Saturday, May 07, 2011

How it works

You know how sometimes someone says something silly or wrong, and you want to reply? Whether we actually do or not depends on a number of things, like whether we know the person, how we heard the comment, etc.

Today I saw a comment on Twitter that I felt needed a reply. It also reminded me of attitudes I’d forgotten about.

Someone I follow Retweeted a comment from someone I don’t follow. It said: “Maybe if Labour spent less time trying to bash National and more time actually trying to campaign properly, they'd do better in polls.” This was so silly on the face of it that I wanted to reply, but I usually don’t respond to people I don’t follow. Because I don’t follow him, I initially didn’t see the follow-up Tweet that said, “Like seriously, Labour are at 33% in opinion polls. How sad is that”

Putting aside the lack of question mark ending the second Tweet, I wanted to educate this guy on how campaigns actually work. Parties try to lay out their platform, but most of a campaign is built on differentiating the party from the opposing party—usually negatively, though “bashing” is a loaded term.

Labour is certainly not “trying to bash National” exclusively, but the fact is that if the situations were reversed, National would be acting in exactly the same way, and that, too, wouldn’t mean trying to bash Labour exclusively. Still, trying to tear down the other party is part of what a campaign is.

There are number of factors that contribute to Labour’s poor polling, but it hammering the National Party isn’t one of them. Voters don’t seem to like Labour Leader Phil Goff, but they do like National Party Leader John Key. The irony is that they like Labour’s policies better than National’s.

I think the youth of the Tweeter—he’s 18—may be the cause of the naïveté in the Tweet: He would’ve been 15 at the last election, 11 the one before that. This suggests that he simply hasn’t experienced enough elections to get how campaigns work. And the use of the term “bash” suggests he may come from a family that supports the National Party—he could be biased, in other words.

When I was younger (and still in America), I wanted to teach government at what we call “community colleges”—two year tertiary institutions that award Associates Degrees, but which often lead on to a four-year university. At the time I felt that those folks—many 18 and 19—most needed to understand how the system works so they could be informed citizens or even effect change. My life went in a different direction and I never did teach government. Now, of course, I live in a different country with a completely different political system.

But it still bothers me that young people are badly educated about how the political system works. One day these people will make decisions that affect my life; I hope they become better informed before then.


Unknown said...

I've been here for 7 years now, and only just got the hang of how MMP works. I had no idea how the UK system worked, even though I voted regularly.

I think it should be part of the curriculum, in social studies, or something similar. Understanding how much your vote counts might actually increase voter turnout.

Having said that, at 18 I was voting for the "Monster Raving Loony Party".

Arthur Schenck said...

Funny you should say that about MMP—I was looking just today to see what information was available from Elections NZ, the people who ought to be telling people, and all I found was a fequently asked questions page, and that’s simply not good enough.

Fortunately, the people campaigning to keep MMP—called the Campaign for MMP—have downloadable information about it.

I agree that it should be taught more. I also think that folks who have blogs, YouTube Channels, podcasts like, um, well, me, need to do more to inform people. So, look for more about it here in the weeks ahead.

As for the UK, it—like Canada and USA—has the old-fashioned first past the post system, which is grossly unfair and unrepresentative. Our MMP system here, despite it's flaws, is vastly superior.

And finally, SEVEN YEARS—already?! Time flies! :-)