Young Politicos: what makes them?

Clockwise from top left: Nathalie Blakely, Michael Tennant, Sam MacDonald, and Keir Leslie

Clockwise from top left: Nathalie Blakely, Michael Tennant, Sam MacDonald, and Keir Leslie

In an election that will probably be decided by superannuitants and baby boomers, young people are still getting involved and joining political parties. Michael Cropp reports.

Sam MacDonald, 23, is your prototypical Young Nat – a young professional, an accountant and deadly serious.

We meet at a café near his work where he orders a bottle of water to my flat white.

MacDonald grew up in Greymouth. Toward the end of the last Labour government, when there was a move to limit logging, the community feared jobs would be lost.

MacDonald says, in careful but confident sound bites, this spurred him to get involved with the Young Nats to fight against the changes.

“You can’t sit on the sidelines and complain if you’re not prepared to do anything about it.”

In fact, it changed his view of politics completely.

“When the Greens shut down our logging, I basically decided at that point if they can take jobs off people I should really contribute.”

MacDonald is now the Young Nationals’ president for the Canterbury-Westland region.

Like a lot of young people in politics, he is driven by personal circumstance.

Michael Tennant, 26, lets his face show some of his history. The knocks he has experienced, and the hard work endured.

He’s cautious with his words.

Tennant quit school when he was 14 and “spent the next four and a half years working menial jobs for little pay’’.

“By the time I got to 19, I realised education was highly important for my future.”

Having no academic skills, he started with the basics – a part-time correspondence course in business. He is completing a Bachelors degree in Geography at the University of Canterbury.

In the years leading to his decision to return to school, Tennant says he “met a lot of people who’d spent most of their working life in these places and they were mostly locked in by things like mortgages and having to provide for their families’’.

“A lot of them had goals or aspirations that they felt they could no longer achieve.”

Tennant is now the Aoraki Greens campaign co-ordinator. He thinks Green party policy provides people with a pathway out of these jobs.

Youth wings add value

Lindsey MacDonald, a lecturer in political science at the University of Canterbury, says the youth wings of parties are a great example of New Zealand’s open democracy.

“I think it’s marvellous this generation is actually picking up the cudgels and getting politically active.”

Keir Leslie, 23, flew in from Ireland nearly a decade ago and is now the Young Labour co-ordinator for the top of the South Island.

“People join all political parties because they have idealistic aims… [they] get involved because of a sense of idealism, wanting to make a difference,” Leslie says.

We met in his shared office at the university, his desk piled low with books from different eras, an empty pot of coffee on the room’s eponymous table. He almost seems embarrassed when he explains that although he is doing his masters in Art History, it is only possible because his parents can support him.

Running his hands through his stubble, he tells me most politicians, young or otherwise, have pretty good intentions.

“I don’t think anyone wakes up in the morning and goes, ‘oh, you know, I’m a cartoon villain, I’m going to join the Young Nats or whatever’ – even if they do come across like that sometimes.”

As well as policy and a sense of idealism, some people join because their parents are members, or because it fits with their field of study.

Some just want to be with their friends and have a good time.

Leslie coyly avoids answering whether he was initially the latter but he suggests that some members will always join for the ‘`party’’ part of the party.

He mentions the former Young Labour members who now work in the leader’s office in Parliament.

Political involvement typically low

However, the numbers show few people get involved in political parties.

It is a vague measure, but on Facebook the Young Nationals’ Facebook page has nearly 15,000 likes, Young Labour 6233, Young Greens 3382.

The total population of 18 – 29 year olds in New Zealand is 742,040.

Nathalie Blakely, president of the University of Canterbury’s political science society, is closely watching this election. She follows nearly every party’s policy announcements, and is careful about who she will vote for.

Blakely says it is great that some people stand up for their beliefs and join the youth branch of a party, but it is not without its difficulties.

“There are people in the parties who have to follow the party line and compromise on their personal politics,” she says.

Blakely has clearly thought about this issue before.

“I think a lot of young people are put off by that, because they feel like they do have to compromise on their ‘this is part of who I am, and I’m growing, this is what I’m thinking and seeing’.

