Labour might dominate the party vote in South Auckland, but low turnouts mean other urban centres were far more valuable to Labour this election.
It feels like every election we hear about how Labour is just waiting for the South Auckland booths to come in to boost their party vote tally, but the reality is that despite dominating the party vote at the electorate level in much of South and West Auckland, low turnout rates - some of the lowest in the country - mean that those seats simply aren't as valuable to Labour's success as elsewhere in the country.
Final results from the 2017 election reinforce this, with Dunedin and Wellington both featuring as key areas where Labour did well. While both Dunedin South and Dunedin North are both mid-pack regarding turnout, both are still above average in this regard. Where Labour really shone though was throughout the Wellington region, with Rongotai, Mana, Rimutaka, and Hutt South. Wellington Central was Labour's 13th most valuable electorate despite Labour only picking up 38.22% of the vote there due to it being the fourth highest electorate for turnout.
It's also worth pointing out that both Nelson and the Port Hills, two high turnout electorates, also experienced the second and third highest net swings to the centre-left this election. These should be taken as huge positives for Labour, and they need to look at what they did well there and see if they can't translate it to other similar electorates around the country.
That's not to say that West and South Auckland aren't still important for Labour, but because of their low turnout rates they have less of an impact on Labour's fortunes than movements elsewhere in the country. Of the electorates that broadly fall into that West and South Auckland arc - and I'm including Mt Albert in that as it has elements of both West and inner city Auckland as an electorate:
- Mt Albert was Labour's 11th most valuable electorate and the only electorate for Labour in West and South Auckland to record above average turnout, coming in at 31st place for turnout. Labour won 43.19% of the party vote in Mt Albert.
- Manurewa was 12th most valuable, and 62nd for overall turnout. Labour won 58.40% of the party vote.
- Kelston was 15th most valuable and 60th for overall turnout. Labour won 50.18% of the party vote.
- Maungakiekie was 16th most valuable and 51st for overall turnout. Labour won 43.19% of the party vote.
- Te Atatu was 17th most valuable and 55th for overall turnout. Labour won 43.19% of the party vote.
- Mt Roskill was 19th most valuable and 52nd for overall turnout. Labour won 42.43% of the party vote - this was the only electorate in this list where National beat Labour for the party vote, getting 42.75%.
- And New Lynn was 21st most valuable and 58th for overall turnout. Labour won 42.50% of the party vote.
It's important to note that West and South Auckland still delivered about 18.7% of Labour's overall party vote, so they're they still form a core of Labour's dependable vote. However, Labour's inability to translate that electorate dominance into much higher turnout rates is going to prove a thorn in Labour's goals of being a party that polls in the low to mid 40s.
Unlike National who win big in high turnout electorates, Labour has to deliver above average performances across a wider number of electorates to make up for the fact that their core areas simply don't have the same high turnout that National's do. This means that whereas National's top 20 electorates delivered some 39.7% of their vote total, Labour's top 20 delivered 35.3%. That gap widens again when you compare the top half of electorates for each party, with National netting 67% of its votes from its top 36 electorates, while Labour only manages 59%.
In terms of Labour's least valuable electorates, I don't think there's much surprising in this. Labour does get slightly more of its votes from its 10 worst electorates that National does (9.73% for Labour versus 8.85% for National). This generally reflects that Labour's vote has a slightly better spread across the country than National's.
The hallmarks of Labour's bottom 10 electorates, other than being generally considered safe National seats, is that they're either rural, affluent, or both. Taranaki-King Country, Clutha-Southland, Hunua, and Waikato all obviously fall into that rural category, while East Coast Bays, Pakuranga, Tamaki, Epsom, Helensville, and Botany into the affluent one. There's obviously exceptions to that rule in each electorate, but it's a useful generalisation to see what's going on.
With a slightly above average turnout in these bottom 10 electorates it does demonstrate why Labour puts such a big effort into trying to get out the vote in the electorates that it does dominate, even though it doesn't seem like those efforts are delivering much in the way of lifting overall voter turnout, especially across West and South Auckland.
Labour's strengths are clear. They have a dependable, if not particularly high turnout, party vote base in West and South Auckland, and success in the higher turnout electorates around Wellington bodes well for them. Labour's weaknesses are also clear, with low turnout rates throughout Labour's supposed base in West and South Auckland, they're more vulnerable to movements elsewhere in the country.
As for opportunities for Labour? I mentioned earlier that Port Hills and Nelson experienced the second and third largest swings towards the centre-left (New Plymouth was the top swing electorate), and I think that this is one area Labour should push further on. For example, New Plymouth had the largest swing (any coincidence that Andrew Little wasn't running in the electorate anymore?), yet Labour's share of the party vote there was still only 34.04%. As a provincial city, it shares similar characteristics with Nelson, so there could well be more room for Labour to grow there.
Given their success around Wellington too, Labour should be looking at high turnout electorates like Ōhāriu and Wellington Central and looking to increasing their share of the vote there too. Growth here doesn't necessarily have to come at the expense of the Green Party either, though its high performance in both those electorates suggests it inevitably will have some impact, but should aim to eat away at National's support and the good results The Opportunities Party recorded in both seats too.
However Labour's biggest opportunity, as ever, is to figure out how to hugely lift voter turnout in West and South Auckland. If they can find a way to do this, Labour can create a red hinterland not dissimilar to that National enjoys in its strongest electorates, which would easily lift Labour into the low to mid 40s, and do so without cannibalising the Green Party, which would be a net benefit to the centre-left as a whole.