me): Some people believe that political parties do not/cannot represent them, and therefore there is no reason to vote.
Antipathy to parties (I don’t like any of them): Then there are the people like the man in the car. In this view parties are actively rejected by the voter, rather than merely failing to align with their values. This is a particularly difficult group to reach.
Antipathy to the system (I don’t like the system): This is the harshest view. These people think the political system itself is so flawed that voting is consent. This is the ‘don’t vote, it only encourages them’ approach. Chances of wooing these people are near zero.
I’ll have more to say about Labour’s ‘missing million’ strategy in the coming days. And weeks. And months. And probably years.