“And then for the party you have to put that aside, right? And party policy is first. You do have to make sure that your personal beliefs are under the blanket. In the parties they’re able to discuss and lobby, but when they’re out in the public they have to follow the party line.”

So do these self-professed ‘political nerds’ have any long-term political goals?

Surprisingly, none of them really want to become MPs, at least in the short term.

Sam MacDonald says he wants to go out and get some “real world experience”.

How much experience he needs, nobody knows.

More than one in ten resort to voter apps

Election Coverage - Voter Apps Graphic

Less than 15 percent of those enrolled to vote have taken advantage of web-based voter information applications ahead of tomorrow’s election.

Websites such as Vote Compass, Candidate and On the Fence are designed to condense relevant political issues and give voters an indication of which party best represents their views.

Vote Compass, an application initially created for the 2011 Canadian federal election campaign, was redesigned for the New Zealand election by Toronto-based Vox Pop Labs for TVNZ. It has been the most widely used app with 289,796 responses as of September 19.

Unlike the other apps, Vote Compass asks about preferences for leaders and parties and provides a graph of how the user fits into the political landscape.

Massey University created On the Fence for the 2011 election and collaborated with web company Springload this year to create an improved version. Since its launch on August 8, it has had close to 140,000 users.

Lead designer for On the Fence Kieran Stowers said,  “judging by what we see on social media and people we have talked to we have seen this is really filling a gap”.

He said for some users, the app confirmed what they already thought but others were surprised by their responses. The app helped voters to make an informed decision by encouraging them to question the parties and their policies and look beyond personality.

Candidate was designed by University of Canterbury student Hannah Duder and is targeted specifically at young voters. It has had about 12,000 users since its August 20 launch and the results show a percentage alignment with parties.

Duder said the content for Candidate was supplied directly from the parties, which meant users were not getting the designers’ opinion, and “it’s not biased towards one party like many other resources out there”.

Political science senior lecturer at the University of Canterbury, Bronwyn Hayward said she while she understood the good intentions of voter info applications, she was concerned about how easily social media could affect people’s choices.

She said the ability to enter an individual opinion on a website and have an answer come back turned what made a very good society into a transaction.

“It undermines the fundamental premise of what it means to be democratic.”

She said the individualised approach of ‘what can a party give me?’ was at odds with working towards what was best for the wider community.

“While we think we are connecting more, it is more and more with people like us. It encourages a greater intolerance or a more extreme expression of views.”

Hayward said despite the rise of voter apps, it was important for people to discuss matters in order to form opinions and work together to create an idea of what we want a democracy to be.

_By Samantha Gee

Lower enrolled voter numbers in Christchurch

Krysia - voting

Exercising your vote: many Christchurch residents have yet to enrol.
Photo: Supplied.

Christchurch appears to be the least politically engaged city in New Zealand, Electoral Commission figures suggest.

Nine per cent of voters nationwide have yet to enrol, but in Canterbury the numbers are almost double that figure.

In Christchurch East, 18 per cent remain unregistered and in Christchurch Central 15 per cent, Ilam 17 per cent and Wigram 15 per cent.

University of Canterbury political scientist Dr Bronwyn Hayward said Christchurch was witnessing the typical effect of a disaster: before the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes, the city had a high level of political engagement.

“The earthquakes have been unusual because the effects have been protracted over years,” she said.

“The disruption to daily life and the on-going effects for many has meant that Christchurch is still in a disaster event.”

The Record surveyed Christchurch people who are not enrolled and found various reasons for their non-enrolment. *

Brogan (19), in the Ilam electorate, thought the election was rigged.

“I honestly feel there are people above the government who want the country to run a certain way and what they think should happen in New Zealand will happen no matter who we vote for,” she said.

Maria (17), from Aranui, said she was unlikely to ever vote.

“It is just not important and I don’t understand it.  My friends are the same,” she said.

Matt (28) from the Ilam electorate said he had not enrolled because he had been swayed by British comedian Russell Brand’s comments.  Last year Brand said he had never voted and never will because he was exhausted by constant political lies.

