With the resignation of National Party MP Jonathan Coleman triggering a by-election in the electorate of Northcote, I thought it'd be an interesting exercise to delve into the numbers. The objective is to try and understand a bit more about how Northcote has voted since its creation in 1996, and see whether there is anything from its history that could help determine what might happen this time around.
Northcote is generally considered to be one of New Zealand's three bellweather seat - the other two being Hamilton East and Hamilton West. As you can see from the above chart, that's generally true for Northcote other than 2005, where it voted by 2 percentage points more for National than it did for Labour in its party votes.
While National won Northcote on its creation in 1996, Labour took it in 1999 and held it in 2002. What was very interesting about 1999 was that the Alliance's Grant Gillon won 20.51% of the vote, and combined with votes for candidates from the other minor parties, had more votes than either National Ian Revell or Labour's Ann Hartley could manage. Since that high water mark in 1999 for the minor parties in Northcote, National and Labour have gobbled up the lion's share of the vote.
National took the seat again under resigning MP Jonathan Coleman and turned it into a National stronghold by taking the seat with outright majorities since 2008. At the high point Coleman's lead over the Labour candidates was 29 percentage points in 2011, though in 2017 that had been reduced to 17 percentage points.
Since 2005 on the party vote front, National has consistently over performed in Northcote relative to its performance across the rest of the country. Across 2008-2014 Northcote delivered the majority of its party votes for National. Unlike the candidate vote, on the party vote front the high point for minor parties in Northcote, much as it was the for the country more broadly, the 2002 election. National's recovery in 2005 was the first major hit to minor parties in Northcote, followed by Labour's recovery in 2017.
Interestingly, in Northcote in 2002 minor parties received a larger share of the party vote than either National (who hit their lowest ever result) or even Labour, a feat they repeated in 2014 at least in beating Labour. It's a powerful illustration of how when major parties fall on hard times their supporters flock to minor parties instead in the presumed hope that their particular interests will be better represented in opposition.
When broken down by party over the period, it's interesting to see how National's success saw it cannibalise support for New Zealand First and ACT in Northcote, while Labour's fall from its 2005 high and subsequent rise in 2017 saw the Greens benefit, and to some extent NZ First recover, until 2017 hit them both.
Taking a similar look at the candidate voting illustrates how much of a two horse race Northcote has been since 2002. Whatever Grant Gillon was doing in Northcote, he was doing it very well, because since then nobody has been able to crack double figures in challenging the National/Labour duopoly.
This leaves us with the question - what does this all mean for the Northcote by-election? I think this means that Labour is right in the game and has every chance to win Northcote off National. When Labour is performing strongly in the party vote stakes they can, and they do win Northcote.
How have I reached this conclusion? In Northcote National outperforms its New Zealand-wide party vote result by an average of 3.78 percentage points. On the flip side, Labour in Northcote underperforms by an average of -2.93 percentage points. Minor parties also underperform by an overage of 0.84 percentage points.
With that in mind, and using the latest 1News Colmar Brunton poll from February 2018 as a starting point - with Labour on 48 per cent, National on 43 per cent, and minor parties netting the remaining 9 per cent across the country - I've calculated that things staying broadly true to their historical patterns, that would translate in Northcote to National getting 46.78 per cent, Labour 45.07%, and minor parties 8.15% of the party vote.
Then, allowing for the pattern of how candidates in Northcote have gone relative to the party vote of their party in the electorate, (National overperforms by an average of 5.15 percentage points, Labour overperforms by 2.23 percentage points, and minor parties underperform by 7.43 percentage points), that would see the following results:
- National candidate: 51.93%
- Labour candidate: 47.35%
- Minor parties: 0.73%
(due to rounding this does come out at 100.01% if you add those up)
That gives National a 4.58 percentage point advantage over Labour. If I use a slightly different measure - looking at the relative percentage difference rather than percentage points, it delivers a result still in favour of National, but with a 5.47 percentage point lead.
With that predicted 4.58 - 5.47 percentage point lead in favour of National, it's worth considering a few other factors that will come into play. Labour has an immensely popular leader and Prime Minister in Jacinda Ardern. Where Labour seemed to perform strongly in the 2017 election was the youth age groups, those aged 18-34. Incidentally Northcote experienced a 1.29 percentage point increase in the turnout of those voters in 2017. In terms of usually resident population, Northcote has a median age of 35, that's versus a median age of voters in the 2017 election of 48. Northcote sits within the youngest third of general electorates, and is in company with some relatively strong Labour voting seats. Advantage Labour in terms of age demographics.
Conversely, Northcote sits within the highest third of general electorates for median family income, and that places it in the company of some strongly voting National seats. So advantage National in that regard.
In terms of ethnic breakdown Northcote has below below NZ rates of people identifying as Pākehā (European), Māori, and Pacific Islanders, but it does have more than double the New Zealand rate of people identifying as being from from Asian backgrounds. How this will play out is hard to predict. Under John Key and, to a lesser extent Bill English, National was fairly confident that that Asian-New Zealanders were generally strong National supporters. This was reinforced by Labour playing several xenophobic race cards over the past few years, including the "Chinese sounding surnames" debacle, Andrew Little's attack on Indian and Chinese chefs, and the moves to ban foreign buyers - a policy that's been seen as promoting anti-Chinese sentiment which inevitably impacts Chinese-Kiwis. National should still have an advantage in this regard, but it's notoriously difficult to quantify.
Looking at religious affiliation (though admittedly this isn't a the strongest indicator of voting preferences in New Zealand largely due to Kiwis taking a relatively relaxed approach to religion, as is evidenced by having two openly non-religious Prime Ministers in recent memory, those being John Key and Helen Clark), Northcote has a slightly above average representation on non-religious people and slightly below average numbers of Christians vs New Zealand as a whole. I'll make the point again that this is a hard measure to use to predict voter patterns, especially as while National might generally be the party perceived as attracting Christian voters, Labour also has significant Christian support through its strong support in Pacific Island communities. This isn't so much of a factor in Northcote, but insofar that I'd argue that non-religious people are more likely to vote for Labour (even though I'm personally an exception to my own rule) I feel that potentially Labour might have a slight edge in this regard.
While I've written about Ardern and how she turned out the youth vote for Labour - largely at the expense of the Green Party it seemed at the time - National has a different problem. Simon Bridges, while having been a relatively high profile minister and hence having more of a public profile than most new leaders might have, is still new to the role. He doesn't have the same name recognition that John Key or Bill English had, and as such can't be counted on to bring out voters like Ardern will for Labour. That's not a criticism of Bridges, rather it's the simple reality that he's new to the job of being leader and outside of a general election campaign it's generally hard to get cut-through with voters as an opposition leader.
At the current stage of the electoral cycle, Labour does have an edge over National with regards to deploying their leader as a way to promote their candidate. I don't doubt that Simon Bridges will do as good of a job as any new leader for National could do, but it's important to acknowledge that he's also up against Jacinda Ardern who, along with being the Prime Minister, has already built a formidable media profile that's hard to match in such a short time.
The other thing that should count in Labour's favour is that in a by-election minor parties typically either don't run candidates, or struggle to get any cut through. In Northcote's case, minor party candidates have particularly struggled since the highs of Grant Gillon. In 2008 and 2014 New Zealand First didn't run a candidate in Northcote at all, and neither did the Green Party in 2005. If I were Labour, I'd of already started negotiations with New Zealand First and the Green Party to not run candidates in the Northcote by-election, and I'd offer policy concessions in return. Bumping the Government's working majority up a vote would be worth it.
If Labour were feeling especially devious, they could look at running one of their sitting List MPs in the seat, and pulling off the same trick that Winston Peters did to National in Northland in 2015, allowing Labour to bring in a replacement MP off the list if they won.
That being said, I think Labour's best chance of winning would sit with picking someone who already has proven electoral experience in the area. 2014 Northcote candidate, and sitting Auckland Councillor Richard Hills springs to mind as perhaps Labour's best chance. Hills topped the Kaipātiki Local Board results in the 2016 election, but as he placed second to Chris Darby for the North Shore Ward, was elected as an Auckland Councillor instead. Funnily enough, old Grant Gillion of 1999 fame in Northcote missed out to Hills by 128 votes.
