Back room dealers and the great kiwi battler : a study of advertising frames in the 1993 and 2011 New Zealand electoral referenda : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Philosophy in Politics at Massey University, Manawatu, New Zealand
In 1993 and 2011, New Zealanders were presented with the choice of retaining their current electoral system or changing to a different system through a national referendum. The result of the 1993 referendum was a dramatic change which saw New Zealand shift to a mixed-member proportional representation system, after 73 years of elections under the simple plurality first-past-the-post system. Eighteen years later, in the 2011 referendum, New Zealand chose to retain this system.
This research explores the information regarding the potential impacts of a change in electoral system that was presented in advertising campaigns run by key lobby groups during the 1993 and 2011 referenda. Drawing on theories of the democratic role of the media, political advertising, and framing theory, this research considers how advertising, as part of the broader media landscape, framed the discussion of the issues surrounding the choice of electoral systems in the 1993 and 2011 New Zealand electoral referenda.
Using an inductive approach to content analysis, the research developed a set of quantitative data on the themes within the advertising campaigns. Content analysis highlighted the priority issues in each campaign.
Drawing on framing effects and semiotic theory, these themes were then considered within their wider context to assess what the data suggests about the quality, tone and breadth of discussion about the two electoral systems. It was found that the campaigns used specific frames to differentiate the campaigns on a social and ideological level. Advertising drew on social myths to characterise the decision as a battle between big business and the 'everyday New Zealander' in the mixed-member proportional campaigns, and between a system that held politicians accountable and one that was bound by bureacracy in the campaigns that stood against the mixed-member proportional system.