Labour Party

How Labour can win Northcote

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On Sunday night I wrote about how Labour has every chance to win the Northcote by-election. Now the question is - how do they go about realising that chance to make history by becoming the first Government to win a seat off the opposition in a by-election?

Winning in Northcote for Labour is more important than most people realise, and it's not just about netting themselves another MP in Parliament at National's expense. A successful campaign in Northcote for Labour would lay the foundation for it to make inroads against National's strongholds across northern Auckland. These electorates are important in that they combine both high turnout and high party votes for National. Denting that Auckland suburban firewall while maintaining their gains elsewhere could guarantee Labour the ability to govern alone in 2020. Electorates like Northcote, North Shore, and Upper Harbour, all share enough similarities with other suburban electorates where Labour has done well to suggest that Labour can make more gains in them, almost exclusively at National's expense too.

The first, and most obvious step, is choosing a good candidate. Labour is relatively fortunate in that on the North Shore they have a host of upcoming politicians who are finding their feet in local body politics. In my last blog I made it quite clear I think North Shore Councillor Richard Hills would be an ideal candidate. He's local, he's smart, he's hard working, he's likeable, and while he lost to Jonathan Coleman in Northcote 2014, he enjoyed remarkable success in the 2016 local body elections. The 2014 result isn't one anyone should put too much stock in, mainly in light of how poorly Labour did across the country in that election.

The sooner Labour does select a candidate, the sooner they're able to get their campaign proper underway. It was an advantage they put to good effect in Mt Roskill where Michael Wood his the ground running several weeks before National's Parmjeet Parmar was able to. While not faced with National in Mt Albert, it also wasn't a secret who Labour was going to run there either, with Jacinda Ardern unofficially selected in that seat as soon as David Shearer announced his resignation.

Next is Labour deploying their much hyped ground game in Northcote. As an electorate Northcote is relatively compact, measuring about 30km² - roughly 6km from east to west, and 5km from north to south. That makes putting an effective ground campaign into action much easier than the larger suburban or provincial electorates around New Zealand. Labour has talked up a big game with regards to their on the ground campaign, and if they're able to quite literally walk the talk, Northcote is an ideal electorate to do it in.

The third step is to map out plenty of visits for Jacinda Ardern, Grant Robertson, and Phil Twyford to campaign with Labour's candidate. Given the immense popularity of Ardern, it makes sense to use her at least once a week with the candidate, if not twice a week. The popularity and goodwill toward's Labour's top triumvirate is pretty high right now, and they'd be silly not to utilise it and hope some of it rubs off on their candidate. Ardern, Robertson, and Twyford are the Government's most capable ministers, and chances are for Twyford a lot of the issues that will pop up will be in his portfolio areas too.

As always, you have to be mindful of not taking too much of the spotlight away from the candidate, but I think at this stage in the term the benefits of being seen campaigning with Ardern outweigh any downsides of being seen to be too dependent on her star power.

The only thing that might limit this is if the by-election campaign overlaps with Ardern's baby arriving. That being said, Ardern turning up to help Labour's candidate campaign with her new baby in her arms could well be the most iconic campaign moment in our political history.

The next thing Labour will need to do is find some good initiatives to announce for not just Northcote, but to also use as tools for the 2020 campaign across the North Shore. National did this exceptionally well with transport projects in the past, and Northcote and the wider North Shore are well placed for the same sort of pork barrelling that is just close enough in the future to be worth switching your vote for, but is also far enough away that Labour can get mileage out of it for the 2020, and maybe even 2023 elections...

The most obvious of these that springs to mind is not only bringing forward the start date of the Additional Waitematā Harbour Crossing to the early to mid-2020s, but also commit to building commuter rail in the North Shore too. To some extent that decision is made by the fact that the Additional Waitematā Harbour Crossing project calls for rail tunnels to be included in the project. Actually committing to a commuter rail network on the North Shore along with the crossing, which includes more roading, would be an ideal way for Labour to create a piece of policy that should win them votes north of the Harbour Bridge.

