Local polling

At the few public meetings that have been held around Otago, there has been something of a double discourse from candidates.

Most, when asked questions, respond with the party line and when they do not know the policy or the party they represent does not have one, resort to "personal opinion".

Often the latter is much more interesting than the bromides trotted out according to national strategy and may help voters to make judgements on personality as much as politics.

The hopeless causes are aired, eccentric viewpoints delivered, and absolute solutions to all our problems outlined.

Such was the case at a recent Dunedin candidates' forum which, according to those who attended, was lively, entertaining and enjoyable, with debating on topics as various as food labelling to skirt lengths, cannabis for the aged and environmental protection.

In Dunedin, particularly, there are numerous candidates whose cause is indeed hopeless if by that definition they expect to pick up two of Labour's safest seats.

Even with the opinion polling tide apparently flooding National's way, no serious student of politics expects Labour to lose either Dunedin North or Dunedin South.

The new candidate in Dunedin South, Clare Curran, likely will have a much slimmer majority than that enjoyed by David Benson-Pope, and a few votes may be chopped off Pete Hodgson's majority, but the story might be different in party votes.

Here lie the hopes of the election minnows, campaigning on the slightest of budgets, but still delivering pamphlets, knocking on doors, putting up with voter hostility and indifference, and replacing their vandalised billboards.

Their voices are relevant to democracy.

Of the other hopeless causes in the region, Don Pryde will not win Clutha-Southland for the Labour Party, nor will Lesley Soper win Invercargill.

Both electorates are sufficiently solidly National not to change, especially in this year.

Bill English will likely increase his majority to win his seventh term in Clutha, while Eric Roy will hold prosperous Invercargill.

There may be a slight difference in the party vote.

Two blue ticks seem inevitable in Clutha-Southland, while Invercargill may, as it did in 2005, give the party vote to Labour.

However, Mrs Soper - a list MP - might find herself out of Parliament altogether with her placing of 44th.

It may also be straightforward in the vast Waitaki electorate, with National's Jacqui Dean enjoying a fairly slim majority on the redrawn boundaries.

Party votes will probably favour Labour, ensuring David Parker, who remains high on Labour's list, is returned to the House.

In Te Tai Tonga voters may see a change that will influence the shape of the next government.

Once the fiefdom of the Tirikatene family, this enormous electorate covering all the South Island, and a small part of Wellington, has been held solidly by Labour's Mahora Okeroa since 2002.

At 40 on Labour's list, he must have a reasonable hope of remaining in the house, but he is under a severe electorate challenge from Rahui Katene of the Maori Party (she is 7th on its list).

If Mrs Katene can win a majority, it may ensure the Maori Party wins all seven Maori electorates, thus giving the party its hoped-for powerful position in the House, especially if the election is reasonably close.

It is being widely predicted that Mr Katene will win the seat, with the party vote going to Labour.

The National Party, basing its confidence on opinion polling, will have expectations of gaining one more electorate seat in the South, namely Dunedin South, but this is, at best, a remote prospect.

Mr Benson-Pope's 2005 majority of nearly 10,000, built up carefully over several years, seems beyond losing even by a low-profile candidate new to electioneering and whose selection caused some degree of division in the local party.

Nor is it likely National's prospect, Conway Powell, can overcome such a high hurdle, although he has lacked nothing in terms of campaigning effort.

Campaigning at a local level is not what it once was, but that does not mean the candidates, from all walks of life and with a wide range of political views, are not just as sincere.

Soapbox electioneering, street corner meetings, and town hall forums have by and large given way to electioneering by post or advertisement, and the great dominance of national campaigning along presidential lines.

In a large way, seeking voter support has become impersonal: many people do not know who the candidates are in their electorate and have never met, and may not be able to name, their MP.

There is still confusion about list candidates and who or what they represent, even what they actually do.

The opportunities to meet candidates directly, to question them in public and to enjoy a vigorous exchange of views are more limited today.

All the more reason voters should seek out those who hope to represent them.


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