Having already run in the seat in 2014, and subsequently becoming a Councillor for North Shore, I think places Hills in a strong position to help Labour take the seat from National. He also captures much of what the rejuvenated face of Labour looks like, and from what I can tell is a bloody hard working local councillor and all round nice guy. While some might criticise him if he stood for Northcote, having only become a councillor in late 2016, I'd argue that situations like this are just the nature of politics. It's probably a once in a lifetime chance to be able to represent your community at the national level, let alone potentially as a Government MP, and the subsequent by-election on North Shore is simply the cost of democracy, and it's a cost that I don't think anyone can reasonably object to paying. I don't think any reasonable person could criticise Hills for doing this.
Which leaves us with National and who they might run. Newshub's Lloyd Burr has already cheekily suggested that Air New Zealand CEO Christopher Luxon wants to enter politics with the National Party. Luxon is based on the North Shore, though I don't know if he falls within Northcote's boundaries (not that this is necessarily a barrier for someone to become an MP). Luxon also has a significant amount of name recognition through his largely successful time at Air New Zealand. That alone could well be important in helping National fight off what should be a very strong challenge from Labour.
National's other options include trying run their own List MP in the seat - with Paul Goldsmith and Melissa Lee being two possibilities if they relocated from their existing bases in Epsom and Mt Albert respectively - which would mean they could bring in another person off the List as well! Alternatively National might have a stellar local candidate in the wings who we haven't seen just yet.
It's often said that by-elections are Christmas come early for beltway watchers, and the Northcote by-election is shaping up to be just that.
It's safe to say that the past two weeks have been the most difficult that Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and the Labour-led Government have faced.
Between the sexual assaults at a Young Labour summer camp, the entire Russia fiasco, Ron Mark melting down over defence force flights, Jenny Salesa's Ministerial spending, criticism that not enough was being down to help the Nelson and Tasman regions in their recovery from Cyclone Gita, the Green Party ambushing Labour by announcing they were gifting questions to National, and Shane Jones repeatedly shoving his foot in his mouth over Air New Zealand, there's a lot that's been going wrong lately.
The public relations triumph that was Ardern's Waitangi visit must seem like an age ago, while the successful Pacific Mission has completely vanished from view.
Despite all that, when the next round of political polling is released I don't expect to see any significant change from what we saw in February. I'd expect to see Labour in the mid to high 40s, National in the mid to low 40s, and the Greens and New Zealand First struggling to reach 5 per cent.
The main reason for this is that Ardern hasn't been personally responsible for many of the issues that have played out and, where she has, they've mostly been on things that I don't think are necessarily going to sway voters. That, combined with her personal popularity, will mean that while Ardern has burnt some political capital fighting fires, she still has a deep well of support to call on.
The Labour Party's seemingly terrible handling of the sexual assaults at the Waihi camp will reflect badly on Labour's General Secretary Andrew Kirton, but as Ardern was only briefly at the camp delivering a speech, and had nothing to do with its organisation or the events in question, I doubt any voters will hold her responsible for it. A test may come further down the line when Labour's own internal investigation is complete if it finds significant failings on the part of the party organisation and Ardern doesn't demand that someone takes personal responsibility, but that's hard to preempt given there's a lot of water to go under the bridge.
The Russia fiasco - Winston Peters' alternative facts on Russian interference with the US election and Russian involvement in the downing of MH17, the bizarre focus of Peters on a Russian free trade deal, and the ham-fisted attempt by the Government to first condemn the Salisbury attack without blaming Russia, then several days later finally managing to step into line with our allies and blame Russia, as well as Ardern's bungled attempts to spin away that foreign policy disaster - while a bad look generally for Ardern and Peters, isn't the type of issue that will sway votes, even if it has lead to some questioning within the beltway of Ardern's own judgement and Peters' motives.
What has been interesting is that the Russia saga played out over 11 days. If a day is a long time in politics, then 11 days is an eternity for an issue like this to run its initial course. There's possibly more to come in this space, which could start to erode voter confidence in the Government's foreign policy and security credentials.
Ron Mark's defence force flights and Jenny Salesa's ministerial spending are similarly both minor issues. In the bigger scheme of things both are relatively minor issues. While Mark hasn't handled the pressure being questioned about the flights put him under particularly well, Ardern did the requisite telling off of Salesa and unless it becomes a pattern of overspend, the matter will rest there.
One thing that will nag at Labour's recovery of support in the regions, at least in the top of the South Island, has been the Government's sluggish response to Cyclone Gita in Nelson and Tasman. It took nearly three weeks after Cyclone Gita hit New Zealand for the Government to announce any meaningful assistance for businesses cut off by the storm. And unlike the flooding in Edgecumbe, which prompted a Prime Ministerial visit from Bill English to see first hand what had unfolded, the residents of Takaka and the surrounding areas still haven't seen or heard from Ardern.
Not that anyone is suggesting a Prime Minister visiting is somehow going to magically undo the damage done by a given disaster, but it usually serves as both a way to boost morale in the affected communities, as well as to highlight the ongoing importance of the recovery to Government agencies to ensure they keep their efforts up.
The Green Party surprising everyone by gifting questions in Question Time to National has been an interesting issue to follow the reaction to. While it feeds the Opposition's narrative that not all is well and cozy on the Government benches, any consequential reaction to it seems to be more directed at the Green Party over it, both supportive of the move and in opposition to it. While headlines of the Greens doing a deal with National aren't helpful to Labour, it seems unlikely this will translate into the polls either.
Finally, there was Shane Jones' attack on Air New Zealand. It kicked off on Friday and didn't end until Ardern finally hauled Jones back into line during Question Time on Wednesday. Jones' comments caused some concern in both the beltway and business community, as did Ardern's initial backing of Jones. Outside of the beltway, Jones' comments will have played well.
Towards the end of the past two weeks Ardern was getting visibly frustrated with both media questioning and Opposition attacks. In part this will stem from this being the first time her Government has been hauled over the coals for a significant length of time. But no doubt a lot of her annoyance will come from the fact that most of the problems she's been having to deal with aren't ones that she's been responsible for, barring her poor handling of the Russia issue.
The rough patch is set to continue too. With the Select Committee submissions soon to be heard on the Electoral Integrity Amendment Bill, there will be a stream of negative headlines about the Government pushing that Bill through, as well as the Green Party's support for it. There's also lingering questions around Winston Peters' infatuation with Putin's Russia.
It shouldn't escape anyone's notice that New Zealand First, who are struggling badly in polls, have been the source of three of the issues that have dogged the Government in the past two weeks. Shane Jones' comments are perhaps the most interesting in this regard, as they point towards New Zealand First taking a much more vocal stand on issues that might not always sit well with the responsibilities and requirements of occupying the Government benches.
The good news for Labour is that with Easter fast approaching, and beyond that the beginning of pre-Budget announcements, the Government does have an opportunity to start setting the news agenda rather than reacting to it.
The Green Party haven't started off 2018 very well. Between selling out their principles to back the controversial Electoral Integrity Amendment Bill and failing to get any reciprocal backing from their partners in Government for Chlöe Swarbrick's medicinal cannabis Members' Bill, they ended up with the worst of both worlds from Parliament's opening week of the year.
What that points to is that the while the Green Party is good at activism and campaigning, they're still behind the eight-ball when it comes to the nitty-gritty of politics itself. Given the Greens support for the Electoral Integrity Amendment Bill isn't a condition of their confidence and supply agreement with Labour, the Green Party missed an obvious opportunity to salvage a defensible position.
The backlash the Greens experienced from former MPs, members, the media, and commentators, could have been somewhat mitigated had they made their support to Select Committee for the Electoral Integrity Amendment Bill dependent on Labour and New Zealand First returning the favour to vote Chlöe Swarbrick's bill through its first reading too.
Herein lies the big problem for the Green Party in 2018 (and for the rest of the term too for that matter). As the year goes on they're going to into difficult positions over and over again by the Labour/New Zealand First coalition. If they keep emerging from these situations looking more like a doormat rather than a partner in Government, then their members will begin to get restless, which will flow onto their MPs too.
