If you are reading these articles, then you are a political junkie on some level, have an interest in local politics, and are far more likely to vote on what you research as opposed to anything else. You’re more likely to educate yourself on candidates, what they stand for, and then make an informed decision to vote.
Unfortunately, you’re probably in the less than one per cent of people who do that. Voters generally do not do research, have little idea of what is going on, and make a millisecond snap judgement to vote on a face, and not much else.
I’ve been asking people, almost randomly, over the last week “who are you going to vote for mayor?” The majority of people can’t name a candidate, and surprisingly, quite a few had no idea there was even an election underway. Older people, who read the newspaper, had more precise ideas about who to vote for but often it was based on incorrect facts. For example; “I’m not voting for that candidate because he’s stopped Shelly Bay from going ahead” or “I’m not voting for that candidate because they stuffed the buses up.”
Democracy in action… Do I even need to roll the old quote out? Yes, yes, I do.
“The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.”Winston Churchill
Numerous studies have shown that a candidate’s face is what wins them votes. That a person will make a snap decision in milliseconds when they see the face, no doubt a leftover part of our primal brain that would need to make a threat assessment each time they saw another human.
We look for a couple of things, in general, the first is trustworthiness, and the second is competence. Now, you can tell your brain it’s illogical to look at someone’s face and be able to determine that in a second, without research, but it makes no difference, your unconscious brain does it every time.
I spoke to a lot of people about Andy and Justin’s faces. The general consensus from the political junkies was that Justin had a “better face.” Couple that with name recognition, also another lever in how we vote, and he’d get back in as mayor.
I spent quite a lot of time with this article looking at various images of Andy and Justin and my gut response, in the end, was that I quite liked Andy’s face over Justin’s. So then I got to thinking. Could there be a more scientific way of analysing both candidates’ faces to understand how people saw them?
Absolutely not, but in the interests of an excellent opinion piece I’ve never let that stop me before, so I used Artificial Intelligence to analyse them.
I took the first five images of Andy and Justin, and I put them through this website that claims to have an algorithm that examines the face and labels it accordingly with a series of words that it thinks are related.
Here are a couple of examples.
Isn’t it interesting that the AI picked Justin straight away?
Based on my unscientific analysis of feeding internet images to a notional “AI” I reached the following conclusion; Andy’s face is more attractive to a voter than Justin, by a slim margin. Generally, the AI labelled Justin a little more harshly while Andy ended up with more “professional” tags like “cardiac surgeon”, for example.
Honestly, there are hours of fun in this. At one stage, the AI labelled one of the candidates “first offender”, which caused me great entertainment. No, I’m not saying which, that’s not cricket.
Seriously, try it for yourself. It’s not infallible, I put my picture in, and it declared me a “beard.”
After all that I can conclude that Andy’s face is likely to score more votes than Justin. And given that his face is plastered super-size in some key locations, god, you can’t miss him, then that bodes well for his chances.
Both candidates have decent name recognition though Justin’s is higher, given he’s the Mayor and has been for some time, an upside of being the incumbent. Andy has had a significant boost via the Peter Jackson effect, which could be a double-edged sword, and that will lift his votes across the city. When Peter Jackson, who has more than two million social media followers, of which many will be in Wellington, has undoubtedly boosted Andy’s chances.
Right now, I think that Andy could just tip Justin out, and that’s an instinctual call. A call for battening down the hatches a bit, more focus on short term issues, a little more city focus, which feeling of austerity, thumbing his nose at central government somewhat, could just put him in the lead.
With the campaign still running for a few more weeks, it leaves both candidates needing a strategy.
Justin has seemed relatively comfortable sitting back and going on the campaign trail ride without much fanfare. It may be that he has a “set and forget” approach to the rest of the campaign hoping that his record will get him over the line again. It’s not a bad strategy.
Andy has been quite active and is still regularly starting policy debate through press releases. His billboards are certainly the most prominent around the city, and that will be making a difference. He’s the chaser in this trail and needs to work hard to stay above the press parapet.
Frankly, there is little either candidate could do to spoil their chances. Most of the mud was thrown in the early days, and none of it stuck, we are well past that point now. Short of some major disaster, both candidates are likely to run to the end.
Both candidates will lose some votes respectively to the other mayoral candidates that are running. At the most risk of this is Justin because he has a couple of candidates sitting on his political spectrum that people may jump too. Those being Conor Hill and Jenny Condie.
Andy is likely to pick up the votes that fell last time to Nick Leggett and Jo Coughlan; he’s the logical replacement for those voters. He might get a few taken away from him by Diane Calvert, but I doubt that it will make a difference. Those centre-right votes are quite substantial, and they are looking for a home.
The other, risky strategy that Andy could take is dragging Justin into debates he doesn’t want to be in. What really is going on at Shelly Bay? What about that airport extension? How much is the Convention Centre really going to cost? What is happening with Civic Square? What really happened with LGWM?
But, that’s pointless, for two reasons. First, unless that spills over into mainstream media, then it’s a valueless exercise. Second, Andy has been a Councillor for many a long year and is involved in all of those contentious areas.
Justin needs to focus on the message that if we stick to the plan, keep moving forward, and cherry-pick opportunities, then we’ll be ok on the other side. The long term plan took time to develop, went through consultation, and is two years into execution.
Andy needs to disrupt that plan with alternatives. Forgoing LGWM to some extent in favour of something else, more life in the CBD including green space, more focus on the environment, a little tightening of the below and more of a, dare I say, “let’s make Wellington great again” style of approach, playing off the fact we are a little rusty right now.
Neither candidate (nor any of the others) has come up with a killer policy and slogan to stand on. There is still time, about a week, to do that. So I’m hedging my bets right now but tipping Andy to get over the line before Justin, if nothing changes.
I should warn you. I’m terrible at betting. I am explicitly forbidden to wager on New Zealand in the upcoming Rugby World Cup as a result. Indeed, the tournament will be forefront in people’s minds.
Freakishly, rugby does affect elections; however, in this case, voting will be done and dusted before the final unless New Zealand go out in the first pool. Then Andy will definitely win.