David Seymour's big mistakes

Posted December 4, 2023

David Seymour has made two critical mistakes during the election campaign. This is likely to be why Act’s polling numbers have dropped. Anyone who reads this blog will know that I regard Seymour as probably the best media communicator in Parliament. But lately, he has been less impressive.


Firstly, it’s because he has diluted his message. Act’s clear campaign message at the outset focused on cutting government waste more than any other party, getting tough on Law and Order and ending Co-Governance. The slogan of Real Change also resonated with many, distinguishing Act from National on economic management.

However, as the campaign progressed, he got side-tracked by other issues. These included the possibility of offering National confidence, but not supply, followed by his attacks on Winston Peters.

The problem is that parties only get so much media attention, and that’s the lifeblood of their campaigns. By focusing too much on these other issues in debates and media interviews, the initial campaign message got diluted, if not lost. 

Media only ever focus on a few points in their stories and only select small parts of debates to talk and write about. Conflict with Winston Peters is always going to trump the need to heavily reduce government spending. Even though the latter may be more important, the media are only interested in selling newspapers and conflict sells.

Second mistake

It would be nice to think that all voters research the policy of every political party, including the possible unintended consequences. But that doesn’t happen. Some percentage of voters will cast their ballot based on the personality or perceived character of the party leader. 

Even though Act will have a following by those who believe its economic policies are the only way for New Zealand to thrive again, some will have liked Act because of Seymour himself. They will have seen him as a good bloke with a good sense of humour and a principled politician who was more concerned about results than the perks of office.

But when some of these people saw his angry side, they may have switched allegiances. His attacks on Winston Peters not only gave the NZ First Leader oxygen, but they may also have alienated those who had never seen him so negative and angry. His threats about the possibility of not offering supply to National could also have turned people off.

Last word

Sticking to a message is vital for any politician, but particularly smaller parties who get less media attention. Personal likability is also important among many voters, even more than policy for some. Seymour has dropped the ball in both of these areas recently. It looks like Act will now struggle to reach double figures on Election night, despite polling in the mid-teens not long ago.

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