Who is 'New Zealand'? Publics in Aotearoa/New Zealand General Election Discourse
2011 saw the lowest voter turnout in Aotearoa/New Zealand since women won the right to vote (Vowles, 2014). This decline in participation aligns with trends elsewhere in the Anglosphere (Ailes, 2015; Hansard, 2015). This organic crisis poses new questions for notions of the ‘public sphere’ and ‘publics’ – the forms of political engagement with citizens in a mass-mediated society. Fraser (1990) contends that in theorising the “limits of actually existing late capitalist democracy” (p. 57), we need a notion of pluralised and contesting ‘publics’ (ibid). The project asks how political parties named the 'public' (or publics) in the 2011 and 2014 Aotearoa / New Zealand General Elections. In order to consider the dominance of these political articulations, research will also consider whether these invocations of 'the public' found coverage in the national press. This is not intended as a sociological examination of actually existing publics, but an examination of dominant encoding (Hall, 2001). This analysis tests the thesis that dominant cross-partisan electoral discourses defined the 'public' in terms of dual identification with productive work and capital, in opposition to named subaltern publics. This formulation suggests that workers are called to identify with capital, following from Gramsci’s (2011) theorisation of bourgeois hegemony. Research begins with a content analysis of party press releases and mainstream coverage during the 2011 & 2014 General Elections, when official discourses hailing 'the public' are intensified. Content analysis quantifies nouns used for publics – for example, 'taxpayer', 'New Zealander', or even 'the public'. From this content analysis, the project proceeds to a critical discourse analysis, which seeks to historically contextualise and explain the patterns in content. Reworking Ernesto Laclau's (2005a) theorisation of populism to factor in the left/right axis (which Laclau considered outmoded), this critical discourse analysis considers what 'public' alliances are articulated, and what political programmes these articulations serve.