Last week, one poll had the Greens pulling 8.8% of the national vote.
What might it require for the Greens to smash through the 10% glass ceiling?
Perhaps losing the word “Ban”!
NZ’s most-read political blogger, conservative David Farrar (Kiwiblog), claims that he has read every official policy pronouncement on the Greens’ website and has found 85 instances where the party wants to ban something. Here’s the list. He calls the Greens the “ultimate nanny state party” and says “banning is their first instinct.” Ouch!
Then, someone commenting on his article claims a search for the word “ban” on the Greens’ website turned up the fearsome term 1,010 times! Compared to 76 times for the Libertarians’ website.
Let me say that, to my taste, there are some things on the “Green 85” list that should be banned … like semi-automatic weapons and alcohol advertising on television.
But behind Farrar’s jab at the Greens is a “reality” based upon perceptions … and perceptions count for everything in politics.
Hurting the Greens is the perception, right or wrong, that they just take things toooo far. And the perception, which sticks and grows like moss on a rock, begins with and then is reinforced by simple things like over-using the word “ban.” Undeniably, the pervasiveness of the word discloses a mind-set, a predisposition, to be absolute — and absolutely commanding — in pursuit of principle.
Yet, many of the “bans” demanded by the Greens arise from fundamentally sound principles, that perhaps articulated differently, would win many more instinctive nods of approval from Kiwi voters.
Were I the communications director of the Green Party, I would pay attention to Farrar’s roasting and re-state my goals and policies, minimising use of the ultimate “command and control” B-word. Indeed, I’d even be tempted to ban the word ban! Words matter.
A bunch of pointed-headed nonsense, you say?! Consider this.
A huge repository of social psychology and linguistic research exists around concepts like the “framing” of public issues and public discourse. What this research shows is that how a position is presented — with what words and symbols — will often be far more determinative of whether it is popularly accepted than the actual content of the position. A victory of style over substance.
Most of this effect is due to the emotive power already embedded in certain terms and images … there to drive home a reaction that is all the more powerful because it’s unconscious. You’ve reacted before you’ve even really thought about it. For example, to kill an estate tax politically, call it the “death tax.” To denigrate the Greens, mock their “bans.”
So, it would be a political misjudgment to dismiss Farrar’s observation as frivolous.
The B-word sticks to the Greens, precisely because it captures and affirms in a visceral way the impression many Kiwis have about the party and some of its zealotry. If the Green balloon is to rise above the 10% milestone — and send a real shock through the political establishment — maybe a few bans need to be thrown from the gondola.