Matt agreed: “I think the political system that we have is very broken and I do not want to encourage that any further.”

John (49), in the Christchurch City electorate was not enrolled because he did not think his private information would be kept safe.

“The electoral rolls are used for so many purposes apart from just voting and I don’t want that,” he said.

Many yet to enrol

Over 40,000 eligible voters in Canterbury are unregistered — almost as many as an entire electorate — and in keeping with the nationwide trend, almost half of those are under 30.

Nationwide, the number of people who remain un-enrolled has increased from seven per cent in 2011 to almost nine per cent as at 14 September.  That equates to almost 300,000 ineligible voters.

The registrar of electors for Christchurch Anthony Patterson said  the increasing rate of non-registration was a worldwide trend.

Patterson said voters could still register until New Zealand Post closes today (September 19).

*Surnames have been omitted because it is an offence to not register for the general election.

_By Krysia Krawczyk

Electoral Commission investigates Greens’ photo

The Electoral Commission is investigating a photo posted to social media by the Green party’s London branch this week.

The Kiwi Greens UK posted to its Facebook and Twitter accounts a photo of an unofficial exit poll showing the party votes of 111 people.

The photos have since been removed.

On Facebook the caption accompanying the photo read, “The Greens came out top in our unofficial exit poll! We asked 111 people leaving NZ House who they voted for and ****% voted for the Greens! Maybe the overseas vote will swing it this election…..”

This is in breach of the Electoral Act.

When contacted about the breach by The Record, chief electoral officer Robert Peden said the commission would look into it.

By law, no one can conduct a public opinion poll of anyone who has voted before the polls close on election day.

The Green party’s national campaign director Ben Youdan said it was an unofficial poll conducted by excited green voters.

“It’s just an enthusiastic member talking to others and we have reminded them of the law.”

Youdan said he had reminded them that they cannot do polls.

“But they weren’t carrying out an official poll. They were just chatting to other kiwis who were planning to vote.”

The post itself said it was an exit poll, where they had asked people who they voted for as they left New Zealand house – the New Zealand embassy – in London.

In a statement, Peden said, “it is an offence to conduct a public opinion poll of persons who have voted (otherwise known as “exit polls”), both on election day or during advance voting.”

When Youdan was asked whether he knew that Metiria Turei had liked the post on Facebook, he said “of course she did, [the results of the poll are] excellent news… and are consistent with what we’ve been hearing throughout the election.”

Breaching the Electoral Act in this way could carry a fine of up to $20,000.

_By Michael Cropp

Social media a key tool for election candidates

Connecting on social media: Green candidate John Kelcher's Twitter page.

Tweeting to parliament: Green candidate John Kelcher makes heavy use of Twitter.

Most Christchurch candidates are using social media in this election, but some are using it better and more often than others.

All Christchurch MPs, except Gerry Brownlee, and most candidates have Twitter accounts. Green Party list MP Mojo Mathers has the most followers with just over 4000.

Christchurch Central Labour candidate Tony Milne, who has just over 1300 Twitter followers, is using both Twitter and Facebook to campaign and says social media are effective tools for attracting and engaging supporters, particularly as younger people are more likely to use them.

“Any effective campaigns should be where people are, and many people now choose to engage in politics through social media.”

Not that Milne spams his followers. Since Monday, he has posted only 12 times on his Facebook page and tweeted 19 times.

Some candidates message their followers much more frequently. Across town in the Ilam electorate, Green Party candidate John Kelcher has tweeted more than 70 times and uploaded 10 posts on his Facebook page over the same time.

Massey University politics student and social media expert Matthew Beveridge says overuse of social media is a risk, but when used well it can be very effective.

“If you look at someone like Tau Henare he sends upwards of 300 tweets most weeks. But because he is engaging, and showing his personality, people interact with him.”

Kelcher says it is hard for him to assess how effective social media has been for him at the electorate level.

“Social media connects me to people all around New Zealand and the world. So as far as local campaigning goes, there’s not really much at the electorate level, but it’s very effective for national politics.”