That brings me to the Green Party's co-leader vote. As at the time of writing only Marama Davidson is in the running for the position, having stolen a march on any potential opponents with a cheeky Facebook event promoting an upcoming announcement which took place on Sunday.
The media have talked up Eugenie Sage and Julie Anne Genter as possible options, though if they're thinking of running they're keeping clear of Davidson's announcement. Jan Logie has been largely discounted by media, with Chlöe Swarbrick and Golriz Ghahraman not figuring in calculations due to being first term MPs.
On the latter two, I'm not sure Chlöe Swarbrick should be discounted due to being a first term MP. James Shaw was only a few months into his first term when he ran for the co-leadership. Like Swarbrick's Auckland mayoralty campaign, Shaw impressed with his ability to turn out supporters in Auckland, and that success (combined with his business background) helped propel him past the far more politically experienced Kevin Hague.
Swarbrick is a politician who I think has a rare x-factor. She earned immense respect for her 2016 mayoralty campaign where, despite struggling to get media cut-through, managed to show up significantly better funded opponents. She has a formidable work ethic, is a fantastic public speaker and communicator across social media, has a great understanding of policy and argues her position compellingly, and her position to motivate and turnout the youth vote could be instrumental for the Green Party in 2018.
Some may argue that Swarbrick's youth and perceived inexperience would count against her, but I'd think that's nonsense. Neither of those factors seem to have stopped her rise so far, and in an age where there's a sense people are getting frustrated with politics as it was, Swarbrick represents what it could be instead.
That's not to dismiss the strong cases for Davidson, Sage, or Genter, I just thought there was a strong case to be made for Swarbrick putting her hat in the ring.
All that being said, Davidson is clearly the front runner. Viewed by many to be the natural successor to Metiria Turei, Davidson is similarly strong on the same social justice issues that Turei was a champion of. I remember my wife, during the Spinoff's election debate, being hugely impressed with the two Marama's - Fox and Davidson. Renee loved Fox's energetic, no-bullshit, but have fun at the same time, style, but she also found Davidson's more softly spoken but deeply passionate style resonated with her too.
While Davidson has less Parliamentary experience than her two expected opponents (Sage and Genter), her long career at the Human Rights Commission, as well as involvement with the Glenn Inquiry into Domestic Violence and Child Abuse, gives her a solid base of experience on important issues that the Greens existing co-leader James Shaw isn't as strong on. Davidson's extensive connections with, and ability to mobilise the Greens activist supporters will also help her bid too.
In many ways, the Green Party co-leadership campaign - if there is one as it's entirely possible that only Davidson puts her name forward and then presumably she'd be subject to a confirmation vote by the Greens' branch delegates - also points to that same issue I addressed earlier. Throughout this year, and this term, there will be a constant tension in the Green Party between the need to compromise and accommodate the more moderate Labour Party and the more conservative Winston Peters, and the feeling in the membership that more needs to be done, especially in the areas of climate change, conservation, and inequality.
If Davidson takes out the co-leadership and remains without a ministerial portfolio (as is widely expected) then she'll become the focal point of those tensions. Members and activists who get frustrated with compromises, or the pace of change, will put pressure on her to take a stand and drive a harder bargain for the Greens support on future issues.
There is good news for the Green Party this year though. With the Climate Change Commission likely to kick off this year, and the Green Investment Fund to be set up too, some of that pressure will be mitigated by getting tangible runs on the board.
The problem is, as it always is in politics, is that once you've knocked off one achievement, your supporters always ask the question, "What's next?"
The opening two days of the Parliamentary sitting year have been a disappointment. First the Green Party turned their backs on nearly two decades of principled opposition to waka jumping laws to vote the Electoral Integrity Amendment Bill through its first reading.
Then, last night, Chlöe Swarbrick's Members' bill on medicinal cannabis saw a similar situation grip several Labour and National Party MPs who, despite having previously indicated they'd take a principled position to support the bill, didn't support it when the vote was called.
In National's case, as a whole the National Party has historically been opposed, or very reluctant, to liberalise laws around cannabis. From that perspective, at least, the eventual result of every National Party MP voting against the bill was largely consistent with the party's previous positions on the issue. The disappointing thing was that National's Hutt South MP had initially indicated he would vote for the bill, only to reverse his position around lunchtime on Wednesday. Auckland Central MP Nikki Kaye had also been expected to vote for the legislation, but ended up opposing it.
In the Green Party's case though, their decision to vote for the Electoral Integrity Amendment Bill has been nearly universally condemned.
Former Green Party MP Sue Bradford summed things up pretty well:
At the heart of the issue for many people is that the Green Party have traded in their principled opposition to any waka jumping legislation essentially to keep New Zealand First leader Winston Peters happy. In return, they received absolutely nothing from either New Zealand First with regards to supporting Swarbrick's bill through to Select Committee. Even Labour didn't have all of its MPs vote for her bill either.
Had the Green Party thought about the situation, they could have had a win/win outcome. As was demonstrated with the failure of an attempt to pass similar waka jumping legislation in the 2005-2008 Parliament, which didn't end the Labour/NZ First coalition then, the Green Party should have been negotiating across the House to get Swarbrick's bill over the line.
Knowing that killing off the waka jumping legislation wouldn't end the government, the Greens would have been well served to stick to their principles, do a deal with National to oppose the Electoral Integrity Amendment Bill in exchange for National either allowing its MPs a proper conscience vote, or National voting Swarbrick's bill through to Select Committee.
In that scenario, the Green Party would have been celebrated for honouring their principles, won plaudits for demonstrating an ability to work across the House if needed that would strengthen their negotiating position with the government, kept Swarbrick's bill alive longer.
That latter part is important, because as a minor party in Government, it's important to find ways to differentiate your party brand from the major party you're working with. Medicinal cannabis, especially the more liberal view that Swarbrick's bill was pushing for, would have been an ideal platform for the Greens to demonstrate that independence of brand. While they'll still get some benefit from the Government's bill lesser bill, there's a sense among Green Party members that they've gotten the short end of the stick from their partner parties.
On the flip side of such a deal - it would have been National that would have taken the heat from its supporters for working with the Greens and breaking with their previous opposition, a situation that would have also been useful for the Green Party (and the Government).
I'd also add that as someone who wants to see the National Party take a more pragmatic and less ideological view to medicinal cannabis, and possibly even recreational cannabis use, I'd be happy to see National take a bit of internal strife to advance an issue that's eventually going to move forward anyway.
The other option for the Greens would have been to tell Labour and New Zealand First that their support for the Electoral Integrity Amendment Bill was dependent on support for Swarbrick's bill getting to at least Select Committee. While this would have still had the Greens being slammed for turning their backs on their principles, at least they would have walked out of this week with something to cheer about.
As former NZ First and National Party MP Tau Henare put it:
Instead, James Shaw and the Green Party have sold out their principles to appease Winston Peters ego-driven inability to work constructively with his own caucus, and they didn't even the t-shirt.
If, like me, you're concerned about the Electoral Integrity Amendment Bill, I'd encourage you to head over to Change.org and sign a petition I'm running, which is calling on the Green Party to stand up for what they believe in and withdraw their support for the bill. If you need it, here's a shareable link: https://www.change.org/p/green-party-of-aotearoa-new-zealand-green-party-to-withdraw-their-support-for-the-electoral-integrity-amendment-bill
The most competitive market for votes in New Zealand is for those aged between 45-49, with National, Labour, the Greens, and the Māori Party all receiving, on average, similar shares of the party vote in electorates with above average shares of people in this age range.
Spurred on by my other recent work looking at voter turnout by age segments and how representative that made electorates, and how those age segments were more, or less likely to vote (indicatively at least), I thought I'd take the plunge and look at each party individually across all the Electoral Commission's age brackets that they collect data on, to see if it revealed any other insights.
What it's revealed is that while National and NZ First, and Labour, the Greens and the Māori Party might be poles apart in terms of their popularity with voters aged 18-34, such a big gap in voter preference based on age doesn't appear to manifest itself beyond 35 years old, starting to converge from its largest difference at 30-34-years-old, bar for the Green Party, Māori Party, and NZ First.
