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Friday, January 27, 2006

The "Liberal" Word, Help or Hindrance?

From comments on ACT's future posted on Rob Good's Puntiki

Dan King "ACT has never employed marketing effectively. Our liberal brand means nothing to the average Jo Schmo who might vote for us, if he actually knew us. We need to ditch this intellectual 'liberal rubbish' and go for grass roots branding. 'The party for everyone who works, has worked or wants to work' for instance. Define the people we want to make ours and , wait for to them! in their own language

If you are selling to a mechanic you don't rock up in a three piece suit. We have had a three piece suit 'superior' approach in much of our language, when the people we really need to talk to will respond to the common touch..." Fancy pants aus marketing experts are not much good if we have not identified our market and the message that fits. The direct mail we delivered at tremendous human cost and loss of life was a complete waste of time for reasons mentioned above, wrong message and wrong target market."

Wined "If ACT! is ever to attain many real profile here again, the party must speak for NZ, and those people who are currently, and always will be disenfranchised on the Right. The Centre, and the drivel of "liberal" will never work for ACT. This is the ground of the National, and the right winger Labourites, and people like Peters and Dunne who want to hear themselves as a Leader."

I personally love the "Liberal" word, but I follow politics enough to appreciate its origin and meaning. "Liberal" to most on the centre right is identified with "sickly white liberal" etc.

ACT is a political party trying to win votes. Do we try to sell a political philosophy and a word that is surrounded by confusion to the one or two per cent who are interested in such things?

Or are we better to de-emphasise or even abandon the "Liberal" word and attempt to sell concrete policies, using plain language, appealing to people's self interest, in areas they care about?

Do you explain the "liberal" philosophy to a South Auckland mechanic, or do you show him how "school choice" will give his kids a far better future than zoning and mediocrity. Is he interested in Bastiat and Milton Friedman, or how much more quickly ACT's tax cuts will help him clear his mortgage?

I think I've made my leanings clear. What do you think?


Blogger Warren Warrender said...


Firstly a good blog and I am glad you raised the semantics of the word liberal.

I view it like a business. You are there to make money.
Firstly, what are your goals/what is realistic revenue figure in a given period of time, i.e. 6 months,

Secondly, what is the product/service you are selling and conduct analysis on target markets and their liklihood of uptake. Does that analysis change your product? Create core values of your product/service that are tangible and not just lip service.

Do an analysis of your competition and identify your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats vs their same. Does this change your approach.

Market your product and create distribution channels.

Create a customer base that provides referrals through quality service and something people feel part of.

I don't think identifying with the word liberal helps at all, regardless of its meaning in the sense we know it, i.e. classic liberalism.

Why would people want to vote ACT? there have to be clear reasons given as to why. It must fill a niche in the market and also have a strategy for taking others votes. In particular, the liberalism of the ACT party would appeal to some trendy lefties who vote Labour or even Green -- take the issue of welfare, if this was marketed right it would be a big vote puller. People just need to be convinced. The proof is in the eating, now follow the recipe and cook the cake.

I just feel ACT needs a re-vamp.

8:45 PM  
Blogger Oswald Bastable said...

This also shoots the Libertarians in the foot, as many associate them with 'civil libertarians'

Wrong, but that's what happens!

10:14 PM  
Blogger Spirit Of 76 said...

The word 'liberal' just has too many connotations:

Bleeding Heart Liberal = Matt Robson
Neo-liberal = self indulgent elitists
Classical Liberal = [see neo-liberal]
A political liberal = a typical pinko

The term is too 'loose' to describe ACT in terms of its core ideology. Nah, we need to get more grass roots than that. Dan King is bang on with some of his analogies: many mates of mine are self employed trademen, all of who vote right anyway but they don't 'get' the ACT liberal project. Neither do I for that matter, but hey, I'm really an ACT conservative !

11:01 PM  
Blogger Warren Warrender said...

That's a good point spirit -- perhaps ACT over do the intellectual thing. it takes more than a 30 second sound bite to explain policies. And that's too long.

as well as liberal being too vague, it excludes people like myself and spirit who are conservative.

11:15 PM  
Blogger Rob Good said...

Dump the word Liberal today. It simply does not help. ACT would be better of with NO slogan than having "The Liberal Party" Reminds me of Jean Chreien.

7:01 AM  
Blogger Warren Warrender said...


You may be in the position to know, but how seriously would ACT consider dropping the word liberal as part of a re-branding exercise?

8:41 AM  
Blogger Aaron Bhatnagar said...

Warren - "excludes people like myself and spirit who are conservative", which is what I've been saying for several years. ACT was always an umbrella party that reflected socially liberal refugees from the 4th Labour govt, as well as neo conservatives of the Ruth Richardson/John Banks type who were strong on the free market but were not socially liberal. Sometime around 2002/2003, ACT decided to undertake the liberal project, and I suspect that at the end of this rebranding project, conservatives in ACT left as they were not "liberal".

Rebranding in itself will not fix ACT, although that is a part of what needs to be done.

9:30 AM  
Blogger Lindsay Mitchell said...