But this suits the Green Party, which is campaigning for party votes from all over the country. It is perhaps not surprising then that the party leads the pack on Facebook. It has 62,000 likes, 30,000 more than Labour, the second-highest ranking party on Facebook.

When it comes to individuals, John Key has the biggest presence on social media with over 164,000 Facebook followers and 12,000 Twitter followers.

Beveridge says, if used right, social media can reach people who are not normally reached by traditional campaigning methods.

“If you run a good online, social media campaign, you can get your message in front of people who don’t normally vote.”

_by Kyle Knowles

Party Facebook followers (as of 18/09/14):

National: 28778

Labour: 29948

Green: 61958

NZ First: 1992

Conservative: 3110

ACT: 3009

Maori: 5202

Mana: 10431

Internet: 34201


Party leader Facebook followers (as of 18/09/14):

John Key: 164004

David Cunliffe: 22397

Russell Norman and Metiria Turei: No Facebook pages

Winston Peters: 21704

Colin Craig: 1984

Jamie Whyte: 1932

Te Ururoa Flavell: 8077

Hone Harawira: No Facebook page

Laila Harre: 6333


Informal poll reveals high student interest in election

Liv graph oneAn informal survey of Canterbury University students suggests young people may be more engaged in politics than first thought.

Where electoral statistics state that only 65 percent of those aged 18 to 24 in central Christchurch have so far enrolled to vote, The Record’s survey of 68 students found all but one were enrolled.

UC senior lecturer Dr Babak Bahador, who specialises in media and politics, cautioned that the high percentage of enrolled students was probably due to the fact that politically active people were more likely to participate in surveys than those who weren’t interested in politics.

However, Canterbury University students do appear to be more engaged than other students across the country: Canterbury had the highest voter turnout for students’ association elections this year.

UCSA president Sarah Platt said that in 2011 the UCSA elections had a voter turnout of 19 percent, in 2012 that was 25 percent, and last year it hit a record high of 33.3 percent with 37 candidates.

“So 31 percent with only 23 candidates this year isn’t too shabby,” she said. “It’s important to note most other students’ associations across the country struggled to make it to double digits.”

Of The Record’s 68 election survey respondents, 38 percent said they had a great deal of interest in politics and 39 percent said they had a fair amount of interest.  No one said that they had no interest.

The most important issue in this election for students was poverty and inequality. One respondent said child poverty was “the starting point for solving many other problems”.

“The way we care for our most vulnerable is the true mark of the morality of our society,” another respondent said.

“Growth is meaningless if the benefit is not experienced by society generally,” said the respondent.

Other issues of importance were the environment, education, and housing.

Bahador said these responses were predictable as there was “a lot of research to suggest younger people tend to vote more left, leaning towards policies around the homeless, the environment and education”.

“As people get older, they become more conservative,” Bahador said

Liv graph twoWhen asked which party they would vote for if the election were held today, the Greens came out on top with 36 percent of the vote.  National followed closely behind with 35 percent and Labour sat at 25 percent.

But David Cunliffe was only a slice away from being the favourite for Prime Minister, recording 49 percent support among respondents to 51 percent for John Key.

_By Olivia Bascand

Female politicians up their dress game


Power jacket: Labour MP for Wigram Megan Woods is often seen wearing the style that aligns with her Party’s colours.

For male politicians it is as simple as picking a tie colour, but for their female counterparts outfits need to be picked to perfection, down to the size of the shoulder pads.

“People are much more critical of women than they are of men,” said public relations practitioner and former president of the National Party Michelle Boag.

Boags comment appears to be backed up by studies showing that female politicians need to work much harder on their appearance than men when it comes to campaigning.

University of Canterbury lecturer of social psychology Dr Kumar Yogeeswaran said women need to appear both warm and competent when running for positions of power.

“Women are already perceived as being warm, but female politicians need to seem competent also.”

He said male politicians could be completely unlikeable and still appear competent, but women needed to find a balance between being likeable and competent.

Politicians like former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had run into difficulties when trying to achieve this balance.

“Hilary Clinton is seen as competent, but its played up so much that she loses her warmth,

“The less feminine you seem the less likely it is that people will like you,” said Yoeeswaran.

