Act’s main campaign techniques in the 1996 general election related to running a presidential style campaign around Richard Prebble. The fact that it was an outside party – without an established base, parliamentary funding, media focus, etc – was a disadvantage, but perhaps made up for by Act’s significant private funding. It used much of this funding to purchase campaign technology and marketing techniques that meant that Act did not have to rely in the campaign on its instincts. [Read more below]
In line with the general tone of the election battle, Act ‘ran a presidential style campaign around Prebble' (Fraser and Zangouropoulos, 1998: p.50). This was to the advantage of Act, as Prebble was a colourful personality with a strong ability to attract media attention.
Act was severely disadvantaged during the election campaign by the fact that they did not have the Parliamentary resources that MPs usually use to fight election. Not having a Parliamentary base also meant they lacked the credibility of an established base. For example, Ruth Laugesen, the then chief political reporter for the Dominion newspaper, explained that in devising a strategy to report the election campaign the Dominion had divided the political parties into the ‘A Team’ (National, Labour, NZ First and the Alliance) and the ‘B Team’ (Act, Christian Coalition, United) and thence concentrated their resources on mainly reporting the activities of the ‘A Team’, as those parties were the only ones certain to be elected to Parliament (Laugesen, 1998: p.68).
Technology and marketing techniques meant that Act did not have to rely in the campaign on its instincts, which had previously served it so poorly. In conjunction with the re-branding exercise and election advice being given by the Kortlang Group, Nick Stravs, organised focus groups and telephone surveys so the party could obtain feedback and test its election strategies.
The results of the marketing research were used in every element of the election campaign. For example, ‘Prebble's decision to appear atypically wooden and measured on the televised leaders' debate... was based on what the focus groups were saying' (Heeringa, 1996: p.27).
According to Fraser and Zangouropoulos, Act had three simple messages that it emphasised in the campaign: ‘Richard Prebble; give Act your party vote and keep them honest; Values. Not Politics' (Fraser and Zangouropoulos, 1998: p.50).
Act made good use of mailouts and their publications: ‘two major mailouts were dispatched – around 300,000 introductory Act letters to specific groups such as rural voters and Generation X' voters (Fraser and Zangouropoulos, 1998: p.52). Also, 200,000 copies of a rural tabloid were produced and inserted into farmer publications, and 70,000 copies of the digest version of I've Been Thinking were subsequently sent to farmers (Fraser and Zangouropoulos, 1998: p.52).
Next blog post: The 1996 election ‘success’