As I said in the introduction, it's interesting how at the 45-49 mark, National, Labour, the Greens and the Māori Party all converge, with all getting more or less similar party votes from electorates with an above average representation from this age bracket as they did on average across all the General Electorates. Though I'd caution here that as this analysis excludes the Māori Electorates (due to their big youth skew and low deviation among the seven electorates), that the Māori Party figures here should be taken with a grain of salt.
Also keep in mind that as you read through the following graphs, they do have different scales on the Y axis, so movements may be more pronounced in these than they are on the top comparitive graph.
National's worst performing age group appears to be the 30-34 bracket, though it under-performed on average in electorates with above average shares of voters under 44 to varying degrees, with it being weighted towards those electorates with above average shares of those aged 34 and under being the least likely to vote National. National also has the second most narrow deviation range in this analysis, with only The Opportunities Party doing better. National's support is weighted towards those aged 45 and over, and peaks at those aged 65-69. In part, this larger likely support from older voters, who both enrol and vote at higher rates and in greater numbers than other age groups, no doubt contributed significantly to National's end result of 44.4%
As you'll see later, with NZ First doing so well with voters aged 55 and over, National can, in the short term at least, reinforce their vote by targeting NZ First's supporters. Longer term however, National will need to find a way to both preserve their strength in covers aged 50 and over, as well as doing a better job of appealing to younger demographics too.
Labour's graph in many ways is the mirror image of National's, albeit slightly more pronounced in its over and under-performance in the age brackets. The 30-34 age bracket is again interesting, as not only was this where National was most likely to perform worst, it's also where Labour performed best. Where National's deviation was relatively narrow, Labour's is much more pronounced, though it ranks in the middle of the six parties we're looking at in this. While Labour's support amongst youth voters is very strong, to offset the advantage that National gets from older voters, they would need much higher enrolment and turnout rates than they got even this election.
In news that will shock no one, New Zealand First's support overwhelmingly comes from those aged 55 and over, but especially those aged 60 and over. Because of this, NZ First has the largest deviation of any of the six parties in this analysis. NZ First and Winston Peters focus heavily on courting this demographic, so it's no surprise that they rely so heavily on support from them. It also begs the question that once NZ First loses its trump card for reaching them - Winston Peters himself - how are they going to manage going forward, as nobody else in the party seems able to capture that audience in the same way that Winston Peters does.
The Green Party have the second biggest deviation for their support after NZ First, and they're very much the opposite story to them too. Massive support across voters aged 39 and under, but this plummets to their average for those 40-44, before briefly rebounding for those aged 45-49, and not recovering beyond those aged 55 and over. Where the Green Party has an opportunity is to stop that leaching of support between people aged 35 years old and 44 years old, though in doing so they're likely to take voters from Labour.
As I wrote earlier, it's important to take these figures for the Māori Party with a grain of salt. This analysis is based off General Electorate votes, and with the Māori Party support coming from the Māori Electorates, which are much more heavily skewed towards younger voters than the General Electorates are, isn't representative of what's going on. That being said, given the skew in Māori Electorates towards younger voters, it probably suggests that this graph might be even more weighted to young voters. If there is one thing the Māori Party could take from this, and my earlier work, is that there's an opportunity with a big cohort of young Māori voters for them to win over between now and 2020.
The Opportunities Party is a bit of an interesting one in that because their vote was so heavily centralised around the Wellington region, it's likely the main influence on how this graph looks. TOP has done well with those aged between 18-29, and to a lesser extend those aged 30-34, and worst with those aged 40-49. National and TOP's support seems to switch at around age 39/40, while they bisect the rest of the parties between 49 and 54. Again, it's hard to read too much into these figures for TOP other than the fact that their deviation was the smallest among all parties.
As I said in looking at the possible influence of age on party voting preferences, it's very tempting to claim that these graphs show the likelihood of different age brackets voting for different parties - e.g. those aged 18-24 are 8% less likely to vote for National than the average New Zealander, and they're 11% more likely to vote for Labour. I think this data hints at that possibility, but without exit polling - which is illegal in New Zealand - it's impossible to know this for sure.
Where I think this data is very useful is using it to frame your thinking about where the parties position themselves in terms of their core support, and where they see the main battlegrounds are in terms of competing for votes from other parties. From around 30-years-old - where most of the parties graph lines start their journey towards converging on their national average - to the 50-54 bracket - where after that they diverge again, demonstrates I think that for the most part, the parties see voters within that 20 year age group - 30-years-old to 54-years-old - as the swing voters they need to target.
NZ First is the only really noticeable exception to this rule, but that's largely because Winston Peters has progressively clawed out those on NZ Super as his target voter base.
If you think generally about people in that 30 to 54 age range (and I'm talking very generally here) they're buying houses, getting married, having kids, they're likely to hit their career peak around between 40 to 49 (there's some US data around this, and sadly it has women's pay peaking at 40, and men's 49, highlighting again the gender pay gap). Retirement, while we're being constantly reminded about saving for it, is still a long way off, and the more immediate concerns are paying the mortgage or rent, affording school, doctors visits, dealing with health issues that become more and more likely to crop up, having a job, getting pay rises and getting ahead in life, and so on. Most have either finished up their travelling plans, or are about to, and are probably focused more on things like family or careers.
If you keep all this in mind, it starts to give you a bit of a picture of how and why political parties position themselves the way they do. In many respects they have to ensure their base votes for them, but they also have to reach out to that big segment of 30-to-54-year-olds to win their votes too.
The new Labour-led Government is little over 24 hours old and already has a potential conflict brewing between its two minor party partners over the reintroduction of a Work for the Dole scheme.
As I predicted on Tuesday, there are a number of areas where NZ First and the Green Party differ significantly on policy, and I identified the re-introduction of a Work for the Dole scheme as one of those areas. I have to admit, that I'm a little surprised that a potential flash point has been created so early.
While Labour and the Green Party might agree on creating job opportunities for those on a benefit to participate in cleaning up waterways, the Green Party approach is to create the opportunity and allow people to take it if they're willing and able to, not to force them to participate.
NZ First's approach is taken straight out of the play book from the Fourth National Government, where those on benefits were threatened with having their benefits reduced, or cut entirely, if they didn't participate in the euphemistically named "Community Wage" scheme as Work for the Dole was known as.
Given Shane Jones says he's been "encouraged" to look at a Work for the Dole scheme, I have to wonder if NZ First isn't trying to draw a line in the sand early on with the Green Party. It could be likely that they're testing the waters, trying to put the Green Party in what NZ First sees as their place as the most junior partner in the arrangement, and seeing how much they'll bend on this issue.
There's three ways out of this:
- NZ First backs down on creating a Work for the Dole scheme for the Regional Economic Development Fund, which given it's been their policy for almost as long as they've been a party would be an embarrassing start to their time in government.
- The Green Party either backs down or keeps very silent on the issue, effectively abandoning one of their policies and no doubt annoying their supporters given their very strong stance on social development issues in recent months.
- A very uncomfortable compromise is reached where the environmentally orientated, and entirely optional, work scheme that Labour and the Green Party have envisaged is expanded to include projects delivered by the Regional Economic Development Fund. This result won't be entirely satisfactory to NZ First, as they've historically taken a very hard line on wanting non-participation to punished.
Where National will have difficulties in exploiting this tension is that they've historically been supporters of Work for the Dole and its variants. Not that support for a prior policy position has been an obstacle for political parties in the past, such as Labour displayed over its opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership and other recent free trade agreements.
New Zealand has a mixed bag when it comes to minor parties surviving a full Parliamentary term if they've entered into a coalition or confidence and supply agreement. Since the first of these was signed in 1996, if you exclude agreements with single MP parties, five have failed and five have succeeded. Though the United Future split in 2005 nearly made it to the election, falling about a month short.