Boag said female politicians in New Zealand have upped their game in recent times, as more women had become involved in politics.


Campaigning: Greens Party co-leader Meteria Turei believes female politicians have to put a lot of effort into public appearances. PHOTO: Grace Cabell

The power jacket had become a staple for female politicians, with Minister for Education Hekia Parata and Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei both donning the style regularly.

Turei said she put a considerable amount of effort into her clothing choices because female MPs were more likely to have their clothes commented on.

“I’m hassled if I don’t dress well enough and I’m hassled if I dress too well.”

She had noticed a significant difference in the effort that went into male and female appearances.

“If I’m doing a television appearance I have to be at the venue 15 minutes earlier than my male colleagues… it’s an enormous frustration.”

MP for Wigram Megan Woods said there was an expectation for women to dress professionally in politics.

“I dress for my job… whenever you are in House there is an expectation that you wear a smart jacket,” she said.

Turei said women in politics had to learn how to avoid distracting clothes. It was important to always consider how their appearance might effect people’s perceptions of them.

“The last thing I want is for my clothes to get in the way of politics,” she said.

_By Jess Pullar

Punters give reasons for exercising vote

Dirty politics has given some fresh reasons to vote, but for others it is a turn-off.

Rive_Grace electionChristchurch expat Christopher Rive chose not to vote in the last election but has decided he needs to vote this time because of the ‘messy’ politics and ‘dodgy’ happenings.

“Long story short, John Key has lost my trust and I believe there needs to be change,” he says.

“The country’s future is paramount as we are all going to have to put up with the mess these guys are making now.”

A combination of the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) saga, the selling of State-owned assets and the rising cost of living are propelling him to vote.

Rive has been living in Bahrain for six months and says he finds it hard to keep up with  policies from overseas, but those aimed at reducing student loans for low-income earners and keeping Kiwi Saver are high on his list.

“Some of the parties seem to have good policies but whether or not any of them actually stick to them is a completely different story,” he says.

But for others, recent political scandals have turned them off voting.

Morgan Lindsay_Grace election

Non-voter: Morgan Lindsay

It is the first time 20-year-old University of Canterbury geography student Morgan Lindsay can vote, but she has decided not to because she is fed up with dirty politics.

“To be honest I really can’t be bothered,” she says.

“I’ve got to the point where whenever it is on the news I zone out, because someone has always done something wrong, or people are just trying to play dirty tactics on each other to make the other look bad.”

Lindsay simply does not believe her vote will count.

For some, nothing can stop them from voting.

Pensioner Allan McLaughlan voted at Ilam homestead earlier this week and has been a consistent voter for over 50 years.

Allan M_Grace election

Long-time voter: Allan McLaughlan.

Politics have always played an important part of the 83-year-old’s life, and attends any and all political meetings he can get involved with.

“Each one of us makes a contribution in life, and this is the one opportunity we have to select someone to represent us in the wider world.”

_By Grace Cabell

On the campaign trail with Chch central’s Tony Milne

Tony Milne 2

Getting out the vote: Tony Milne and his campaign team.
Photo: Georgia Weaver.

His red car, named Mabel after Mabel Howard, New Zealand’s first female cabinet minister, is parked nearby blasting Pharrell’s “Happy”.

It’s 7.30am in the morning but the Labour candidate for Christchurch Central is bright and cheerful, ready for an hour’s worth of sign waving.

He gets a mixed response from the rush-hour traffic. Some toot and wave in support, others make rude gestures and yell at Milne and his team.

“Get a real job!”

Ever positive, Milne never flinches at any of it.

“It’s just part of it.”

For Milne it is all about getting his name out there.

“I got two votes by just standing out here the other day.”

Milne recalls a time not long ago when he and his team were sign waving on a corner and National rival Nicky Wagner had to stand amongst them, waiting for the lights to change so she could cross the road.

“She got all flustered,” Milne says with a chuckle. “She ended up crossing to the complete opposite of where she needed to be.”

