Publication Details

Roper, J. & Leitch, S. R. (1995). The electoral reform campaigns in New Zealand: a political communication case study. Australian Journal of Communication, 22 (1), 123-135.


Communication professionals employed in the public relations and advertising industries play a central role in the democratic process. They research, design, and implement the campaign strategies that attempt to influence voter choices and public policy. In New Zealand, some special legal restrictions are placed on the campaign activities of politicians during election campaigns. But, for corporations and interest groups, the ability to pay is the major controlling factor. It was within the context of this 'free market' of ideas that New Zealand held a referendum to decide whether or not to adopt a new electoral system. In spite of a government-sponsored campaign aimed at educating the public about the issues involved, the main discourse of the debate emanated from two interest groups. One, the Campaign for Better Government, was a predominantly corporation-sponsored lobby group which worked to maintain the status quo. The other group, the Electoral Reform Coalition, was a grassroots organisation, led mainly by academics, trade unionists, and members of the Women's Electoral Lobby, which worked for proportional representation. In this paper, we analyse the campaigns run by the two protagonists. We examine the strategies and techniques, such as poll-driven advertising, used by communication professionals, and then compare the professional campaign with that produced by amateurs. We conclude by discussing the wider implications of communication professionals' involvement in the political sphere.

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