While National will be able to attack the policy as unaffordable, and as an example of splashing cash for votes, my gut feel is that those lines play better with the electorates who aren't benefitting from said cash splashing. Whereas those who are set to be beneficiaries of that spending are generally pretty happy to be shown some love by the Government.

The one part of this that might come back to bite Labour if they bring forward these projects is where they, especially the rail network, might impact on people's homes. It'll need to be an issue that Labour and their candidate are ready to sensitively manage, and don't be surprised if National uses it as an opportunity to push for a reform of the Public Works Act to improve the way in which people are compensated for the impact a project has on their property in line with European models.

The other thing that's useful, and this is true for both Labour and National though whichever party is best resourced to utilise this remains to be seen, is that Northcote's snug geographical boundaries make it relatively easy to target with advertising on social media, especially Facebook. A quick look at Facebook's ad tool suggests there's about 58,000 people aged over 18 on Facebook who are roughly within Northcote's boundaries. Taking the estimated performance of each party in each age group from the 2017 election, Labour would appear to have the edge in the ability to target potential supporters on Facebook. With those aged 18-44 voting more for Labour than was the average across the country in 2017, Northcote on Facebook turns up a potential audience of 40,000 people. That leaves around 18,000 for National to target aged 45 and over. Of course there will also be a variety of other factors that come into play on how political parties want to target their online advertising.

Finally, Labour needs to do whatever is necessary to ensure that neither New Zealand First or the Green Party stand candidates in the by-election. The easiest way for Labour to do this is to offer policy concessions to both parties. It may be what Newshub's Patrick Gower would call a dirty deal, but for Labour it might just be the deal they have to do to win Northcote.

For New Zealand First, not standing in Northcote is a no brainer. Following Winston Peters' decision to go with Labour, rather than with National, New Zealand First has already likely shed most of its supports who were sympathetic to National back to the blue team, which means in Northcote they're only going to be taking votes away from Labour's candidate.

For the Green Party though, the calculus is more complex. They're nearly exclusively in competition with Labour for support. Like other electorates with significant young and affluent populations where the Green Party has done well, Northcote does have the potential to deliver more party votes for the Green Party in 2020 than it historically has done. Running a candidate for the Greens will help their visibility going forward in a seat that can do better for them. The Greens, as a confidence and supply partner, have also made a point of displaying an independent streak to the Government at late, and running a candidate would support that. To convince the Green Party to not run a candidate in the seat will take a lot of concessions from Labour, one of which may be a deal to stand aside in a seat for them in the 2020 election.

Underpinning all of this is that Labour's path to victory relies in them maximising the turnout of every single possible voter who is going to vote for their candidate, and hoping that National isn't able to do the same. While Ardern didn't cause a youthquake, there was enough of an upturn in that demographic to suggest that in the short term, while Ardern's popularity is at its strongest, there's more Labour can gain out of that demographic, and Northcote is demographically well positioned for Labour in that regard.

That's enough delving into what Labour could do to win Northcote. I'm hopeful that next time I'll be able to write a bit about how National could win the seat. I say win, because with the incumbent MP leaving, it's not so much about defending a seat National already held as it is a new National Party candidate setting out to win it for the first time, which is a challenge for any candidate to do.

Labour has every chance to win Northcote by-election

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:

  1. National candidate: 51.93%
  2. Labour candidate: 47.35%
  3. 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.

From sizzle to fizzle? Labour creates sky-high expectations

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"Despite promises of a new dawn in Crown-Māori relations just two years ago, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's anticipated final visit to Waitangi has been marred by protesters preventing Ardern from making it to Waitangi at all. At the heart of the protesters' grievances is a sense of having been misled and betrayed by the Labour-led government, whose actions, in the protesters' eyes, haven't lived up to the rhetoric Ardern used on her first visit in 2018."

While imagining a possible Waitangi Day visit for Ardern going poorly in 2020 is purely a work of speculative fiction, it's not without precedent. In 2002 Helen Clark was widely hailed for a successful visit to Waitangi which received not dissimilar plaudits to Jacinda Ardern's just completed visit.