The group finishes up and heads to Beat Street Café for coffee and breakfast with campaign manager Sarah Epperson to discuss the plan for the day.

It will be much the same as the days before: a couple of hours of door knocking, some interviews, lunch, and preparation for the afternoon’s Cottage Meeting and the evening’s debate.

The election is only days away, but Milne and his team are composed. If there is anything to worry about, they are not letting on.

Milne and his volunteer coordinator Isaac Rule head out to State- and council-owned housing in the electorate. These are the houses most likely to have someone home during the day.

“Gates and dogs are hard to navigate,” he says. He will usually avoid houses with barking dogs, but makes a note to give that address a call later on.

He believes the ground game is the most crucial part of the campaign.

Milne has his routine down pat. He walks confidently to every house, knocks on the door and waits patiently.

If residents aren’t home, he leaves a hanger on the door handle and a pamphlet with his information as well as a hand-written note.

Those that are home can and will throw any question to him and he always has an answer. Can’t get to a voting booth? He’ll organise a ride. Don’t know who to vote for? Let him persuade you. Not interested? Not a problem, thanks for your time.

Milne carries electoral sign-up forms with him to make sure everyone is enrolled. He has already convinced two people to vote who weren’t going to, including an 80 year-old first-time voter.

About a hundred volunteers will hit the houses of his supporters again on election day to remind residents to vote. Milne can’t campaign himself so his car will remain in the driveway and his jacket in the closet.

In between the door knocking, Port Hills candidate Ruth Dyson calls. She warns him of some of the tricky questions that might be presented to him at that night’s debate.

Like many candidates, Milne’s campaign posters have been subject to vandalism. Twenty or more signs have been stolen.

But the vandalism isn’t always negative.

“Someone wrote ‘Tony’s the man’ on one of them,” Milne says.

After lunch Milne heads out to more State houses. Someone spies him from a neighbouring house and pretends they are not home when he comes to their front step. He knocks once and then leaves the pamphlets.

At another house the door opens. A woman stands there with a menacing-looking kitchen knife in her hand. Milne proceeds with his spiel anyway.

“No, I’m not voting,” she says. “To be honest, I don’t like any politicians.”

Milne thanks her for her time and carries on to the next house.

“By and large people are friendly and nice, even if they don’t support you,” he says.

_By Georgia Weaver




Chch boys selected for world climbing champs

Krysia_climbing lads

Climbing calls: Josh Cornah, 14, and Nathan Bothamley, 15, are off to New Caledonia next week to represent New Zealand in the under-16 world youth climbing championships.

Josh Cornah of Unlimited School and Nathan Bothamley of Christchurch Boys’ High School are off to New Caledonia to represent New Zealand in the under 16 World Youth Climbing Championships starting on 19 September.

They are the only climbers selected to compete from the South Island.  A total of 13 climbers will represent New Zealand.

The two “good mates” compete against each other.  Josh came first in the under 16 national rock climbing championships and Nathan came second.

They train together for 20 hours every week and are looking forward to their first international competition.

“It’s really good training with Josh because he is a decent amount better than me and that pushes me,” Nathan said. “I would beat him if I could.  I feel like I am catching up.”

Josh has been climbing for five years and Nathan for three.  Both have had finger stress fractures and Nathan is recovering from a broken finger.

A big reason to climb for both the boys was the other people who climbed.

“It is so relaxed and a really fun place to hang out.  We feel comfortable in this group,” they agreed.

Nathan had competed in National events as a swimmer, but left that because rock climbers were just his type of people.

Rock climbing gave them a feeling that they had pushed themselves to accomplish something hard.

They had not received any funding and were working to pay their way.  The Roxx, where they train, were “pretty awesome” and held a clip and climb event to help cover some of their costs.

The Roxx administrator Katie Wolf said both boys were well respected among the staff.

“They are always quick to lend a hand and help clean up,” she said.

“They have trained hard for these competitions and have really deserved this chance to compete”.

After the competition Nathan and Josh will probably “knuckle down to some exams” before heading out to the cave at Sumner for some “pretty good outdoor rock climbing”.

_Krysia Krawczyk for the Christchurch Mail