New Zealanders will go to the polls on September 23, but how many of us will exercise our right to vote?

Voter participation has been steadily declining in New Zealand, like it has in other western democracies, particularly among younger people.

This week Victoria University of Wellington will bring together internationally recognised experts, politicians, political commentators, and young leaders from New Zealand and around the world to discuss the state of democracy.

Democracy Week centres around a series of lunchtime panels and debates to be held at Victoria’s Kelburn Campus, and a number of evening sessions, open to the public, at the University’s Pipitea Campus and the National Library in central Wellington.

Topics include electoral participation, voter behaviour, youth political engagement and political campaigning in the age of social media.

Democracy Week reflects Victoria’s leadership in promoting thought and discourse around advancing better government – one of eight areas of focus for the University.

Pro Vice-Chancellor and Dean of Law, Professor Mark Hickford says “in bringing these people together, we’ll be showcasing one of Victoria’s key strengths—our ability to act as a hub of discussion, debate and analysis of the critical issues affecting us as New Zealanders, and as global citizens.”

In this video interview Jack Vowles, Professor of Comparative Politics at Victoria University, and Grant Guilford, the University’s Vice Chancellor, discuss the health of democracy in New Zealand, the role of universities and the challenges of getting young people to participate. (Watch the video in the player above.)

NZ’s democracy isn’t in tip-top shape. The ‘What’s the worst that could happen?’ panel will discuss how to avoid a dark future. Photo: Getty Images

Democracy Week: The programme

Monday 31 July 2017

– 12.30–1.30pm: If young people voted
The Hub, Kelburn Campus. No RSVP required.
Why do so many New Zealanders under 30 avoid the ballot box? Can we change that? And what would our political landscape look like if we saw a ‘youthquake’ as in the recent UK election?

Tuesday 1 August 2017

– 12.30–1.30pm: Make NZ vote again
The Hub, Kelburn Campus. No RSVP required.
What would it take to halt the creeping decline in political engagement and inject some life into twenty-first century democracy? #dogsatpollingstations? Or something more fundamental?

– 5.45–7pm: Constitutional Blueprints
Lecture Theatre 2 (GBLT2), rear courtyard, Old Government Buildings, 55 Lambton Quay, Wellington. RSVP to
With current debate about whether New Zealand should adopt a written constitution, this session presents different perspectives on constitutions and virtues of different styles of constitutional arrangements for New Zealand.

Wednesday 2 August 2017

– 12.30–1.30pm: Wellington Central Candidates’ Debate
The Hub, Kelburn Campus. No RSVP required.
Will Grant Robertson (Labour) stave off challengers James Shaw (Greens), Geoff Simmons (TOP) and Nicola Willis (National) to hold on to his capital city crown? The gloves are off.

– 5.45–7pm: Populism versus Deliberative Democracy
Lecture Theatre 2 (GBLT2), rear courtyard, Old Government Buildings, 55 Lambton Quay, Wellington. RSVP to
In the wake of ‘Brexit’ and Donald Trump, two internationally renowned political scientists address whether populism is a threat to democracy. Is populism a response to democracy’s perceived failings, or a means of making democracy more responsive to the wishes of the people? Is a ‘wave’ of populism about to break over New Zealand? For those dissatisfied with the conduct and consequences of contemporary representative democracies, is deliberative democracy a viable alternative?

Children’s Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft: A panellist in ‘If young people voted’. Photo: Shane Cowlishaw

Thursday 3 August 2017

– 12.30–1.30pm: Political campaigning: News feeds vs newspapers
The Hub, Kelburn Campus. No RSVP required.
Party strategists come to the party to talk strategy in an age of social media. We ask: Should any politician, ever, be on Snapchat?

– 5.30–7.30pm: Film Screening—‘No’ (2012)
Memorial Theatre, Student Union Building. Free with your Victoria University ID.
Gael García Bernal plays an ad exec tasked with creating a campaign to defeat President Pinochet in Chile’s historic 1988 referendum. “The best movie ever made about Chilean plebiscites”—The New Yorker. 93% on Rotten Tomatoes.

– 5.30–6.45pm: Women’s Political Representation in New Zealand and Abroad
Te Ahumairangi (ground floor), National Library, corner Molesworth and Aitken Streets, Wellington. RSVP to
Gender equality in political power in industrialised democracies has grown tremendously in the past fifty years. However, women are still underrepresented in most parliaments. This talk will cover gender differences in political representation in New Zealand over time and compared with other democracies, the MMP electoral system and its mechanism of list and electorate MPs, and the intersectionality of gender with ethnic background.

Friday 4 August 2017

– 12.30–1.30pm: What’s the worst that could happen?
The Hub, Kelburn Campus. No RSVP required.
With declining voting and low youth turnout, NZ’s democracy isn’t in tip-top shape. But let’s be honest, it can always get worse! Our panellists imagine a dark future—and how we might avoid it.

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