Clark had had a difficult relationship with Waitangi Day up to that point. Reduced to tears in 1998 and then refused permission to speak in 1999, Clark avoided Waitangi for the first two years of her Government. When she returned in 2002, the tone of reports was largely similar to what we've read over the past week. Clark's visit was seen as a turning point in Crown-Māori relations, and the beginning of a new, more productive relationship between Labour and Māori.

All that goodwill, all that talk of turning a corner in the relationship was gone by 2004. Off the back of the controversial foreshore and seabed proposals, Clark was abused and her group physically jostled by protesters. Despite a last minute decision to visit Waitangi in 2005, Labour would go on to lose four of the seven Māori electorate seats in the 2005 election.

Watching and reading the coverage of Jacinda Ardern's visit to Waitangi, I'm struck with the similarities between 2002 and 2018. Both Helen Clark being escorted by Titewhai Harawira and Jacinda Ardern's BBQ were touted as turning points.

The reality is though, for all the sizzling of the BBQ and the accompanying coverage of what was a fantastic PR event, Jacinda Ardern has set expectations for the relationship between the Crown and Māori at sky high levels. If the Labour-led Government fails to meet them, we could well see a re-run of 2004 in 2020.

In many respects the past week of Waitangi coverage highlights a bigger problem for the Government going forward. In the next 10 years the Government has promised to halve the rate of child poverty, build 100,000 houses, and (between the private sector and Government) plant 1 billion trees. They're all very ambitious targets, and other than the Government's families package, they're yet to make substantive progress on any of them.

Not that there's anything wrong with ambitious targets. It's good to see the Government continuing to challenge itself just as the previous National-led Government did with its Better Public Service targets. Even if Labour falls short on those targets, so long as it's not wildly short, they'll still be able to claim a measure of success.

The problem for Labour is that through all their hype and ambitious targets, they're creating an expectation that they're going to solve all of New Zealand's problems, even if they haven't specifically stated so. One of the best, and most subtle pieces of commentary on this was ventured by RNZ's and Pundit's Tim Watkin.

Newsroom's Tim Murphy also hit the nail on the head too, pointing out that much of the coverage had descended into gushing praise.

There's nothing wrong with people being excited about what was a very successful visit to Waitangi for Ardern's Government. The problem is that we've been here before, and there seems to have been little acknowledgement of the massive weight of expectation that the Government has created for itself, or the pitfalls, especially for the Crown-Māori relationship, if reality falls short of those expectations.

Part of the problem will also be that I can't think of when New Zealand last had a new Government that had stoked expectations and hype to such high levels. When John Key and National came to power in 2008 there were expectations, but they were always tempered by the reality that things were going to get worse before they got better, by virtue of the country being in the middle of one of our deepest and longest ever recessions since the Great Depression, and the Global Financial Crisis still raging. Even in 1999, with the 1998 recession and 1997 Asian Financial Crisis still fresh in people's minds, and the final term of the Fourth National Government being something of a political mess, Helen Clark and Michael Cullen carefully managed expectations throughout that first year until it was clear the economy was roaring back to life.

In that respect, the Government doesn't live up to those expectations, the moment Jacinda Ardern's BBQ ran out of bacon at Waitangi may end up being a metaphor for how this term is office is viewed - started off with plenty of sizzling, ended up just fizzling.

Greens betray principles for Winston, don't even get a t-shirt

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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

Previewing 2018: Labour

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The summer break couldn't have come at a better time for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and the Labour Party. Their performance over their first two months in government didn't set the world alight. For every step forward that the government made, there also seemed to be a step backwards.

In many respects, the end of year political polls which showed no major change in support since the election would have come as a relief for the parties of government, despite the norm for these polls being a significant boost in support for them.

The challenge for 2018 for Labour is to hit the ground running. With Bill English and National having already locked in the opposition's State of the Nation speech for late January, Labour will no doubt be lining theirs up already. Previously this speech has been used by the government to both set their agenda for the year ahead, and to announce some sort of spending package or policy.

The problem for the government is that as indicated by the half year economic and fiscal update, there isn't much headroom for new policies outside of those already outlined in coalition and confidence and supply agreements. 

