Money Buys Happiness, But Not Elections

It’s a common myth that money buys elections – in New Zealand at least, this is simply not the case. Evidence from several NZ elections has shown no real link between party spending and votes received.

In the 2011 election campaign, the six biggest spenders were (in order): National, $2.3m; Conservatives, $1.9m; Labour, $1.8m; Greens, $780,000; ACT, $620,000; NZ First, $155,000.

So the Conservative Party spent more than Labour, yet Labour got more than 10-times as many votes. And this isn’t just because Labour’s a major party – the NZ First Party spent a quarter as much as ACT, yet received six times as many votes.

These are politicians we’re talking about, so you know they’re also getting plenty of public funding in other ways, such as free broadcasting, funding for electorate offices (which are often used for campaigning), and free flights. Most of these freebies only apply to the parties that were in Parliament at the time, which makes NZ First’s election result even more impressive, given that they missed out on most of the public funding and resources.

In terms of votes per dollar spent, the Conservatives and ACT did not get bang for their buck, spending $31.70 and $25.80 per vote respectively. Compare this to the Greens ($3.15 per vote), Labour ($2.91), National ($2.19), and NZ First ($1.06). There really doesn’t seem to be any link between spending and actually getting votes.

One of the implications of these stats is that NZ might be able to relax some of the strict laws around election campaign spending. Because the evidence is telling us what we already knew in our hearts – no one has their vote swayed by billboards displaying photos of smiling politicians.

And seriously, take one more look at those numbers. The Conservative Party spent a casual $1.9million. That’s a lot of cash considering they barely received half the number of votes they needed to get into Parliament. They obviously aren’t conservative when it comes to splashing out on promotional zeppelins and skywriting.
This article first appeared in Issue 6, 2012.
Posted 7:07pm Sunday 1st April 2012 by Callum Fredric.