Not only was Gareth Morgan's The Opportunities Party heavily dependent on their 10 most valuable electorates to record their 2.4% party vote total, but they were hugely dependent on the Wellington region, with it providing 15.77% of their party vote tally (I've excluded Ōtaki and Wairarapa from that definition of Wellington).
TOP's issues somewhat mirror those of the Green Party. Gareth Morgan enjoys plenty of name recognition in Wellington thanks to him living here, being an owner of the Hurricanes and Phoenix, as well as his other philanthropic endeavours around the city, and his now famous investment in his son's venture of Trade Me, but outside of Wellington, and other urban centres, TOP's support rapidly drops off.
Especially damning for Gareth Morgan and TOP is that they grossly under-performed in Auckland, with only Auckland Central, Mt Albert, and Epsom winning a higher share of the party vote than their 2.4% final result (North Shore was right on the cusp).
Given the 5% threshold, you either have to perform at, or above that, across most of the country to get in or, like the Green Party, absolutely outperform your national result in a handful of high turnout seats.
The problem for TOP is that they weren't able to do either, and they probably weren't helped by the dithering approach taken by Gareth Morgan as to whether he'd stand in an electorate or not. Off the top of my head, Morgan publicly mused that he'd stand as a candidate in Epsom, Wellington Central, and Ōhāriu, but ended up standing nowhere.
As I suggested when reviewing New Zealand First's results, there appear to be clear benefits for your party vote results if you do stand either a competent or high profile candidate in an electorate. And when you're trying to get a fledgling political party like TOP off the ground, they probably needed Gareth Morgan to descend from his ivory tower of pontification and do just that.
Ōhāriu, Rongotai, or Wellington Central were probably the most logical choices for Gareth Morgan to do this. If, as TOP would have us believe, they had the best policies and people who value good policy would vote for them, then surely the three electorates that are saturated with public servants who live and breathe policy, would be the ideal place to maximise your support. They're also three electorates with high turnout, which in turn helps to maximise the impact of your party vote in those electorates, just as the Green Party has demonstrated.
As I mentioned earlier, TOP simply didn't register as an option for voters in most of Auckland with only Auckland Central, Mt Albert, and Epsom recording a higher share of party vote in their electorates than TOP achieved across the country. With such a Wellington centric focus to the party both in terms of the personalities running it, and the almost technocratic devotion to policy, it's hardly surprising that they bottomed out in our biggest city.
I'm not sure that Gareth Morgan running in an Auckland electorate could have solved this. Auckland Central could have seen him play as a spoiler against Nikki Kaye, but given Gareth Morgan's ability to put his foot in his mouth when it came to women this campaign, it may have hurt him more than it helped him. Mt Albert would have seen Gareth Morgan come up against Jacinda Ardern and Julie Anne Genter, which wouldn't have been much better than him.
All of that leaves Epsom as a possible option for him. The race would have enjoyed a high profile thanks to David Seymour and the deal between National and him, and while Epsom sits near to the average of turnout, it could have been a good base for Morgan to lift TOP's vote in neighbouring electorates too. I suspect though that, like the Greens, the technocratic nature of TOP would have hindered these efforts, meaning a much lower return on effort than had Gareth Morgan run in Wellington.
If TOP is to build on its 2.4% from this election, they have two choices:
- Move the party away from being quite so technocratically policy driven to something that's a bit more tangible brand-wise for voters
- Accept that they are going to be a technocratic party and set out to ruthlessly maximise their vote in key electorates to offset their under-performance around the country. This will involve Gareth Morgan picking an electorate and running in it. Though at 64, unless Gareth Morgan is planning to do a Winston Peters and stick around in politics well past the age of super, though could be in trouble unless they're able to find a personality as big as Gareth Morgan's to fill his void once he steps aside.