Addressing low pay and the working poor: structures of argumentation in elite and public discourse
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In New Zealand's 2014 general election, a series of opinion polls demonstrated that the public was greatly concerned about inequality, poverty and "the wealth gap". Other work conducted that year indicated significant support for raising the minimum wage. In the actual election, however, the parties who campaigned most strongly on those issues (Labour, the Greens and Mana) achieved historically horrific results. Clearly, even when such issues are seen as important, other factors remain salient as people make their political choices. This paper offers insights into some of those "other factors". Drawing on survey, interview and focus group work conducted in 2014, and adopting Boltanski and Thévenot’s (2006) typology of the 'grammars of justification' employed in public debates, it focuses on the structures of argumentation that elite and lay actors draw on as they advance claims. The paper concludes that New Zealand's pragmatic-positivist political culture privileges arguments that appeal to 'market forces' and the constraints imposed by 'external forces'.