Rise of billboards flags off the race to Parliament

Peter Dunne
Wellington, August 12, 2023

From this weekend, election billboards will be going up all over the country as candidates and parties seek to promote themselves and their messages to voters in the lead-up to the General Election on October 14. Early voting will begin on October 2 and, if the trends of the previous two elections are maintained, most people will cast their votes before election day.

Early Polling in 2020

In 2020, almost 68% of votes were cast before election day, up considerably from the 47% cast early in 2017. The 2020 early turnout figure may have been influenced by people voting early to avoid being caught in queues on election day because of the lingering fear of exposure to Covid-19, but the trend is undeniable. By election day this year, most voters will have already voted.

This new pattern of voting has significant implications for political parties and their campaigns.

Their campaigns will effectively be over by the start of October, now less than eight weeks away.

Parliament will likely finish sitting on August 31 and will be formally dissolved by the Governor-General on September 8, with the formal writs for the election issued on September 10. From then, there will be just three weeks until the commencement of early voting.

Most parties have been moving steadily into campaign mode for some months now, and this will intensify as the formal campaign period begins in September after Parliament has been dissolved. By then, most of the parties will have released their major policies, with perhaps only one or two surprises left for the September campaign period. Also, during September, there will be nightly advertising on television by the political parties, and the televised debates between the major party leaders and other key party spokespeople.

The Rugby World Cup

A potential complication this year is the Rugby World Cup. This is not the first time a Rugby World Cup competition has occurred in a New Zealand election year – the 1987, 1999 and 2011 World Cups all took place in the election year. But unlike those years, where the Cup finals had taken place well before the election, this year’s competition coincides with the election campaign, with New Zealand’s opening match against France taking place on September 8. The quarterfinals in which New Zealand should feature begin on the weekend of the General Election.

The extent to which the Rugby World Cup might have an impact on the General Election is unclear.

Conventional wisdom holds that if the All Blacks are doing well that will be of assistance to the government of the day. In that regard, it is notable that in 1987 and 2011 when the All Blacks won the World Cup, the government of the day was returned at the election a month or so later, but when they lost in the semifinals in 1999 the government also lost the election a few weeks later.

This year, however, the election will be over before the Rugby World Final, so the results are less likely to be of impact. The more likely impact will be during the campaign period itself, and on the level of public interest in what the parties are saying then.

The Fiscal Climate

For that reason, alongside the impact of early voting, the next few weeks will be the most intense of the campaign cycle. One significant event will be the release of the Pre-election Economic and Fiscal Update on September 12. This will be the final official announcement on the state of the government’s books and will shape the economic debate between the parties for the balance of the election campaign. Labour’s long-awaited tax policy and National’s alternative should also be released by then, giving voters plenty of information to digest before making their voting decision. Also, National’s Party List, the only major party list not to be released so far, will need to be finalised and released prior to the deadline of September 14.

Former All Black Captain Richie McCaw apparently told the All Blacks’ World Cup team when they assembled this week that the one thing to expect during a World Cup was the unexpected.

The same holds true for election campaigns. The 2002 campaign was rocked by the Corngate scandal; in 2005 there were revelations about the Exclusive Brethren and the National Party; and in 2008 there was the Global Economic Crisis. The 2014 campaign featured the Moment of Truth with Kim Dotcom, and the lead-up to the 2017 campaign saw the unexpected arrival of Jacindamania.

It remains to be seen whether there will be a surprise distraction that emerges during the coming campaign.

Once the election is over, the writs for the election issued in September must be returned to the Clerk of the House of Representatives by November 9. Then, the Governor-General issues a proclamation summoning the new Parliament – New Zealand’s 54th – to meet within six weeks, and so, the whole electoral cycle starts all over again.

Peter Dunne is a former Minister of the Crown (December 1999 to September 2017). He lives in Wellington and writes a Weekly Column.

 

 

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