Will the real David Cunliffe please stand up?
That’s the message from experts who claim the Labour leader is failing to connect with the voting public because he’s not being true to himself.
It’s a sentiment reflected strongly in the latest Stuff.co.nz/Ipsos political poll in which people were asked to play a word association game with Cunliffe and Prime Minister John Key.
Asked to sum up the leaders in one word, people opted for “good” when describing Key, but words included confidence, arrogance, charismatic, leader and a suite of words lumped together as “profanity”.
For Cunliffe, words like untrustworthy, arrogant and shifty were more likely to be used along with trying, promising and inexperienced.
What would be interesting is to see the breakdown by how people say they will vote.
Former TVNZ political commentator turned media trainer Bill Ralston said Cunliffe came across like he “doesn’t know himself”.
“He always appears to be acting. You know, ‘I’m going to be angry now, I’m going to be funny now, I’m going to be serious’. I don’t know what or who the real David Cunliffe is but we haven’t seen him yet. It’s that inauthenticity that’s the issue. He just is not pitching himself as a normal person.”
Ralston, who helped train Key, said the Prime Minister and New Zealand First’s Winston Peters were leaders who had “clearly identified characteristics and personalities – you can almost guess what they are going to say or do next whereas Cuniffe, there’s something that just doesn’t ring true”.
Cunliffe, who at times proved he had the ability to connect, was a thoughtful man who was likely to be over-analysing problems, he said. “He shouldn’t try to be anything else other than himself.”
Media trainer Brian Edwards, who has worked with Cunliffe, said the Labour leader was coming across poorly “which is curious because in the past he’s come across very well indeed. He doesn’t look relaxed, he doesn’t look spontaneous, he looks like he is reciting extended sound bites that he has been given by advisers.”
I think Ralston and Edwards both have perceptive comments.