My suspicion is that in Prime Minister Ardern's State of the Nation we might see some firmer details announced about the $1 billion Regional Development (Provincial Growth) Fund, such as the criteria and types of projects that will be considered by Cabinet. Another option would be the formal setting up of the Green Party's flagship Green Investment Fund.

It's important that for Labour to find some positive initiatives to highlight, because they're also in for some pain in the first half of the year too. With legislation banning foreign buyers already before the House, and the Appeasement of Winston Peters (Anti-Waka Jumping) Bill - not actually it's name, but it may as well be - also to be introduced, Labour will both take heat and be forced to expend some political capital to manage the process.

Prime Minister Ardern will also have some potential tests of her leadership ahead. Clare Curran appears to be a disaster waiting to happen based off her poor performances in late 2017 while Willie Jackson didn't appear to do prep work before taking questions in the House. Kelvin Davis may have struggled badly when filling in for the Prime Minister. Davis, but at least in his case has shown he's a strong performer, especially in his own portfolios. Ardern will also be expecting much better management of the government's activities in the House from Chris Hipkins to avoid any more embarrassing process stories.

There's also some economic uncertainty on the horizon too, with the housing market appearing to plateau, business confidence dropping, and projections of global growth trending lower too. On the first two of these, it's important to keep in mind that the Clark government faced similar issues leading to the "winter of discontent" that saw them savaged in the polls. It prompted them to take a much more proactive approach to their relationship with business and, coupled with an upswing in the economy, saw things improve markedly by the 2002 election.

In terms of their partners in government - New Zealand First and the Green Party - there's a possibility, as there always is, that Ardern will need to discipline or sack a misbehaving or incompetent minister which will test those relationships. That aside, I wouldn't expect any major issues unless, in the case of New Zealand First, the issue is with Winston Peters then all cards are off the table.

What will be interesting is how Labour keeps the momentum of the government going after Budget 2018. The first half of the year largely writes itself. The Prime Minister's State of the Nation and any associated announcement sets the tone for February, March and April are usually focused around promoting polices that can into effect from 1 April each year. From late April until the Budget in late May, the government can usually set the agenda each week with pre-Budget announcements. Then June is spent promoting any announcements from the Budget as much as possible before politicians, and the press gallery, catch a breather in July.

How the Labour-led government, with it's relatively green staff beyond Heather Simpson and Mike Munro - deal with this will be worth watching. KiwiBuild might offer some respite if and when it gets underway. And it won't be the end of the government's popularity if they're flatfooted in the second half of the year. But after an indifferent start to their term in 2017, a poor second half to 2018 could frame the second half of their term in a less than ideal light.

Lazy Labour-led government's ponderous Parliamentary pace

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We're into the fifth Parliamentary sitting week and the new Labour-led government appears to be plumbing new depths of legislative laziness, having only managed to introduce three new bills since the 52nd Parliament commenced.

Contrast that to the Fifth National government who, across the first two sitting weeks of the 49th Parliament in December 2008, managed to introduce seven new pieces of legislation.

Things will undoubtedly change from Thursday when the government unveils the Half Year Economic and Fiscal Update along with Grant Robertson's much-hyped mini-Budget. Leader of the House Chris Hipkins has already indicated that the House will move into urgency after Question Time on the 14th to consider new legislation resulting from that mini-Budget.

That aside, the fact is that it's taken the new government more than twice as long to introduce less than half the new legislation that the previous National-led government managed in its opening stanza. It suggests that not only were the parties of the Labour-led government woefully unprepared for getting the Treasury benches, but now they have them they appear utterly clueless as to what to do with them.

The government has made a big deal about having a 100 day plan, but so far on day 49 it's more like a 100 day plod.

Labour scrambles to scale up digital communications

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With the new Labour-led government's first major set piece announcement only days away, it appears that Labour's leader's office has only just woken up to the demands of government and are poised to significantly upscale the digital communications and research focus in Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's Labour leader's office.