Progressives 2002 - 2005
NZ First 2005 - 2008
Māori Party 2011-2014
Māori Party 2014-2017
NZ First 1996 - 1998
Alliance 1999 - 2002
United Future 2002 - 2005
United Future 2005 - 2007
Māori Party 2008 - 2011
That makes for a 50% chance that either NZ First or the Green Party will experience a schism during this Parliamentary term. That being said, We haven't had a minor party combust in Parliament since the 2011 election. This might suggest parties are learning to manage the pressures of these arrangements better, but then again the Māori Party had three MPs in the 50th Parliament and two in the 51st Parliament, which likely lends itself to better stability.
Here's the length that each of the five failed coalition or confidence and supply agreements have lasted.
Given that the Labour and United Future confidence and supply agreement did nearly last the term, if you exclude this from the results, it drops both averages for agreements with the Labour Party and overall agreements to 711 days.
If there is a split, and there's a roughly 50% chance* one of the two parties will splinter, when is it likely to happen? Using the averages in the above table we're looking at a period anytime from 7 October 2019 through to 12 February 2020. Excluding the United Future 2005 split, leaves us squarely on 7 October 2019.
When you think about it, this makes sense as to when a split might occur. It's roughly 12 months out from the next election and both the major and minor parties in the agreement, but especially the minor parties, are beginning to flex their muscles to differentiate themselves from their partner and demonstrate some independence to get attention and show voters why they still matter.
If you want to look at a broader time period on the above numbers, the earliest a split might occur is 24 May 2019, and the latest (excluding the 2002-2005 United Future split which did run for three full years if not the full Parliamentary term) would be 19 February 2020.
It's also likely that by this point, most, if not all, of the undertakings made in the coalition or confidence and supply agreement have been, or are being delivered, and the two parties are having to negotiate on a policy-by-policy basis.
Usually it's taken a specific policy decision or external event to cause underlying tensions to erupt into a schism. In 1998 it was the sale of Wellington airport that triggered NZ First's breakup, for the Alliance in 2002 it was the build up of tension following a string of poor poll numbers and an internal party perception of subservience to Labour, and for the Māori Party in 2011 it was Hone Harawira's objection to National Party policies.
As the issues over the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary this weekend past illustrated, there are differences in policy and ideological approaches between NZ First and the Green Party that Labour is going to be stuck in the middle of trying to bridge. While these will be easy to manage in the early days as each of the minor partners is this agreement focus on getting there policy wins on the board, as we close in on the 2020 election, the pressure on the two minor parties will grow, especially if Labour remains, as I expect they will, very popular under Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
While National will struggle to put pressure on the Greens, they will be able to squeeze NZ First's support by targeting their voters in rural areas and provincial cities. If National is successful in doing that, and they could very well be, then with the added combination of Winston Peters' advancing years NZ First may well be the ones to give out first.
Which is why Winston Peters is pushing so hard for his Waka Jumping Bill. He can see the dangers that lie ahead for his party, and he's trying to nullify them before it's too late.
*In terms of the 50% chance of a split, I've calculated this off the five failed and five successful agreements featuring parties of more than one MP. If you drop the United Future confidence and supply agreement of 2002 - 2005 from this list, as it very did nearly run the full Parliamentary term, you could also argue that the Māori Party agreements from 2011 to 2014 and 2014 to 2017 should be considered as one and the same, largely because there was significant continuity between them.
There's a chasm between New Zealand First and the Green Party, and throughout the 52nd Parliament Labour will be forced to find ways to bridge that gap. While this can be done, it also opens up opportunities for National to apply pressure to, and test the stability of, the coalition arrangement.
Over the long weekend we've already seen one possible area of contention open up around the Kermadecs Sanctuary, with NZ First and the Greens seemingly being promised different things on it by Labour. I've already suggested that this is a perfect opportunity for National to put a Members' Bill in the ballot to create the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary as a way of pitting NZ First and the Greens against each other, and forcing Labour to either take a side or use its financial veto.
All this begs the question - what other opportunities exist to pit the parties against each other and squeeze Labour in the middle of them? Importantly too for National, is where can they use these differences in NZ First's most valuable electorates to win back crucial votes over this term. With the NZ First seats that achieved a higher party vote than their final result, only West-Coast Tasman, East Coast, Rimutaka, and Palmerston North saw National perform lower than they did across the country, and those seats make up more than half of NZ First's support.
This isn't a full list, just some areas that could create tension in the coalition arrangements.
NZ First supports irrigation projects and water storage schemes, the Green Party opposes these on the basis that they support more intensive farming. This in turn flows onto dairy operations, where the Green Party wants a moratorium on dairy conversions while NZ First is pro-dairy.
There's also likely to be some tension around Labour's now discarded water tax, which the Green Party was in favour of but NZ First opposed, and the Green's proposed nitrate levy, which if NZ First acquiesces to will hurt them in provincial New Zealand as National seeks to win back support there.
NZ First and the Green Party have vastly different visions for the New Zealand Defence Force. While NZ First's policy includes such things as restoring offensive capabilities to the airforce, enhancing the offensive capabilities of the navy and army, and ensuring that our armed forces are capable of "expeditionary warfare."
The Green Party's policy, on the other hand, is conspicuous by its lack of any mention of offensive capabilities for the NZDF, instead focusing on peacekeeping, disaster and humanitarian relief, and border control.
There's a clear conflict between their two visions for the NZDF. Labour's current policy supports the 2016 Defence White Paper and its spending, which is closer to NZ First's position. As the purchases required in the White Paper come up for approval, it'll create opportunities to illustrate the divide.
Broadly speaking you can categorise NZ First's justice policies as focusing on harsher punishments for offenders via tougher sentences and the like, the Green Party is much more focused on providing rehabilitation and giving judges more, not fewer options when sentencing offenders. National's opportunity here is to take a middle ground approach, and force NZ First and the Greens into publicly disagreeing with each other on the issue, making Labour pick sides once more.
NZ First wants to see a Work for the Dole scheme re-introduced, the Greens are opposed to it. This has been a long-running policy of NZ First's, so they could well be prodded over selling out their principles in pursuit of government.
The Green Party essentially wants to abolish the Security Intelligence Service and gut our intelligence gathering abilities, (via Waihopai). While NZ First hasn't specified their position on our Intelligence services, given the fairly bellicose tone of their defence policy, I'd be surprised if this is something they'd permit to happen.
While both the Greens and NZ First are broadly in support of beefing up rail services, where NZ First is vulnerable is if large roading infrastructure projects get cancelled in the provinces. With NZ First needing to defend it's position in the provinces this term, the potential cancellation of earmarked roading projects could hurt them.
These are just some high level ideas, and based on a comparison of the two parties' websites, so there'll be plenty more opportunities, especially in the early days, to pit NZ First and the Greens against each other and test how Labour handles being pulled in either direction. National will be watching every media interview, reading every Facebook and Twitter post, checking every article written for quotes, and going through every line of the Hansard, to find even more.
If Julie Anne Genter has any responsibility for the transport portfolio in the new Labour-led Government I hope she doesn't try and mislead people with statistics like she did back in May regarding the MacKays to Peka Peka Expressway.
You see, back in May I spotted an article claiming that the MacKays to Peka Peka Expressway (known locally as the Kāpiti Expressway) had slowed the commute into Wellington by 10 minutes. Something smelt fishy to me about that claim. At the time I'd been driving that commute at least a couple of times a week from Paraparaumu (other days I'd take the train) and that claim simply didn't equate with my anecdotal experience.
Sure, there was a slightly increased queue at MacKays crossing as traffic merged, and the queue started earlier in the morning, but overall my commute to and from town was quicker, largely because the perpetual merge northbound in the evenings at Raumati South, traffic lights and another merge at Paraparaumu, and the Otaihanga roundabout had all been bypassed.
Julie Anne Genter had sourced her information in written questions to then Transport Minister Simon Bridges. You can read them here and here. What's notable about her questions is that she only asked about Paekakariki, which is south of the Kāpiti Expressway, so was never going to directly benefit from its construction. Everyone on the Kāpiti Coast knows this. Paekakariki has terrible access on and off the current State Highway 1, it's a notoriously dangerous intersection, and the more steady flow of cars caused by no traffic lights breaking up the flow in Waikanae and Paraparaumu would make things more difficult for that community.
