Election turnout not media fault

Blaming the media for low election turn-out is ignorant of the complexity and capability of voters – for whom a non-vote is a valid decision, not a poor one.

A Parliamentary inquiry into the NZ election has produced a poorly thought-out claim from a UK political “scientist” that the low turnout was the fault of the media.

He claimed that the choice of the media to focus on the leaders of the two main parties fed perceptions that it was a two-horse race. This apparently strengthened people’s belief that their votes don’t count. The “scientist” recommended restricting freedom of the press, and politicians for that matter, to run such debates.

Let’s first take the idea that ‘its the media wot done it’. This rests on a couple of currently popular liberal assumptions; that the media is some sort of cabal separate from society, and that voters are dumb enough to blindly follow it. Neither is true.

The media is just as influenced by the political class, the policy class, the glitterati, and by punters themselves. They all mutually concoct a kind of ‘generally accepted’ view on life.

But this generally accepted view does not carry weight at the level of the individual voter. Everything they don’t and do hear about politics  is created and filtered by the most complicated of all mediums – their own minds.

The most obvious proof that this two-party framing did not have impact is that a large number of people voted, for the first time, for the Greens and New Zealand First.

Now, let’s take the idea that a non-vote is not a desirable outcome. In my view, a non-vote is not only a valid choice, in the 2011 election it was entirely predictable. 

Not voting can be as much a valid decision, as it can be about apathy or confusion. Faced with undesirable choices, not voting is logical.

Let’s remember the context: National held a small majority of popular support. There was no clamour for change (right track / wrong track polls), even from those who usually voted for Labour and the Greens.

These were perfect conditions for half-hearted floating voters, and even some dedicated ones, to simply decide it wouldn’t matter, or they didn’t care, to vote.

The claim that poor turn-out is simply due to media framing is patronising and ignorant of the complexity and intelligence of voters. Using that flawed logic to suggest restrictions on media, political and public freedoms, is downright dangerous.

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