In a number of roles posted to Parliament's careers site yesterday, the Labour leader's office is launching a significant recruiting drive with a particular focus on digital channels. New roles include:

Labour are also recruiting a Senior Researcher and four Researchers.

Now Labour have had a pretty solid approach to digital communications while they were in opposition, but the reality of being in government is that there's simply so much more you have to do. What I am finding surprising is that it's taken to the seventh week of the new government for them to start recruiting for these roles.

While it's obviously important for Labour to ensure they have the right structure for their leader's office, the lack of staffing has clearly hurt their ability to operate over the past few weeks, as evidenced by their bumbling approach to the House and announcements.

As I alluded to in the opening paragraph, the ideal would have been to have these staff in place prior to the mini-Budget. From personal experience, I know how demanding major set pieces can be on the content creators in a team, and having more resourcing in that area opens up big opportunities for the type of content you can produce.

When it comes to an announcement like this, which on day 50 of the new government will set the tone for the coming six months, you really do only get one bite at the cherry, and a lack of resourcing will make executing that successfully all the more difficult.

Additionally, I've also heard rumour's that on the ministerial office front, Labour has been struggling to attract talent. Apparently they've been offering far below the market rate for ministerial press secretaries and advisors, which is resulting in their offers being turned down. While it's true that you take a pay cut to work at Parliament versus what you can get in the private or broader public service, at the same time the work is hugely demanding and can be personally quite draining, so it surprises me that Labour is getting this so wrong.

All that being said and done, I can definitely recommend working at Parliament. No two days are ever the same and, as the saying goes, a week is a long time in politics. Your party can be top of the pops one week, and down in the dumps the next, and all of it usually beyond your ability to control, so it makes for a very exciting ride. The work is immensely satisfying, you'll get to work with some of the most talented and passionate people you'll ever meet, and when things are going well, you do feel like you're making a positive difference for your country.

Crying a river over Parliamentary written questions

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Poor, poor Labour. How tough life in government must be for them. Or so you'd think with all the tweets over the past 48 hours regarding National submitting a whopping 6,254 written questions to Ministers.

Now it's fair to say that's a bloody huge number of questions. As way of comparison, the nearly ousted opposition in 2008 asked 619 questions in the first three weeks of the new Parliament - though keep in mind that the new Parliament only started on 8 December 2008, so they were pretty quickly into the holiday break.

In 2011 the Christmas break didn't curtail Labour, with the first three weeks of the 50th Parliament seeing 3,712 questions asked. In fact, those 3,712 questions were all lodged on one day - 21 December 2011.

As Newsroom's Sam Sachdeva noted, in the three weeks following the start of the 51st Parliament, 964 questions were lodged. Though what's missing from that analysis is that at the same time Labour was embroiled in its own leadership context, so evidently didn't really have much time to spend actually being an opposition. Plus they'd also been on the receiving end of one of their worst ever election defeats, so there was obviously a bit of wound licking going on. Whereas National managed a fantastic election night result for a three term government, so it makes sense that they're going to launch into opposition with a sense of vigour.

One thing that's been severely lacking from all this talk of Parliamentary questions is analysis of why there have been so many. What it's all stemmed from is a stoush between the Labour-led government and the National Party over getting answers to the question of who ministers have been meeting with during their first month in the job.

Who ministers meet with in their ministerial capacity is important, and there's a long history of both opposition parties and journalists trying to get that information released. National is just as guilty as Labour is at playing silly buggers with the release of that information in the past. But what seems to have happened this time is that National has had a host of questions about ministerial meetings knocked back as being too broad so, in retaliation and to make a point, they've gone ultra-specific instead.

As National's Chris Bishop pointed out, he was told that his day-by-day questions to Police Minister Stuart Nash were too broad, so instead he's asked for an hour-by-hour breakdown.

In many respects, the Labour-led government have only themselves to blame for the deluge of questions. If they'd played ball a bit more when the initial questions were asked of their ministerial diaries, they could have saved everyone, most importantly themselves, a lot of time.

Certainly, National isn't free of blame here, as they're going to an extreme to make a point, and weren't necessarily always forthcoming about the diaries of their own ministers during their time in the hot seat.

