Play or get off the field

As Labour lurches towards utter destruction with David Cunliffe at sixes and sevens there are some out there with good advice.

Lew at Kiwipolitico had this to say about National’s excellence at data-driven campaigns:

I have been criticising Labour, in particular, since at least 2007 on their unwillingness or inability to bring modern data-driven campaign and media strategy to bear in their campaigns — effectively, to embrace The Game and play it to win, rather than regarding it as a regrettable impediment to some pure and glorious ideological victory. Mostly the responses I get from the faithful fall under one or more of the following:

  • National has inherent advantages because the evil old MSM is biased
  • the polls are biased because landlines or something
  • the inherent nature of modern neoliberal society is biased
  • people have a cognitive bias towards the right’s messaging because Maslow
  • it inevitably leads to populist pandering and the death of principle
  • The Game itself devours the immortal soul of anyone who plays ( which forms a handy way to demonise anyone who does play)

But data is not a Ring of Power that puts its users in thrall to the Dark Lord. And, unlike the One Ring, it can’t be thrown into a volcano and the world saved from its pernicious influence. Evidence and strategy are here to stay. Use them, or you’re going to get used. The techniques available to David Farrar and the National party are not magic. They are available to anyone. Whether Labour has poor data or whether they use it poorly I do not know. It looks similar from the outside, and I have heard both from people who ought to know. But it doesn’t really matter. Data is only as good as what you do with it. Whatever they’re doing with it isn’t good enough.

The best example from this campaign isn’t Labour, however — it’s Kim Dotcom. He said on election night that it was only in the past two weeks that he realised how tainted his brand was. He threw $4.5 million at the Internet MANA campaign and it polled less than the Māori Party, who had the same number of incumbent candidates and a tiny fraction of the money and expertise. Had he thought to spend $30,000 on market research* asking questions like those asked by Curia about what New Zealanders think of Kim Dotcom, he could have saved himself the rest of the money, and saved Hone Harawira his seat, Laila Harré her political credibility, and the wider left a severe beating.

That is effective use of data: not asking questions to tell you what you want to hear, but to tell you what you need to know. This electoral bloodletting is an opportunity for the NZ political left to become reality-adjacent, and we can only hope they take it. Because if they don’t, reality is just going to keep winning.

Which is ironic since Labour brought in both David Talbot and Rob Salmond for their data-driven campaign. They talked these two up as their big difference.

The party has instead taken a punt on a new face, David Talbot, on secondment from pollsters UMR Research, as its campaign director – a job usually given to a senior MP or top party office holder.


Talbot, a keen cyclist, cut his teeth in politics as a volunteer worker for former Labour strategist Pete Hodgson and worked with former Labour president Mike Williams. He stood unsuccessfully as a Labour candidate before spending a year in Britain with online campaigners 38 degrees, then returning to work for UMR.

The “I’m in” for Labour campaign now running on social media is his brainchild and aims to seed ideas and messages with Labour’s activists to spread among the wider support base and electorate at large.

The kind of face-to-face meetings and door knocking that was so successful in the Christchurch East by-election will also be key, though it requires a big pool of activists which may be easy in one electorate but difficult spread over the whole country. Labour will target seats and areas – not just electorates but also places and organisations where its voters are concentrated.

It will start with a minimum target – in seat terms that suggests South Auckland, the Maori seats, Christchurch east and south of the Square and the Wellington region.

Talbot says online tools will also be used to improve internal organisation, such as through collaborative editing of documents.

Labour will also have a group Talbot will head that aims to match National, which, he concedes, is effective and “nimble” when issues arise on the campaign trail.

It will be backed by focus group work that uncovers voters’ “sentiments”, tests policy and refines the message.

I remembered this article, at the time I made a mental note to re-visit to see how they got on.

For all the talk about mobilising the troops and social media, Labour got rinsed.

They talked up these boys…The fact that David Farrar snotted both of them should be alarming for Labour.

Why on earth political parties feel the need to claim this person or that person is a game changer is beyond me.


– Fairfax

Do you want:

  • Ad-free access?
  • Access to our very popular daily crossword?
  • Access to daily sudoku?
  • Access to Incite Politics magazine articles?
  • Access to podcasts?
  • Access to political polls?

Our subscribers’ financial support is the reason why we have been able to offer our latest service; Audio blogs. 

Click Here  to support us and watch the number of services grow.