This year’s election has gone to the highest bidders. Electoral donation figures show that Labour, the Greens, and Te Pāti Māori received a combined total just exceeding $2,900,000. Meanwhile, the National, Act, and New Zealand First parties, which are expected to form a government following the release of the final vote tally, received more than $14,450,000. Almost five times as much.
But is it all about the money? Donations have certainly taken an unprecedented swing to the right this election (with Labour notably receiving 0 donations from business since 2021). But Labour managed a landslide victory in 2020, despite receiving $1.5m in donations to National’s $2.8m.
Social media spending may be a crucial part of the puzzle.
During the last election, Facebook insights suggested that National was failing to maximise its ad spend. In September 2020, National paid $38,000 for just 33 ads while Labour spent $31,000 on 171 ads. While having more money to spend on social media allows you to hire specialised staff and commit time to posting, paying less per ad demonstrates that a party is using more sophisticated audience targeting to reduce their cost and maximise their reach.
In 2020, the left-wing coalition also had more followers. As of August 2020, the Labour party came in first with nearly 400,000 Facebook followers, followed by the Green Party with just over 200,000, then National with roughly 150,000. Not to mention Jacinda Ardern’s personal following of nearly 2m – more than 10 times the followers of any other candidate.
In 2023 the tables turned. Labour was late to join the platform TikTok while National mastered the short video format. On Facebook, National, ACT and New Zealand First collectively spent around $2.1m for 6570 ads, while Labour, the Greens and Te Pāti Maori collectively spent roughly $1.2m for just 2449 ads. National had the lowest spend per ad of any party, paying $800,000 for 4073 Facebook ads (roughly $190 per ad).
As of September 2023 (and with Ardern out of the race), Winston Peters had the most Facebook followers of any party leader (123,000), followed by Christopher Luxon (88,000), and David Seymour (83,000). ACT and David Seymour’s combined accounts were also the most prolific, posting twice as much as any other leader-party combination in 2023 (just over 140,000 posts).
While these figures demonstrate that social media spending isn’t just about how much money you spend, but how you spend it, the broad strokes suggest that National successfully learnt from a poor online performance in 2020.