But the reality is that who and when ministers meet with people is important public information. We'd want to know if the Minister of Health had been meeting with pharmaceutical executives prior to a health announcement, just as it's useful to know if a Minister is guilty of white lies by professing prior engagements in avoiding Question Time.

The obvious solution is for Ministerial Services to introduce a system where by, say mid-month, a list of meetings that the Minister attended in the previous month for each of their portfolios, is released for the public. We already have a convention of sorts in play around Briefings to Incoming Ministers (BIMs) which are released around four to six weeks after they've been presented to Ministers, and a similar convention for meetings could do wonders for the openness of our government.

While New Zealand already ranks well for transparency, there's always improvements we can make, and this appears to be an easy area to make such an improvement.

Ultimately though, the reality is if the Labour-led government doesn't like the opposition asking questions about who they have, and haven't been meeting with, I'm sure the opposition would be more than happy to swap places if it's all too onerous for ministers.

Cavalier attitude to costings undermines Labour's economic credibility

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With Labour traditionally struggling for economic credibility, they're doing themselves no favours with pressure mounting on them to explain how they're going to pay for all the policies they've agreed to in their coalition agreement with New Zealand First, and their confidence and supply agreement with the Green Party.

Of the policies in those agreements, it's notable that only two have a price tag attached to them. They are the $1 billion a year Provincial Pork Barrel (Regional Development Fund) for New Zealand First, and a $100m Green Investment Fund for the Green Party.

Grant Robertson poured fuel on the fire when he appeared on The Nation and was repeatedly pushed by host Lisa Owen on releasing costings. Robertson also erred when he tried to claim that Labour hadn't had access to the public service to cost the policies they'd agreed to, a claim which has now been shown to be false, with Treasury confirming that they had worked on costing policies for Labour during the negotiations to form a new government.

With Robertson's misleading comments spectacularly exposed, the pressure piled on when Labour announced they were increasing student allowances by approximately $50 a week. What Labour failed to do when they made that announcement was to also reveal how much the increase was going to cost, with Tertiary Education Minister Chris Hipkins offering a bumbling excuse that essentially boiled down to that the government would release the costings once they'd figured out how much it would cost.

It was an amazingly cavalier attitude to take about the spending of tax payer's money. Not withstanding the fact that increasing student allowances is a good move, to announce the increase without purportedly knowing the full cost of that increase, suggests a carefree attitude to responsible management of the government finances that plays right into National's hands.

The pressure is clearly showing. Labour was forced to cave after a day and release costings on the student allowance increasing, with it costing around $700 million over four years, less than what they'd originally anticipated it would when they announced the idea in opposition back in April.

Whether or not you agree with National's finance spokesperson Steven Joyce's claim of an $11 billion hole in Labour's fiscal plan, Labour are doing themselves no favours by mangling the financial side of announcements. If Labour wants to dispel doubts about their economic credibility, then they need to be upfront about the costs of new policies as they announce them, and ensure that their mini-Budget, should it be announced, stacks up perfectly.

The political week ahead - 6 November 2017

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Some highlights to look ahead to this week in politics. This isn't a complete list, just bits and bobs that have sprung to mind. Feel free to email me at info@libertas.digital, tweet at @libertasnz, or send a Facebook message.

Monday 6 November 2017

  • Post-Cabinet press conference. This is usually held around 4pm and Labour looks like they're continuing Bill English and John Key's practice of live streaming it on their Facebook page. Several of the other main media outlets also live stream it too. It's good to get a view on what's in the week ahead for the government, as well as some of the themes journalists might explore that week. It's just a pity that the Beehive Theartrette  isn't microphoned so you can better hear the questions being asked.

Tuesday 7 November 2017

  • Commission Opening of Parliament: I won't go into the details of this, but it's an interesting process to watch, including the election of Trevor Mallard as Speaker (who else is it really going to be?). Find out more about what happens here.

