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Opinion: Election engagement

Politics lecturer and political commentator Dr Bryce Edwards will be helping inform public opinion and debate during this year's general election campaign through his Otago Elections Project.

Co-ordinating student and staff research promotion

The 2014 general election will be an incredibly hard-fought and close campaign – and the University of Otago will be an important participant in this.
Drawing on the expertise of staff and students – from first-year Politics students to professors from a variety of disciplines – the University will contribute many services to the public debate. Much of this will happen through an endeavour that I'm organising, entitled
The Otago Elections Project
, which is an attempt to harness the significant capacity and excellence in the University.
The project is fostering a variety of ventures and experiments this year.
In an election year there is huge public interest in expertise in the analysis of the election campaign and public policy discussions. The media, in particular, are voracious in wanting feedback and opinion from those who have some background understanding of the issues. The Otago Elections Project will act as a one-stop shop for directing public attention to staff and students who can give quality analysis of the election and the issues.
Campaigning politicians will be descending on campus throughout the year and, when they do, they'll be directed into the University's first-class film studio, where we'll be interviewing them in front of a public audience. These professional, high-definition recordings will be live-streamed over the internet via the New Zealand Herald website, and also available there for later viewing.
During the 2011 general election, I interviewed some 15 campaigning politicians when they visited the University of Otago campus (including people such as Bill English, David Cunliffe, Winston Peters and Hone Harawira). The interviews were live-streamed over the internet and made available to watch on YouTube. This year, the interviews will be conducted weekly, from April.
I write a regular Political Roundup column for the website of the
New Zealand Herald
– about three days a week. The column is an attempt to discuss the main political stories of the day from a more scholarly point of view than is usually in the media, and to point to the most important and interesting relevant items from various media and blogosphere sources.
Everyday, Monday to Friday, I send out an email containing the most important items relating to New Zealand politics. The service is free to anyone who is interested. It is currently sent to about 1,000 subscribers – made up mainly of journalists, public servants, academics, politics students and researchers.
Politics students are establishing a number of incredibly useful websites as part of researching the 2014 general election. One of the most impressive is the New Zealand
Election Ads
website, created by Ashley Murchison, who is writing her PhD on election advertising in New Zealand. The site is a repository of New Zealand election advertising for the benefit of researchers and voters alike.
Two honours students are building a policy comparison website to help voters understand the differences between what the political parties are promoting. We are also attempting to build a fact-checking website that will play a part in helping adjudicate over election-related policy disputes, drawing on the wealth of expertise across the University.
Many Politics students will be contributing to the project as part of their course assessment. In particular, two papers that I'm teaching this year (POLS 102: Introduction to New Zealand Politics; and POLS 221: New Zealand Political Parties and Elections) will require students to publish regular blogposts that relate to scholarly analysis and the election campaign.
The Otago Elections Project will culminate in a conference or symposium immediately after the election. This will be a chance for both students and academics to share their research about the election campaign and the results. This and other aspects of the project will result in numerous journal articles and book chapters.
While I'm the director for the project, on a day-to-day basis it's being co-ordinated by Ashley Murchison. James Meager (a Māori student co-ordinator in the Division of Health Sciences) is the events producer, and Megan McPherson from the Division of Marketing and Communications is managing the promotion of the project.
So, if you're interested in being involved or just want to follow what we are doing, please go to our website, or follow me on Twitter (@bryce_edwards), or email me at
Department of Politics
Photo: Alan Dove


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