Social media and early voting may be changing the election rule book

VERNON SMALL/STUFF

Tamati and Lianna Thompson gave Bill English a wave and he came over.

Sometimes campaigning can end in tears.

Baby Kaea was clearly not in a prime minister-cuddling mood when Bill English zoomed in to say hi to him and his parents at Botany mall on Sunday.

With a screwed up face, he quickly dived back into dad Tamati Thompson’s arms.

It remains to be seen if the prime minister had much more luck with Kaea’s parents, Tamati, 26, and university student Lianna Thompson, 23. He just might.

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But it was one of those moments in the whirlwind of selfies and mall “walkabouts” that brings into focus why politicians do it.

And it was also one of those moments that highlights some of the defining issues this time around, especially for young families struggling to get a toe-hold in the Auckland housing market – whether prices are plateau-ing or not.

The young couple are genuine floating voters, tossing up between Labour, National and NZ First.

Meeting English did make a difference, but though they plan to join the flood of people voting before Saturday they are yet to make up their minds – even after meeting the man himself.

The Thompsons returned to New Zealand from Australia because they wanted their son Kaea to have the great childhood they ...

VERNON SMALL/STUFF

The Thompsons returned to New Zealand from Australia because they wanted their son Kaea to have the great childhood they had here.

Tamati, a crane operator, said English seemed like a really nice bloke.

They had given him a wave and he came over.

“He gave us a lot of time, he approached us on his own – I didn’t expect that. He really came out of his way, which made you feel really special.”

But for them housing is the main issue and it’s the politician with a solution to that will who will get their ticks on the ballot.

“It’s so hard in Auckland [to buy] and we are thinking of moving to Gisborne,” Tamati said.

They had come back to New Zealand from Australia because they wanted Kaea to have the great childhood they had here.

“I loved my childhood,” he says with real feeling.

But, those house prices.

“We definitely have been looking at houses – buying a place – but in Auckland i don’t think it’s a viable option for us, so we do look at moving elsewhere. We would like to move to Gisborne,” Lianna said.

For Tamati, it is about son Kaea as well as future generations.

Bill English and Judith Collins address the fuel shortage during campaigning in Botany.

Bill English and Judith Collins address the fuel shortage during campaigning in Botany.

“I’m not so worried about the here and now. I think we are alright. It’s just that now having a baby and being a father … whoever’s got the best for this young lad here.”

For both, there is something special about this election. They feel engaged and involved thanks to the “how to vote” messages and the avalanche of information flowing over online platforms, reaching younger voters.

And that’s when the young mother – from an age group that traditionally has low enrolment and low turn out – brings up the new Labour leader’s name.

“Before, I never knew anything about the campaign, how to vote, elections and stuff. Now it is all over social media, Facebook… like Jacinda Ardern … she’s really all over (it).

“We didn’t know much about politics before, but because it is so accessible for us, the younger generation, you get more info about it.”

English is still in the game, and those that meet him in the malls and shops clearly find him engaging.

And there is less of an age divide than commentators may suppose; he is so good with young kids he bridges the generation gap with their parents and takes criticism in his stride.

At his first campaign call of the day at la Cigale market in Parnell – just down the hill from John Key’s expensive mansion – he chats amiably with primary teacher Luisa Longone and pats dog Sherman’s head.

But they are on different pages over National Standards, which she criticises for holding special needs kids and those who don’t speak English to the same standards.

Education Minister Nikki Kaye swoops in to explain new policy to address the issue – National Standards+ – and take an email address for more a follow up.

While he is campaigning at his next stop – on the second floor of St Luke’s Mall – down below they are queuing to lodge early votes at one of the Electoral Commission’s innovative mall booths.

The statistics of younger voter enrolment are still not flash.

But pundits who assume those in their 20s – like the Thompsons – are still tuned out, might be doing so at their peril.


 – Stuff

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