Helen Clark never really took to Facebooking with much enthusiasm, and in the 2008 general election her most commented on status update on Facebook was: “Helen Clark is stuck at the airport”. John Key, in comparison, gathered up twice as many Facebook registered friends and fans as Clark. These are some of the facts presented in the chapter entitled ‘2008: The campaign in cyberspace’ by Nicola Kean in the new post-election book Key to Victory: The New Zealand General Election of 2008 edited by Stephen Levine and Nigel S. Roberts. This blog post discusses the chapter, mentioning some of the more salient facts and observations made in terms of 2008’s campaign on the party websites, social networking and blogs. [Read more below]
In awarding the National and Green parties with the prize for the best websites in 2008 shouldn’t be terribly surprising or controversial. Kean says, ‘The National Party… and the Green Party… had the best websites of the parties in Parliament, both with slick, well-designed home pages and easy access to policy and candidate information’ (p.194).
None of the other parties really impressed, including the Progressives’s site, which ‘at first glance it was difficult to identify what the website was about’ (p.196), and, surprisingly, ‘ACT’s website suffered from a lack of resources’ (p.195). The Labour Party’s poor campaign website is also explained:
The effectiveness of the Labour Party’s website was hampered by there being three of them. While other parties funded their sites exclusively from party, rather than parliamentary funding – allowing them to be used in campaigning – Labour decided to fund websites for each branch of the organization separately (p.195).
Author Nicola Kean interviewed ‘Bloggers from four of New Zealand’s most popular blogs’ (p.203) – most obviously, David Farrar (pictured on the right) and Cameron Slater. One comment reported is particularly interesting about the campaign:
Both Farrar and Whale Oil Beef Hooked author Cameron Slater stated that on the [Winston] Peters story there was a significant level of cooperation and information-sharing among bloggers, journalists and MPs… A group of right-wing bloggers called or emailed each other on a daily basis to coordinate the coverage of the day (p.203).
This speaks to the fact that bloggers seem to be playing an increasing role in interacting with and influencing the media. Some of the bloggers believed – probably very correctly – that ‘the importance of their role came not from breaking major stories themselves, but from persistently covering issues to help focus the media’s attention’ (p.203). Or more simply, ‘bloggers helped fill gaps in the media coverage’ (p.203). Thus, Kean suggests that ‘Overall, blogging appears to have had a minor impact on the 2008 election campaign’, mainly due to the fact that ‘blogs can influence journalists and the media’ (p.204). But she says that the blogosphere ‘failed to live up to the media hype’ and thus, ‘blogs mattered only at the margins in 2008’ (p.205).
Kean also records the controversy over the connection between the supposedly independent blog The Standard and the Labour Party. She says that bloggers observed ‘a distinct increase in the level of partisanship in the blogosphere since the 2005 election. Accusations flew between left- and right-wing blogs that their rivals were in the pay of, or closely aligned to, political parties. The Standard in particular was a recipient of such accusations, with other bloggers going so far as to name Labour Party communications staff they believed to be posting on the site’ (pp.203-204).
Candidates from a wide variety of parties set up Facebook pages… - most used the normal profile page, but some also used the specifically designed “fan” pages, or groups. Of the more than 500 candidates who aspired to be electorate MPs, 26 per cent had Facebook pages, although the proportion specifically carrying party material or authorization was lower, at 17 per cent. Almost 70 per cent of the candidates’ pages were only active for the campaign period and had not been undated after the election (p.198).
Both the Labour and Act parties had ‘a centralized digital strategy, with pages set up in Wellington for willing candidates, and with campaign materials such as YouTube videos loaded on to all pages’ (p.198). Perhaps as a result, ‘Of the parties in Parliament, Labour had the highest proportion of candiates with Facebook pages (54 per cent)’ (p.198). In comparison, ‘National and the Greens had a more organic approach than Labour, with candidates setting up their own pages’ (p.200).