However everyone on the Coast also knows that Transmission Gully, when it's finished, will completely remove traffic issues for Paekakariki, as State Highway 1 will turn southbound north of the town, restoring its peace and quiet, and enabling locals to more easily commute.
Julie Anne Genter had gone for as misleading a measure of the impact of the Kāpiti Expressway as she could. For a party that's tried to pride itself on its honesty, and integrity, it was hugely disappointing.
So I sent an OIA into NZTA to find out what the actual data said about the communities who did benefit from the Kāpiti Expressway. And while it's only indicative at this stage, as the TomTom and BlipTrack data aren't completely comparable, it still suggests quite a different story to what Julie Anne Genter claimed. Data from 24 February to 28 April showed net savings across the board, ranging from just a minute saved in Paraparaumu, to a total saving of 15 minutes if you were driving in from Ōtaki.
So while there had been a 10 minute increase in the morning from Paekakariki, it was largely offset by gains from the Kāpiti Expressway north of Paekakariki. Only from Paraparaumu (and presumably south of that in Raumati and Raumati South) were morning commute times slightly increased. Where the big benefit came though was in the evening rush hour, where bypassing the choke points at Raumati South, Paraparaumu, and Otaihanga, delivered big savings for commuters.
And that's the average saving too. I imagine that if you looked at data on Fridays in particular, especially in the evening, it would be much more significant, especially as those commuters on a Friday often include people from Wellington who are heading north for the weekend.
As of this morning I've sent another OIA to NZTA to hopefully get the August and September figures using the TomTom data so that it can be directly compared to TomTom's August and September data from previous years too, and I can see if the savings hold up comparing exactly like for like data. Likewise I'll hopefully check back in May next year to see how the commuter chaos season played out on the road too.
It's hugely disappointing to see someone like Julie Anne Genter pull off a stunt like this. She's generally respected for her work in the transport space, and is from a party that prides itself on its honesty and integrity.
Yet in this case she appears to have misled the Kāpiti and Wellington communities by misusing statistical data to claim the Kāpiti Expressway was increasing commuter times when it seems that for the most part, those communities who were meant to benefit from the Kāpiti Expressway are getting those benefits.
Let's hope that if she is involved with the transport portfolio in the new government that we don't see a repeat of this.
The Kāpiti Coast, at least up to Waikanae, has pretty decent public transport into Wellington. Yet our roading network had been largely ignored for nearly two decades bar MacKays Crossing and the Otaihanga roundabout.
With ongoing rapid population growth, about a third of the district commuting into Wellington daily, and recent natural disasters highlighting the vulnerability of existing rail and road links between Kāpiti and Wellington, the reality is that projects like Transmission Gully, the Kāpiti Expressway, the Peka Peka to Ōtaki Expressway, securing funding for the Capital Connection rail link between Palmerston North and Wellington, and the possible extension of the rail commuter network to Ōtaki, are all needed to help cater for that growth and create the resilience needed for the lower North Island's integrated transport network
Of all the parties I'm examining this week, the Green Party is the most dependent on a handful of seats to deliver the lion's share of its party votes.
For a small party this is both a useful situation to be in - you can narrowly focus your limited resources to maximise your success in those electorates - but it's also a big risk. If, as they did this year, events spiral beyond your control and they start hurting your support, your dependent on a handful of electorates could be disastrous.
It's no secret that the Green Party does well with young voters, and of their 10 most valuable electorates only Port Hills, Ohāriu, and Nelson have below average populations of 20-29 year old voters. (I haven't had a chance yet to overlay enrolment data for 2017 so in this case am working off Parliament's electorate profiles data for 2014. I'll endeavour to revisit the enrolment data again soon).
When looking at where the Green Party's least valuable electorates are, there's not many surprises here either. With Labour having strong support across the low turnout electorates in West and South Auckland, the Greens haven't really made any traction here. The Greens were also hurt in the Māori electorates where they typically do pick up reasonable levels of support, so to see three of them in the Greens 10 least valuable electorates was a bit of a surprise, though on reflection they would have also been impacted by Labour's resurgence in the Māori seats this election.
The Green Party's strengths are obvious, electorates with plenty of young people, as well as generally urban electorates. It suggests that the oft-touted myth of the Greens depending on urban liberals isn't that far from the truth. Nelson is a slight outlier in that regard in that it'll have more of a rural influence, but looking across the board, the Greens are hugely dependent on urban voters, meaning that when they're making policies that'll impact rural voters, they know that those people aren't likely to be voting for them in meaningful numbers anyway.
This is also where the Green Party's opportunity lies. With such a narrow voter base both demographically and geographically, the Greens need to look for similar electorates to broaden at least the geographic aspect of their support, so that they're less vulnerable to swings in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin.
Places like Palmerston North and Hamilton East would be good places to start. With higher than average youth populations, as well as universities, they're both places where, if the Green Party can play down its lack of rural support, there could be more support for them. Other electorates in the mix could include Wigram, Mt Roskill, or Hamilton West, which all have well above average youth voter pools to draw on.
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.
To win an election in New Zealand you have to win in Auckland and Labour simply didn't do enough winning in the City of Sails. As I wrote last night, Labour's campaign failed completely in West and South Auckland, and only performed well - growing its party vote at or above its average nationally in six out of the 22 Auckland electorates - all electorates that you'd typically define as relatively urban and/or affluent.
Conversely, of the 12 electorates where National actually grew its party vote across the country on Saturday night, they run in a corridor starting in Upper Harbour and running through West and into South Auckland.
Where Labour did particularly well is in Mt Albert and Auckland Central which almost certainly has to do with Jacinda Ardern. In Mt Albert the result will have been bouyed by her being the local MP as well as Labour Party leader, and voters generally tend to reward that (though not always). In Auckland Central I suspect what we're witnessing is similar to what was seen in Wellington Central, where there wasn't so much as a youthquake, so much as a youth seismic swing, where youth voters (defined as those 34 and under), and especially students, have switched their votes from National and particularly the Green Party, in behind Labour.
Once we get special votes in and enrolment numbers for those electorates, it'll be interesting to see how it changes, and whether there was increased enrolment and turnout in student heavy electorates, or just a wave of students switching their votes between parties.
Two things appear to have gone badly wrong for New Zealand's centre-left bloc this election. We know the youthquake hasn't happened, but the other appears to be that Labour's traditional South Auckland strongholds have failed them badly. Not only did those electorates deliver well below Labour's average gain across the country, but National was actually able to increase their share of the party vote there too!
Before you read any further you should note that these are based off the preliminary count, and don't include the 385,000 special and overseas votes yet to be counted. I'll try to another recalculation of these statistics once we have the final declared result, as I imagine there could be some shifting around in these rankings.
Of the 71 electorate seats, National managed to increase its share of the party vote compared to 2014 in 12 of them. All 12 of those seats were Auckland seats too. As you can see from the above, where National has done surprising well across both South and West Auckland. In a campaign where issues like housing affordability, inequality, and health were meant to be top of mind for voters, and Labour touted their solutions to these problems, that they not only failed to gain traction in South and West Auckland, but allowed National to grow its share of the party vote there, is what stopped them from winning last night.
Where National lost most ground is interesting too, with National being most punished in the urban centres and a few provincial cities too. There could be a couple of things going on here. The first, I suspect, is the Jacinda effect showing up with young, urban voters in the big centres going Labour's way. Mt Albert will definitely be the Jacinda effect at play given it's now her home turf, and Christchurch Central and the Port Hills could be to do with simmering issues over Christchurch's earthquake recovery.
Interestingly, despite having lost badly in Mt Roskill in last year's by-election, National has performed well there. Which makes you wonder if they fielded a better candidate there whether they might have a better chance of winning the seat in the future.
I've including National's performance in the Māori seats here for consistency with the following graphics, but the reality is that National doesn't collect many votes in these seats and is usually outpolled easily by New Zealand First.
If I were Labour the first thing I'd be doing on Monday is sacking whoever was in charge of campaigning in Auckland, and probably Phil Twyford - Labour's overall campaign manager - too. While Labour grew its share of the party vote in all electorates, its failure in Auckland is little short of a disaster for them. To win an election in New Zealand you effectively have to win in Auckland, and South and West Auckland should have been areas Labour did better in.
