Party vote focus for Canterbury

Last updated 05:00 20/01/2014

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Canterbury's 400,000 registered voters will be targeted on the ground and in cyberspace as the two major political parties say their support might be the difference in a tight general election race.

The election is months away but both National and Labour are working on finalising plans to capture the crucial party vote.

Labour, buoyed by the success and methods used in November's Christchurch East by-election, will repeat its formula of street-corner meetings and extensive door-knocking, while National will look to social media and its major role in the Christchurch recovery for voter support.

The parties will wait on finalised electorate boundaries in mid-April before settling on definite strategies, but officials from both say Christchurch will be a vital election battlefield.

Labour Party general secretary Tim Barnett said voters were turned off by "political points-scoring" and wanted solutions to their problems instead.

Labour convincingly won the recent by-election and part of that was put down to its 100-plus street-corner meetings.

The "social media era" meant Labour would increase its already high profile online, Barnett said.

The campaigns of United States President Barack Obama showed canvassing was largely about "getting on the right doorsteps and having the right conversations . . . that is just crucial to our understanding of voters and voters' understanding of us".

The 2011 election revealed only a small shift of voters away from Labour. The bigger issue was people not voting at all.

Barnett said that was a "bigger electoral challenge nationwide" and returning to more localised campaigning would almost certainly help.

"If election turnout begins to slide, that's bad news for democracy . . . people have to feel it's worth voting. The key is to excite and inspire people," he said.

National Party president Peter Goodfellow said it needed to "take the people of Christchurch into our plans for the future".

The party had performed strongly both before and after the Canterbury earthquakes and it would be consistently promoting that leadership.

"We've been pretty consistent with what we've been saying over some time. Carrying on the rebuild is very important to us."

Key ministers Gerry Brownlee and Amy Adams had been reselected for their electorate seats and, like Labour, National was waiting for final electorate boundaries before confirming other candidates.

While it was still months before the election, National was not "sitting on our achievements" and planned more Christchurch-related policy as the year progressed, Goodfellow said.

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Number of registered voters across Canterbury:

Christchurch Central: 49,560

Christchurch East: 42,100

Ilam: 50,980

Kaikoura: 50,750

Port Hills: 46,350

Rangitata: 51,870

Selwyn: 51,190

Wigram: 55,530

Source: Electoral Commission.

- The Press

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