For months (years?) now, we’ve had renovations underway on our house. And whenever a tea break or lunch comes along, the guys sit around and jaw. I’ve noticed that the conversation always turns, often quite strenuous, either to sport or politics.

So the other day I joined a group consisting of four painters (all from Napier) and and a gib stopper (from Flaxmere) to hear what they thought about local politics and issues. Ages ranged from 20s to 50s.

Rest easy Barbara Arnott, you’ve got the painter vote locked up! At least these guys. They regard you as a straight-shooter, effective, understandable in the way you present issues.

They know almost nothing of Clifford Church … one ventured that he might be into classic cars. When I mentioned that one of his big issues was returning dolphins to Marineland, they scoffed. “Of all the things to worry about …” said one.

When I asked what issues they do care about, unprompted they mentioned …

  • the hospital (they hate the very idea that they would need to go to Hastings if they got sick or were injured … one would rather build a new one half way between the two cities!)
  • public housing (a bit of upset from a couple about the “kind” of folks who would come into their neighborhoods)
  • sewage going into rivers and the Bay itself (“No way is New Zealand clean and green,” said one. “People have no idea all the crap going into our water,” said another … using the term broadly to include pesticides, industrial waste, sewage, farm run-off. Notably, from my perspective, one noted that he — and he felt many others — would be willing to pay more on his rates if it meant the money would go to cleaning up the water. “They (the officeholders) just need to explain the situation and make the commitment,” he said.)

While each of these blokes expressed strong views on various issues, they were less likely to attach specific issue concerns to local officeholders. To the extent they are discontented with the way “things” are going in the country — and they are, it’s simple, they blame Helen (attention National)!

But when you get local, they admit they’re not well-informed. They don’t associate specific candidates with specific issues … they just have general impressions. They tend to know local politicians as acquaintances, or not at all.

So how will they vote? How will they choose? (All but one indicated they planned to vote.)

They’ll look at the Candidate Booklet in the voters packet. One or two might glance at candidate blurbs in the newspaper. They’d tend to dismiss the candidates’ own literature. And they’re not yet in the online business, at least for this purpose (though two asked for BayBuzz cards!).

As mentioned above, personal relationships and word-of-mouth are the biggest influences. The conversation was peppered with comments like, “I’ve done business with two of those guys and I’d never vote for them.” Or, the opposite, “We did some work for her and she’s great.” Or, “I’ve heard that (so and so) is/did …”

Wherever politics revolves primarily around relationships, there’s a tendency toward the status quo. Officeholders get in because they’re known to a lot of people and they’ve built a positive reputation. There are worse reasons to get a vote! Still, this “comfortability” and patience with incumbents is a huge drag on change and fresh ideas.

Unless an incumbent officeholder “has really mucked it up in a high profile way,” as one said, these guys are not very inclined to go out of their way to learn about new challengers.

Which isn’t to say that issues can’t be effective at galvanizing votes. Rather, it means that issue advocates must present their case loudly and persistently, and explicitly “connect the dots” between issues of high concern and the officeholders and candidates “for or against” on those issues.

That’s what BayBuzz aims to do going forward.

Perhaps the most honest comment of the conversation …

“How will I decide who to vote for? My wife will sit me down at the table, show me her sheet with the boxes ticked, and say, ‘You tick these boxes!’ And I will.” Heads nodded.

Candidates, waste no time on the men … target the wives and partners!

Tom

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