There's probably a few reasons why Labour failed in Auckland. The large Chinese and Indian ethnic communities would likely have voted National following Labour's various anti-immigration debacles over the past three years. It's notable that Jacinda Ardern, when presented with a chance to back away from these policies, hasn't done so, and Labour has paid the price.
I'd also wager that Bill English's Catholic faith and his wife Mary's Samoan heritage has played a role here too. It would have allowed many Pacific Island communities across Auckland to identify with him more than Labour, and comes off the back of National having made a real push to these communities over the past two elections.
The real stars for Labour though were the Māori electorates, which were not only the top five best performing, but took out seven of the top 11 spots. While Willie Jackson did nominally fill the role of Māori campaign chair, I'd wager that most of this growth had little to do with him, and more to do with a backlash against the Māori Party, Kelvin Davis' elevation to the deputy leadership, and Jacinda Ardern eating the Green's party vote across the country.
Beltway sorts should have a nice chuckle that New Zealand First grew it's share of the party vote the most in Clutha-Southland. Other than that there's not much for Winston Peters to get excitged about here. Him being the MP for Northland clearly helped there, as did the selection and focus on Shane Jones in Whangarei. Other than that, it's pretty grim reading. Losing 2.78% points in Tauranga and Bay of Plenty is bad news given that this used to be Winston's stronghold.
They also didn't fare particularly well across the country in general, growing their share of the party vote in only five electorates and getting badly hammered in the Māori electorates which were their six worse performing overall.
With all this in mind, it's clear that once Winston Peters is gone, New Zealand First is gone. Winston and his party are utterly incapable of succession planning, and there's clearly nobody in the caucus who would remotely be able to pick up the mantle once Winston is gone.
So enjoy Winston's theatrics while they last.
There was no good news for the Green Party across the country, only terrible news, bad news, and not quite as bad news. The really damning stuff is how poorly the Greens did in Wellington Central where, in 2014, they got the second highest share of the party vote. It appears that the Greens urban liberal base have deserted the party in droves to go with Labour.
Rather than a youthquake, we've had a youth exodus from the Greens to Labour.
Where the Green Party can take heart I think is their performance across South and East Auckland where they stemmed the bleeding, in part helped by Labour's seeming inability to run a successful campaign north of the Bombays. I have a fleeting suspicion that some of their relative success here will also be down to Chlöe Swarbrick, who's likely converted much of the support and subsequent media coverage she received in her 2016 Auckland mayoralty run into support for the Greens.
Hopefully the Greens realise what a huge asset Chlöe is for their future, as they'll need her to turn things around at the next election.
In terms of the Māori seats the Greens have been hit by the swing to Labour in them, though not to the extent that New Zealand First was hit.
The final thing I wanted to throw in here was looking at the biggest swings around the country. To measure this I took the combined shifts in Labour and the Greens share of party votes, and looked at the gap to what National had lost (and vice-versa for any swings to the right).
Only four seats recorded a net swing to the right - again all in South and West Auckland! I suspect that on special votes Manurewa might drop off this list those as 0.11% points would be well within the 0.3% point drop I've predicted for National's party vote share from advance voting to final results. Even if Manurewa drops out, this still represents a massive failure for Labour in Auckland, and it's an issue they have to sort out if they're to beat National.
As per the other results, the seats where Labour did well and National did poorly largely figure here. The Māori electorates would have had larger net swings that I've recorded above due to my not including the Māori Party in these calculations.
What's crucial to remember though is while 67 electorates have experienced a net shift to the left, Labour and the Greens are still 4.3% points short of National, meaning that you can't necessarily claim a mood for change exists within the country, as more people voted for the status quo than for the alternative centre-left bloc. I don't think you can justify lumping New Zealand First's party vote in with a mood for change, as it's more just a "mood to be listened to" by those who vote for him.
Sorry Corbynistas, there's no sign of a youthquake this election. But there are signs of a significant greyquake. While there's still time for that to change, it would have to be a massive upswing in 18-24-year-old enrolments in the 11 days from 12 September to the election.
I was spurred into looking into the Electoral Commissions numbers by a friend who had heard talk of a youthquake but couldn't see it showing up in enrolment figures, and initially I was trying to compare enrolments as a percentage of eligible population. Then I realised that it was a tad difficult to do as I could only compare off the 2013 Census numbers, and there's been reasonable population growth since then.
Instead I decided to breakdown the overall makeup of the enrolled electors in each election year, as it's ultimately the demographic makeup of voters that's more relevant in seeing changes. It doesn't particularly matter if more young people vote if they're balanced out by more superannuitants voting.
What the current data shows is that it's the exact opposite happening, the 2017 elector population is looking like it will have a higher representation of those over 55 than in 2014, and that doesn't particularly help parties like the Greens who focus so heavily on the youth vote. It could also be holding back Jacinda Ardern's numbers slightly too as Labour has also been heavily focused in getting out the youth vote, which simply doesn't seem to be happening.
As we've seen overseas, older voters tend towards supporting centre-right to right wing parties, meaning both National and NZ First's numbers could be supported more than otherwise may have been the case.
The other important factor is that young people are less likely to turn out to vote than older people. That means the impact of this potential greyquake could well be compounded as those voters, especially aged over 70, amplify their presence more than normal at the same time as younger voter numbers are down along with their lower turnout.
Sadly I can't see this improving until civics education is ramped up in our secondary schools.
I'm also working on seeing how the enrolment percentages look compared to the estimated eligible population, but that's a bit trickier due to the need to estimate 2014's population, especially those aged 18 and 19, so will blog on that later.
Update: 3:15pm - I've just had a play around with some data trying to get a view on how enrolments are tracking as a percentage of the population for each cohort. It does show a potentially big gap in those under 34 who haven't enrolled to vote yet, relative to how other cohorts are tracking relative to 2014.
It's not perfect, as the data for 2014 is an estimate based of the 2013 Census data, and it doesn't remove those who are ineligible to vote, as well as the 18 and 19-year-old sections of the 18 - 24--year-old cohort being estimated based off the overall population growth in the 15 - 19-year-old cohort in the June 2014 estimates from Statistics NZ.
As is the fashion, I've done a quick guess at how I think tonight's 1News poll will land before the leaders' debate. It's an interesting one as I think Labour's rise will continue, but have tapered off and they won't quite be at 40% yet. National will be down slightly, the Greens will have recovered somewhat, while the Māori Party and ACT sit pretty much at the same level.
I did toy with taking a point off each of National, Labour, and either NZ First or the Greens and giving The Opportunities Party 3%, but I'd like to think that Gareth Morgan's continued verbal and Twitter diarrhoea has driven what little support he had away from the party.
Where it does become interesting is that Labour could form a minority government with NZ First and the Māori Party, relying on confidence and supply from the Greens. This would remove a major impediment to NZ First's negotiations with Labour, and I suspect Peters could work with the Māori Party better than he could the Greens. The Greens are almost certainly going to support this arrangement too as they'd rather have a Labour Government to barter with than a National one.
In theory National could form a government with the Greens, Māori Party, and ACT, but given the ideological differences between National and the Greens (and it does go both ways, not just the Greens), this is extremely unlikely to happen.
The real loser in this is ACT, who in any negotiation between National and NZ First is likely to be cast aside.
Last week the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand hit 100,000 likes on their Facebook page, becoming the first New Zealand political party to do so. The New Zealand iteration of the Green Party movement have always been overachievers online, especially relative to their international cousins and I've always considered them to be the pace setters in terms of what's worked for political social media in New Zealand whether it's from a visual design perspective, or how they've translated political communication strategy to their social media channels.
There's a few reasons for this - and it's not because their graphic designers appear to be hooked on sepia filters. The first is that due to their co-leader system, the Greens invest heavily in promoting the Green Party brand rather than the individual brand of their leaders as is the case for National, New Zealand First and - up until this year - Labour. It makes sense from the perspective that they don't want either of their co-leaders to be more dominant than the other in terms of their public profile, so by focusing on the Green Party brand itself, they avoid that awkward situation. (James Shaw's 9,400 page likes compares favourably to Meteria Turei's nearly 15,000 given he's been co-leader for a much shorter period of time).
