Kieran Stowers and Meg Howie from Massey's Design & Democracy Project.

Website election queries differ to media focus


Meg Howie.

An online web platform that enabled voters to ask questions of candidates in the lead up to the general election found the issues that received the most queries were different to those that dominated the news headlines.

Ask Away allowed representatives from each political party to log in each day to respond to the most popular questions as voted by website users.

It received 1098 questions and 1166 answers from 63 different party spokespeople, and there more than 16,000 votes cast across the questions.

The three most popular questions were on climate change (307 votes), economic inequality (266 votes) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (229 votes).

Website designer Meg Howie says the high ranking of questions related to the TPPA indicates “that people were eager to use the site to make the politicians talk about things they might usually avoid”.

Other popular but unusual questions were related to the issue of giving prisoners the democratic right to vote and how to make Parliament more productive, particularly in the debating chamber, with many expressing dissatisfaction with the level of personal attacks and obstructive responses at Parliamentary Question Time.

In spite of that it dominated the news for the past month, few questions were asked about the ‘Dirty Politics’ revelations, although some questions were put about the GCSB and the issue of government surveillance.

“There were some questions that were interesting because many people remarked that they weren’t previously aware of the issue,” Ms Howie says.

These included questions around whether candidates supported Section 78 of the Education Act that allows secular state school boards to segregate pupils by religion for religious instruction lessons, and the removal of abortion from the Crimes Act.

There were also many questions about civics education and improving voter turnout as well as others around testing of and eligibility for student loans and allowances, animal rights and mental health services.

Associate Professor Grant Duncan, who lectures in public policy and political theory at Massey University, says that while the questions posted on Ask Away can’t be taken as representative of public concerns, he was not surprised they differed to the issues focused on in the media.

“It's not surprising that Dirty Politics and GCSB were not the most frequently raised issues, despite the headlines,” he says.

“Climate change, economic inequality and the TPPA are all substantial policy issues that will have long-term consequences for people's well-being. They are also complex issues about which many voters are likely to seek guidance.”

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