Wednesday 8 November 2017

  • State Opening of Parliament: This is the where the Governor-General turns up and gives the speech from the throne that outlines the Government's legislative programme. The speech itself isn't that exciting, though it's a useful document to refer back to over the term. That's followed by the Address in Reply debate which, if it follows previous years, will see the new Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in action for the chamber for the first time. The Address in Reply debate will carry on for a few weeks as time in the House allows. More information on this is available here.
  • Maiden speeches: I'm anticipating the Address in Reply debate will be halted around 4 or 5pm to allow new MPs to deliver their maiden speeches. These can be quite a mix of quality, so expect a few brilliant speeches, and a few train wrecks too! Like all Parliamentary business in the House you can watch this on Parliament On Demand or on Parliament TV.
  • We might also see the first pieces of Government legislation introduced this day too.

Thursday 9 November 2017

  • The first Question Time for the new Government! Traditionally The Prime Minister and party leaders aren't in the House on Thursdays for Question Time, and in this case the Prime Minister will be departing for APEC on Thursday morning.
  • The Reserve Bank will release its Quarterly Monetary Policy Statement on Thursday morning. It'll likely contain new forecasts for economic growth over the coming years, which are already tipped to ease off from the buoyant ones in the PREFU. Specifically look for warnings around inflation and economic growth not peaking at 3.7% in 2019 anymore. That being said, it's hard for the Reserve Bank to make these forecasts about the impact of policy without that detail from the Labour-led Government being available until we see their first mini-Budget later this year.
  • There'll also be more maiden speeches from around 5pm.

Friday 10 November 2017

  • Statistics NZ have two releases scheduled for Friday, both useful economic indicators too. There's Electronic Card Transactions for October 2017 and the Accommodation Survey for September 2017. The election and post-election negotiations may have impacted negatively on these, though I wouldn't expect that to be enough to offset the growth in these off the back of a relatively confident economy.

Saturday 11 and Sunday 12 November 2017

  • After a solid first international trip to Sydney to meet with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern heads to Vietnam for APEC. Over the two days there she'll conduct a range of bilateral talks, including possibly with US President Donald Trump. These will be announced either closer to the weekend or as they happen.

Party vote performance in each age bracket

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 pointlessness of a foreign buyer ban

None. Zilch. Nada. That's the effect Labour's ridiculous decision to ban non-residents from buying existing residential houses will have. How do we know? Australia implemented the same thing in December 2008 it had no impact there either. In fact, much like New Zealand's prices, house prices in Sydney and Melbourne have nearly doubled since 2008.

All the non-resident ban achieves is shifting the two or three per cent of property investment that comes from overseas from existing homes to new builds instead. The small resulting increase in prices there pushes citizens and residents back into the existing home market, and thus increases competition there by the same amount.

The overall result? You're no better off than you were before, unless you're a property developer. Because the other lesson to come out of Australia's experience was that overseas investors are much more comfortable buying off the plan developments than local house hunters are, largely because they're able to absorb and afford the wait between the units selling and construction being completed, whereas local house hunters aren't able to as much, as they're in need of a place to live.

Given Labour's previous racist dog-whistling over Chinese surnames, Labour should probably be aware (but I suspect they're not) that as Chinese regulators seek to limit the amount of Chinese capital moving offshore to be invested in property, whatever the small impact that non-resident buyers were having on house prices will be further minimised by changes afoot overseas.

What's also concerning is that at her first post-Cabinet press conference, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern admitted that there was no advice on the potential economic impact of a ban on non-residents. It's rather incredible isn't it? The new Labour-led government was able to get legal advice that said their non-resident ban wouldn't breach free trade agreements, other than the Singaporean FTA, but not on the potential economic impact of this action, which undoubtedly sends negative signals to some of our most important trading partners.

With a timeline of introducing the legislation before the end of the year and having it passed in early 2018, so it can take effect before the earliest date that Trans-Pacific Partnership comes into effect (which would be February 2018), suggests that Labour will be ramming through the legislation under urgency.

It's disappointing that after two terms where urgency was largely reserved for genuinely urgent legislation, such as responding to natural disasters or fixing major legislative mistakes (like the ability for local authorities to set speed limits), Labour is throwing that all out the window to appease the xenophobic itch that New Zealand First represents.

