• August 17, 2017
Gareth Morgan with students in Wellington. Photo: supplied
Young voter turnout could be on the rise thanks to Gareth Morgan.
The Opportunities Party has an active social media presence that appears to resonate with a younger demographic – roughly half of the party’s 19,000 Facebook followers are under 35.
The page posts informative graphics and political memes multiple times a day, and boasts a 100 per cent response rate to any message from the public.
Some of its most highly viewed posts are the party’s Policy in a Minute videos, which feature deputy leader Geoff Simmons using a whiteboard to explain TOP policies in 60 seconds.
TOP, founded by Morgan in November last year, is currently polling at two per cent – more than double its March result.
Mr Simmons said the party emphasised policy to make sure voters were fully informed before going to the polls on September 23.
“That’s very much our kaupapa. An informed democracy is a functional democracy.”
He said he believed social media was “absolutely crucial” for a new political party, and that authenticity was the key to connecting with young voters.
“Young people . . . are less interested in the tribal stuff, and they’ve got a more finely tuned bullshit radar.”
Angus Craig, a 23-year-old psychology student from Auckland, said TOP’s policies were refreshing.
“[They’re] not so concerned with how it’s going to taste for people, and whether we need to make it palatable, and whether we need to sugarcoat things to get into government, which I think defines our politics.”
Mr Craig said the party’s tax reform policy appealed to him because “it makes sense in terms of making a real step towards social justice”.
He said he also appreciated TOP’s refusal to brand itself as left or right-wing.
“I definitely think that Gareth’s mindset . . . is reasonably apolitical. He’s bold enough to break from tradition, which I like.”
Web developer Jonathan Thompson-Bean, 22, said the rules of politics had changed in the Trump era.
“What I get from the global climate in politics is you don’t really need to be a politician to get into politics anymore. You’ve just got to have a personality.”
Just 62 per cent of registered voters under 30 voted in the 2014 general election, according to TOP’s website.
Mr Thompson-Bean said he knew lots of young people who didn’t vote.
“They keep themselves in the dark. They just feel like they don’t really have any potential to make a difference.”
He said he hoped TOP could be the change New Zealand politics needed.
“People want a change. Young people are more dynamic and like to take more risks. Older voters, from my perspective, only seem to change a little bit – like Labour, National, Labour, National.”
Mr Morgan said New Zealand’s young generation was facing a “bleak future” if government policies didn’t combat housing prices and the loss of jobs to automation.
“Young people are right in the centre of this whole tsunami of mental illness and suicide, all these social dysfunctions. Whatever we’re doing for our young people now isn't working.”
Morgan said young people didn’t vote “because they feel hopeless”, and that TOP’s goal was to re-engage New Zealanders in active, participatory democracy.
“The first thing is you’ve got to give them belief that the Government, whoever the government is, can serve the interests of everybody.”
He said he didn’t believe National had young people’s best interests at heart, and that proposals like boot camps for young offenders – a suggestion he called “complete and utter rubbish” – served only to appease older conservative voters.
“It’s just wrong of my generation to think that these guys have got it easy just because they drink lattes.”
Now on his third nationwide “roadshow”, Mr Morgan said each crowd featured more young faces than the last – up to “90 per cent youth” in some towns.
Mr Simmons said despite TOP’s social media savvy, it was its policies that were attracting younger supporters
“We are offering a package of change that offers young people real hope, stuff that actually works. I think that’s the secret to their loyalty.”
Gareth Morgan on the campaign trail. Photo: supplied