This discussion reminds me of what Graham Scott has said. ACT needs to define who the party represents. At that point, some people will get off the bus, but others will get on. His words, and I agree. Are we too afraid to take that chance, the party which purports to champion risk-takers?
Too many energies get dissipated and lost to the cause when people can't agree. NATIONAL is the conservative party.

1:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yep and NZ needs another Conservative party like a hole in the head.A good chunk of the problems we face are due to Conservatism....and the damage it causes . But Act does need to refocus on its target market which is who...? The responsible, the productive, the benevolent, the belivers in justice....There is no conflict between ACT's message of freedom,wealth creation and personal responsibility with Liberalism....but there is between that message and Conservatism. Conservatism is Right wing Socialism,Socialism of the soul if you will.It mirrors the things Left Socialism wants to ban and encourage...why would ACT want to adopt that position? If we want to reach "our voters" then is the Conservative aspects we need to drop and the consistent Liberal ones we need to embrace.Become the party of fun,good humour,promise,youth etc...all are attractive and consistent with Liberalism.

1:44 PM  
Blogger Trevor Loudon said...

Warren, I know some people in ACT are not keen on the word, but some are. I'm sure it will come up at the big, partywide "hui", we have planned for Feb.

Re James and Lindsay. If I had my way, ACT would be a libertarian party. A quick look at the votes the Libz get shows how viable that is.

I think ACT has to do a balancing act. We need the libertarians, we need the classic liberals and we also need some "conservatives".

We can all unite around areas of common agreement such as low tax, school choce, justice issues etc.

ACT is the Association of Consumers and Taxpayers, who want a voice in parliament. That to me is our primary focus, not trying to rehabilitate a noble, but tainted word.

3:04 PM  
Blogger Warren Warrender said...

Lindsay, that's not the point.
ACT's goal should be to get 5% of the vote at the next election and retain Epsom as an electorate seat. That should be the first part of a survival strategy that leads to sustainability as a political party that features in parliament.

The best chance you have of that is taking voters from National. Period. Simply being an exclusive club for "liberal" voters is nonsense. You need to reach out to other voters, particularly conservative National voters.

Look at the likes of me, Aaron, Watson etc who are all ex-ACT party members and now all members of the National party. I can't speak for Aaron or Watson but for me ACT become people chanting slogans that became tiresome and went down a liberal agenda. You have lost our votes because of that. And you have lost votes of thousands of others because of that. That is the reality.

ACT needs to become a broad based party, not a narrow liberal one. Rob says ACT should drop the word liberal, that would be a good way to ameliorate your voter loss.

4:34 PM  
Blogger Warren Warrender said...


The libertarianz got 946 party votes at the last election.........

4:37 PM  
Blogger Rob Good said...

ACT needs to se the targets high and go for 15% of Party vote and 5 electorate seats.... If they go for 5% and Epsom then they are still vunerable......

8:10 AM  
Blogger Warren Warrender said...

ACT can set whatever targets they like, but without a road map to get there, they're pissing in the wind.

15% seems too much -- their highest polling ever was 11% in 1998 -- as does 5 electorate seats. That should be a long term proposition. First thing's first should be to get 5% and retain Epsom, thereby creating a legacy in that seat ala Dunne

The highest third party polling in MMP history was NZ first with circa 13% of the vote. And that's after being 26% polling earlier in the year.

8:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Liberal tag certianly describes the voters ACT are after, but my experience was the majority of members were more conservative than those I have met in National, so I can understand the internal dilemma.

10:40 AM  
Blogger Trevor Loudon said...

I believe ACT should target 5 electorate seats for "conquest" over the next 3 election cycles.
I think 15% is a longer term goal.
If we aim too high we will fail miserably, too low will bring the same result.
I think an achievable target for 2008, would be to retain Epsom, come second in 2 other electorates and gain 7% of the party vote. Warren is right though. Nothing will happen without a plan.

1:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ACT's vote was basically eaten by National at the last election. Some people I knew who voted ACT at the 2002 election voted National in 2005 because Don Brash was giving them everything they liked about ACT. When Brash first came to Parliament people joked that he was ACT's 9th MP because he was always appearing at ACT conferences as a speaker and advocated many policies that may have even been right of ACT's programme, for example abolishing welfare benefits (see his 2003 Orewa speech).

ACT will be able to do well in the future if the less economically liberal National MPs (Bill English etc) gain control of the party again from neo-liberals Brash and Key. There will be once again a space for a small Party in Parliament that advocates tax cuts, tougher penalties on crime etc. The other option is if Brash and co. see the importance of having a reliable coalition power. Then National might pull out of Epsom or any other seats that will always support a right-wing candidate and ACT will have reliable seats to ensure a place in Parliament.

3:42 PM  
Blogger Wined said...

You will only vote ACT! if what they say is different to the statements of other parties, and if you can be convinced that they will carry through. There is no such evidence. Faced with the option to support a return to traditional values in family , alchohol sale, and prostitution, ACT took the easy road. As one living in South Auckland, we see the results here every night as the scum from Epsom and Remuera come hunting in the despised South. Is this Liberal? It is certainly what I understand by it.

9:10 AM  
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4:19 PM  

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