The now-thankfully-behind-us 2017 NZ Elections were the first elections where political advertising on the Internet could be funded by NZ electoral allocations — money provided by the Government to fund such advertising in the lead-up to general elections.
For decades, NZ public funding of electoral advertising has been legislatively restricted to paying for “broadcast” advertisements — defined in law as radio and television advertising (and the production thereof).
In a dramatic turnaround, a mere thirty years after the Internet arrived in New Zealand via CompuServe, the politicians in mid-March 2017 saw fit to allow electoral funding to encompass Internet advertising as well.
As the Broadcasting (Election Programmes and Election Advertising) Amendment Act notes, public monies may now be applied to fund radio and television and also:
all or part of the publishing costs incurred in relation to the publication of election advertisements on the Internet during the election period; and all or part of production costs, whenever incurred, in relation to election advertisements published on the Internet
Allocations to the four major parties for the 2017 Election were as follows:
NZ National Party $1.37 million
NZ Labour Party $1.10 million
NZ Green Party $530,656
NZ First $420,102
So which of these worthy bodies spent up large on the Internet?
The official answer will have to wait upon the filing of returns by the various party organisations, but we have done our own highly unofficial evaluation and have concluded that the NZ Labour Party was the organisation that devoted most effort (and money) to the World Wide Web.
The NZ Labour Party’s Internet initiatives were most evident on YouTube, with 30 videos posted since early August 2017, cumulatively attracting 2,112,006 views. A single video, the “Let’s Do This” 15 second commercial, attracted more than half of those views (1,131,477). Given the Party’s small channel subscriber base (2,242) such viewership numbers are only possible with paid promotion.
In comparison, over the same period the NZ National Party also posted 30 videos. Their cumulative total: 78,441 views. The NZ National Party would have spent a little bit on paid promotion — one video (“Keep NZ Moving Forward”) managed 31,990 views whilst a second (the “Let’s Tax This” attack video) chalked up a total of 16,225 views across two iterations. YouTube has clearly not been a priority medium for National — their channel has no subscribers at all.
The NZ Green Party, with rather less public funds at their disposal, have devoted only limited attention to YouTube. Over the August/September period, they posted just 12 videos, attracting a total of 4,924 views.
And NZ First? There were no new videos on their channel in this election cycle.
The NZ Labour Party was also very active on Facebook, encouraging plenty of engagement. The party’s post that attracted the most interaction: a video on 15 September entitled “Setting the record straight on National’s scaremongering about tax”, which attracted 363,976 video views, 7062 likes, 3802 shares and 1573 comments.
The NZ National Party was much less in evidence on Facebook. The party’s most engaging post, on 12 September, was a static image reporting the results of the Newshub Reid Research poll for that day (which showed National nearly 10 points ahead). That post attracted 11,279 likes, 1,690 shares and 1,827 comments.
And the NZ Green Party’s most engaging post during the lead up to the election: a video entitled “it’s time to legalise cannabis”, which attracted 182,938 views, 2416 likes, 3720 shares and 253 comments.
NZ First was rather more active on Facebook, perhaps in keeping with the demographics of its core supporters. The party’s most popular post in the lead up to the election: an image of the party’s “Had Enough?” billboard, posted on September 7, which has attracted 1391 likes, 297 shares and 164 comments.
Finally, we took a quick look at Instagram. The NZ Labour Party had only half a dozen posts on this network over the August/September period, of which the most popular was an August 21 image of Jacinda Ardern greeting Helen Clark, which attracted 950 likes and 32 comments.
The NZ National Party was much more in evidence on Instagram, with some 90 posts over the August/September period, although all attracted low levels of engagement (which suggests organic reach rather than paid promotion). The most popular National post: a photo posted on 16 August of Bill English alongside the freshly-knighted Sir John Key, which attracted 269 likes and 5 comments.
The NZ Green Party was also very active on Instagram, as you might perhaps expect given their target audience. Their most engaging post: a video uploaded on September 8 which featured party leader James Shaw speaking to university students about climate change, which attracted 1050 views and two comments.
NZ First had a low-key presence on Instagram, posting around a dozen images over the August/September period to the “winstonpetersnzfirst” account. Most popular post: Winston Peters paying a visit to his old school, Whananaki School, on September 7 (84 likes, 5 comments).
This certainly wasn’t the first election to be contested with the assistance of social media, but it was the first where Internet advertising was publicly funded. In our view, only the NZ Labour Party really devoted significant resource to the medium this time round. We expect to see rather more effort spent online in the future.