Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2439

Article | Open Access

Referendum Campaigns in Hybrid Media Systems: Insights From the New Zealand Cannabis Legalisation Referendum

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Abstract:  During New Zealand’s 2020 cannabis legalisation referendum, advocacy groups on both sides widely debated the issue, utilising “older” and “newer” media channels to strategically influence voters, including through appearances in traditional media and paid advertising campaigns on Facebook. Comparatively little is known about the campaign strategies used by each camp and how they leveraged the hybrid media environment to advocate for their positions. We analyse the cannabis legalisation referendum campaigns using primary data from our digital ethnographic study on Facebook, a systematic quantitative content analysis of legacy media websites, and a review of published reports from other authors. We show how positive sentiment towards cannabis law reform in the traditional media was amplified via referendum campaigners’ activity on Facebook. While campaign expenses on both sides were similar, money was spent in different ways and via different mediums. The pro-legalisation campaign focused more on new digital media channels, while the anti-legalisation campaign diversified across a range of mediums, with greater attention paid to traditional political advertising strategies, such as leaflets and billboards. The New Zealand case study illustrates how greater engagement with the “newer” media logics may not necessarily secure a favourable outcome during a national referendum campaign. We discuss how the broader media and political environment may have influenced campaigners’ choices to engage (or not) with the different media channels.

Keywords:  cannabis advocacy; hybrid media; marijuana legalisation; New Zealand; Meta; political advocacy; referendum



© Marta Rychert, Chris Wilkins. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.