In terms of the ‘prime ministerial race’ on Facebook, Kean says that Key easily beat Clark:
On his profile page, Key reached the 5000 friend limit and he gained over 10,000 fans on his supporters page… Helen Clark was in second place among New Zealand politicians with 2898 friends, and with almost 5000 supporters on her second page (p.200).
Although not reported in this chapter, I seem to remember Clark’s attitude to social networking being summed up in her response to a reporter’s inquiry about her use of Facebook: ‘I don’t have time to look at my Facebook page’. This speaks to Kean’s conclusion about this social networking tool, in which she says, overall, Facebook ‘was not a campaign tool that was used to its greatest potential’ (p.201).
And while it’s amusing to read that Clark’s most commented upon status update on Facebook was ‘“Helen Clark is stuck at the airport” after she was delayed on the campaign trail because of bad whether’ (p.198), another interesting anedoct was that Facebook twice shut down a Victoria University-based Facebook page ‘for “John Keys”, mocking the frequent mispronunciation and misspelling of the National leader’s name’ (p.201).
Table of contents
Preface - Stephen Levine and Nigel S. Roberts
Overview of the Election
2008: Key to victory - Stephen Levine and Nigel S. Roberts
2008: The last baby-boomer election - Colin James
2008: Leadership during transition - Jon Johansson
Political Party Perspectives
National - Steven Joyce
Labour - Grant Robertson
The Greens - Catherine Delahunty
ACT - John Boscawen
The Maori Party - Rahui Katene
The Progressives - John Pagani
United Future - Rob Eaddy
New Zealand First - Damian Edwards
New Zealand’s party system: a multi-party mirage? - Jennifer Curtin and Raymond Miller
2008: Images of political leadership in the campaign - Claire Robinson
2008: Media coverage of the election - Babak Bahador
2008: The international media and the election - Aljoscha Kertesz
2008: The campaign in cyberspace - Nicola Kean
2008: The YouTube campaign - Rob Salmond
2008: Voting behaviour and the keys to victory - Stephen Levine and Nigel S. Roberts
2008: The impact of the Electoral Finance Act - Bryce Edwards
2008: Opinion polls and prediction markets in New Zealand - Shaun McGirr and Rob Salmond
2008: National’s winning strategy - Therese Arseneau
Key to Victory: The New Zealand General Election of 2008
Levine, Stephen (ed)
Roberts, Nigel S. (ed)
Victory is the
story of the New Zealand general election of 2008, in which the experienced and
long-serving prime minister, Helen Clark, was ousted by a political newcomer –
National’s John Key.
Veteran academic commentators Colin James, Jon Johansson, and Therese Arseneau offer perspectives on what New Zealanders were voting for when endorsing John Key and National, and what they were voting against. Several MPs elected for the first time in 2008 provide first-hand accounts of their parties’ campaigns, including Labour’s Grant Robertson; the Greens’ Catherine Delahunty; the Maori Party’s Rahui Katene; ACT’s John Boscawen; and the director of National’s winning campaign, Steven Joyce, appointed to Cabinet following National’s victory. New Zealand First’s doomed campaign is described by its campaign director, Damian Edwards, while party strategists John Pagani and Rob Eaddy provide accounts of the Progressive and United Future campaigns.
Key to Victory also investigates the important issues of the 2008 election, such as the impact of the Electoral Finance Act, and the likely future of New Zealand’s remaining small parties.
During the 2008 campaign political parties started getting to grips with websites, blogs, Facebook and YouTube, and ‘prediction markets’ competed with traditional polls in forecasting the election results. The book describes these developments and provides insights into the use of the media by John Key and Helen Clark in their rival campaigns for leadership. International reaction to the New Zealand campaign and the country’s vote for change is also highlighted.
Key to Victory includes a special DVD with excerpts from key campaign events including the televised leaders’ debates, the leaders’ opening night campaign addresses, parties’ TV ads and campaign billboards.