The Sydney-based Kortlang Group was employed to help reconfigure the languishing Act Party in 1996. One of Kortlang’s most visibly apparent recommendations was the advice to feminise the party’s image. Act had obviously become associated with its prominent male leadership and much of the party’s propaganda contained messages that were supposedly more orientated to males. According to Act organiser Brian Arps, ‘We've been selling it with the numbers. Men are more linear thinkers, and women are more inspirational in how they think' (quoted in Campbell, 19 Nov 1994: p.16). [Read more below]
The leadership found that the feminisation of Act worked in well with their attempt to shift the party’s appeal ‘from the head to the heart’ (Heeringa, 1996: p.27). The party’s main slogan ‘values, not politics’ supposedly also appealed particularly to females. But the most overt attempt to win women’s votes came from the new slogan – ‘good government is good housekeeping’ – deliberately conceived of to appeal to women at home and to continue the focus on selling Act on the basis of practical ‘common sense’.
Despite the fact that Act had very little support from women, there was some substance to Act’s new feminised image. After the election Richard Prebble declared that 'Act has the sixth-highest [political party] ratio of women in the world, and I'm told, the highest ratio of women of any party in the world that does not have a quota' (Prebble, 1997: p.5). Also, after the 2002 election it was noted that Act (along with the Green Party) actually had the highest proportion of women MPs. In comparison, Labour had 35%, National 22%, United Future 13%; and New Zealand First 7%.
Yet, the party continued to fail to win the votes of women. Even after its deliberate ‘feminisation strategy’, Act’s 1996 support was very heavily biased towards men, with men making up 84% of the its vote (Levine and Roberts, 1997). In 1999 the party’s gender support was still heavily weighted towards males, but had improved significantly.
According to Vowles, in 1999 Act had ‘a 9% vote among men but only 3% among women’ (Vowles, 2002d: pp.93-94). Alternatively, Nicola Reid reported that while 7% of men voted Act, only 4% of women did (Reid, 2001: p.266). However this did not stop Act putting a positive spin on its gender imbalance, saying that the party’s poor results in the contest for the women’s vote actually indicated ‘that there was still significant potential to increase support for the party by expanding its female constituency' (Fraser and Zangouropoulos, 1998: p.50).
Next blog post: Recruitment of party-hopping MPs