There are ideological reasons for the decline of partisanship in society. The act of joinging a political party in New Zealand is now less meaningful because there is less ideological polarisation between the parties, as well as a lesser emphasis given by the parties to their ideological components. [Read more below]
Modern parties lack ‘a unique selling point’
Like any product in the marketplace, political parties without ‘a unique selling point’ inspire the loyalty of few. In contrast, during the immediate postwar period, when more meaningful differences between the two parties were perceived by voters, it was easier to bring people into a party on the basis of the dangers of the opposition.
As one former National Party regional chairman has said of the period of high party membership: ‘Those were the days when frightening people with labels was easy. Labourites were socialists and that was that’ (quoted in Rudman, 1993). While a fear and dislike of socialism was a uniting factor for those attracted to National, the Labour Party attracted members by playing on the fact that its opponent was in the pocket of employers – something Labour can hardly raise now that it too is reliant on business support.
Under MMP parties continue to cast their nets widely for voters
Under MMP parties continue to cast their nets widely for voters. This catch-all strategy is designed to broaden their appeal, but it means that those voters with specific political causes or beliefs are less likely to find the New Zealand parties as effective vehicles for advancing them.
Such parties, with their broad policies and philosophies, and the need to balance different views, are claustrophobic and cramping for today’s single-issue activist. Instead of joining any one party, people interested in politics are more likely to see politics as an electoral supermarket and be volatile, supporting more than one party (Upton, 1994a).