Along with investing heavily in the Green Party Brand, the Greens have a pretty easy set of values and messaging to put in front of people - protecting our natural environment, saving endangered species, fighting climate change - they're all remarkably easy ideas to sell people. Supported by visuals like picturesque scenery or cute animals, it appeals to people on an emotional level and to their credit the Greens have leveraged this side of their brand remarkably well with emotional calls to action supported by compelling creative work.
Whether you agree or not with the methods the Greens advocate for achieving their policy goals in these areas, it's hard to not agree that protecting out environment, saving endangered species, and fighting climate change are all good ideas and important things for New Zealand to focus on.
It should come as little surprise that week in, week out, the Greens have some of the most engaged with content both in terms of raw numbers of likes, comments, and shares, but also relative to the size of their Facebook page likes. This is also all without looking at Twitter where that channel's audience is almost custom made for the Greens to thrive.
Interspaced with their messaging around social justice issues such has poverty, homelessness, and supporting low-income families, the Greens have a very strong and compelling online brand that's well suited to online activism. As to the degree that this online success translates to polling day success is up for discussion. The Greens have certainly realised that as good as their online game is, their ground game needed to be stepped up significantly, and they've publicly committed to doing just that this year, including door knocking four times as many people as they did in 2014.
That aside, it's worth comparing how the Greens compare on Facebook relative to their international cousins, and its here that they really shine. Using one of Facebook's backend tools I've looked at how many people have an interest in their domestic Green Party each month versus how many people use Facebook on a monthly basis in that country.
As you can see, the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand really does outperform its overseas equivalents with 5% of New Zealand's monthly Facebook users having an interest (that is engaging with) their page or content. There is, undoubtedly, an element of supporter de-centralisation away from the nationwide brand in Australia, Germany, and the United States - where the federal Green brand has to compete with more locally focused state-based Green brands. While in the United Kingdom the Green Party brand is divided along national lines. Even taking that into account, I really feel that the New Zealand Greens can be very proud of what they've achieved online.
As I alluded to before, how this will translate into votes come 23 September is harder to predict. The traditional thinking is that while people love to say they'll party vote Greens to polling companies as it's generally considered a nice, warm brand that people don't have strong feelings for or against, when they walk into the polling both that mentality changes and away from the judgement of others, they revert to voting for a different party.
Facebook is the social media channel of choice for politicians and political parties. The reasons are pretty simple:
- A more representative audience of New Zealand
- Superior audience reach
- Comprehensive content tools
- More mature advertising platform
- Better ability to convert post engagement to political engagement
- Ties into Instagram.
Facebook's user base in New Zealand has reached 2.9 million active users per month, with around two-thirds of those using it every day. Twitter usage statistics are much harder to come by, but seem to indicate around 500,000 accounts in New Zealand, but the number who are active on a monthly, weekly, or daily basis is much harder to find. Judging by international trends, it's likely to be as little as 5% - 10% of that number are online on a daily basis, with even fewer bothering to tweet (leading to discussions being dominated by just a handful of very vocal users). Not all is lost for Twitter, as its usage does seem to be dramatically improving in Australia.
So with that in mind, the first thing that needs to be addressed is the massive impact that John Key's resignation had on the social media playing field. In an instant the National-led Government went from having the largest political Facebook page for the country's most popular Prime Minister in living memory, to not having it.
As you can see from the above, John Key's Facebook page dwarfed all others in the country, bringing with it an ability to organically (non-paid) reach a pretty massive audience.
The raw numbers were:
- John Key 248,890
- Greens 90,332
- Winston Peters 69,660
- National 64,048
- Labour 52,283
- Andrew Little 28,866
- Bill English 13,361
The net result though is that losing John Key as the major Facebook presence was always going to leave a massive hole that needed filling. I knew from the successful election 2014 just how important Facebook was in terms of reaching voters (more on that in the future), so the challenge was set to minimise the loss of the John Key page and build the new Prime Minister's page up to be as large as possible while still maximising opportunities to get targeted content in front of relevant audiences.
What you can see here is a pretty incredible turnaround in little more than six months. It was always going to be a challenge to overhaul the Green Party within that time, but to come within a whisker of being the largest political page in the country in such a short period of time took a pretty amazing effort to achieve.
Relative to 2014 it's a bit of a mixed bag. Around 23 June 2014 (the only statistics I have available) John Key was around 148,000 likes, the Greens around 48,000, Winston and Labour both at 15,000, National at 13,000, and Cunliffe was somewhere in the order of 12,600. The big difference being that at the start of the 2014 Regulated Period, John Key was a dominant Facebook presence, whereas National lagged behind everyone. Fast forward to 2017 and while Key is gone, National is larger than Labour and has significantly closed the gap on the Greens.
There is one difference for Bill English versus John Key though. For John Key many of his page likes were what I referred to as "legacy likes". They were people who had liked his page years earlier, but didn't interact with it at all and, as a result, were unlikely to see his content. Bill English has the advantage now that nearly all of his likes are relatively fresh, meaning there's more of a chance they'll see and engage with what he posts.
One thing did strike me over this period though, and admittedly struck me well before then too, was just how little Labour seemed to invest in Andrew Little. Around the Wellington beltway people suspected for a while that Labour had just decided Andrew Little was never going to be appealing, and so instead focused on their own Party brand and promoting Jacinda Ardern as the face of Labour. The lack of growth in Little's Facebook page lends credence to this.
And if you're curious, here's the raw numbers:
- Bill English 85,691
- Labour 12,119
- National 11,350
- Winston Peters 9,756
- Greens 9,180
- Andrew Little 4,720
As to how Bill English did so well? That's a trade secret. Becoming Prime Minister obviously helps. But what's really interesting here is the complete non-performance of Andrew Little. When you delve behind the headline numbers, it's easy to understand why. Over that six month period Andrew Little posted just 156 times, versus 342 for Bill English, 423 for the Labour Party, 262 for the National Party, 350 for the Greens, and 195 for Winston Peters.
It's clear that Labour is putting all their effort into promoting Brand Labour rather than Brand Little. In my mind that approach works when you're the Green Party, when you know that you're not going to supply a Prime Minister, so instead the focus is less on the leader and more on the collective whole. But when you're one of the two main parties, the approach makes next to no sense. On a fundamental level, the Party Vote component of MMP is the closest New Zealand gets to a Presidential style election, where I believe that vote is driven by how much someone likes a Party leader, with the exception of the Greens who have always had a much stronger party brand than individual brand.
Herein lies Labour's problem come 23 September. They simply haven't invested the time, effort, or money into developing Andrew Little's online profile, so they're going into the campaign with one arm very firmly tied behind their back.
Labour's approach was also betrayed in a recent Fairfax story on political social media:
A spokesman for Andrew Little said the party was "very active on twitter, facebook and instagram" as effective platforms "to connect to people of all ages".
"We're really excited by the possibilities that social media offers to help us explain Labour's story to voters.
"We're very happy with the engagement we get from people, but we're continually looking at creative ways to improve the way we communicate to voters and we expect to roll out some innovative approaches in this regard during the election campaign."
What that quote says to me is that they're placing the Labour Party before Andrew Little in their social strategy, and in a campaign where Andrew Little and Bill English are going to be pitted head-to-head on a regular basis, it seems like an odd strategy given the nature of modern campaigns.
Of course, having a large Facebook following isn't ever going to win you the election, but it makes it much easier to get your message out to a much larger audience. Page likes have an element of being a bit of a vanity metric, in that it's nice to have a larger Facebook page than your rivals, but the real benefit is that it enables you to reach more people without spending on ads.
Where that matters in an election campaign is that you can guarantee a relatively large audience will see your daily out and about posts, and instead focus all your paid advertising on the tailored messaging you need to reach specific target audiences.
All of this also begs the question of what position would Labour be in if Jacinda Ardern was the leader. She's more active on Facebook, has a larger number of page likes, and while she hasn't grown that presence as much as Andrew Little over the past six months, she doesn't have control of Labour's Leader's office budget. Yet...