It's also the height of hypocrisy that having stupidly agitated against TPP negotiations being conducted behind closed doors (which has been the norm for FTA negotiations for quite some time) Labour is now looking to stop, or minimise any public input into the amendments they're proposing to make to the Overseas Investment Act.

The reality is that there are much more factors that are influencing New Zealand, and especially Auckland's, property market. These have to do with immigration, economic growth, and a historic failure across nearly three decades to adequately balance out urban intensification and urban sprawl with decent investments in transport infrastructure (both roads and public transport).

Grant Robertson blunders on costs, surpluses on The Nation

Newly minted Finance Minister Grant Robertson will be wanting to put this weekend's appearance on The Nation behind him very quickly. Finally subjected to some meaningful scrutiny about both the deals made by Labour to win the Government benches, as well as their own much vaunted fiscal plan, Robertson struggled to present a coherent narrative of what lies ahead for the government's books and economy under the new Labour-led Government and, it turns out, misled the public over what he knows about the cost of the new policies they'll have to fund.

I can't think of another Finance Minister who has inherited one of the strongest growing economies in the developed world, with books that are back in the black with surpluses projected to grow strongly over the next five years, who in their first major interview spent most of it trying to dampen down how well he'd do, and effectively saying that his Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters was wrong in his forecasts of economic doom and gloom.

As some background, the Pre-election Economic and Fiscal Update released in August 2017, projected surpluses ranging from $3.7b in the current financial year, eventually rising to $6.4b in 2020/21. PREFU also projects economic growth to grow from around 3% now to 3.7% in in 2019, before easing back to 2.3% in 2021. Suffice to say these are some of the strongest numbers in the OECD, and they're numbers that New Zealand, and especially the National Party who led the country to them after inheriting a country deep in recession from Helen Clark's Labour-led Government, navigated us through the Global Finance Crisis that followed, and successfully managed the country's books through not one, but three major earthquakes.

Simply put, a lot of work has been done to ensure that New Zealand's economy and government books are in the hugely enviable position they are in now.

Robertson's first wobble was when Lisa Owen compared his rosy economic outlook with that of his Deputy Prime Minister, Winston Peters.

Lisa Owen: "Is Winston Peters wrong when he's predicting a downturn in the economic rockstar economy?"

Grant Robertson: "Look, there's a range of views on that, and there's certainly headwinds..."

Lisa Owen: "No no, I'm asking about his. Because he stated it very clearly on the day you guys were announced as the winners per se, he said 'Bad times around the corner', so is he wrong?"

Grant Robertson: "That is possible."

This is some fantastic ammunition for the National Party when the House resumes in a couple of weeks time. National will be able to put both the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, and Finance Minister, on the spot over and over again about their disagreement with Winston Peters on the country's economic prospects.

For a politician with his experience, which includes nine years as an MP and several more working in the office of Helen Clack when she was Prime Minister where he earned the title H3, Robertson should have handled this much better. He should have acknowledge that Winston Peters is rightfully concerned about possible economic uncertainty around the world stemming from Brexit, credit issues in China, and protectionist movements in our major trading partners. Instead, Robertson set himself at odds with Labour's coalition partner. It was a dopey move on the third day of the new government.

Robertson then went on to talk about ensuring there was fat in the system to deal with economic shocks. Lisa Owen then skewered Robertson on the lack of the fat in Labour's fiscal plan now that all these additional policies need to be funded due to Labour's coalition and confidence and supply deals with New Zealand First and the Green Party respectively. 

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What's important to note is that, as per the above tweet, Robertson has already publicly committed that unless otherwise changed by the agreements, Labour's policies remain the same. E.g. Labour will be largely sticking to the spending track as outlined in their fiscal plan, so they need to find a way to fund all these new programmes, such as Winston Peters' Provincial Pork Barrel (otherwise known as the Regional Economic Development Fund) on top of the spending that they're already committed themselves to.

This exchange between Lisa Owen and Grant Robertson was telling, and may well come back to haunt Robertson yet.

Lisa Owen: "Have you costed all of those, and how much are they going to cost?"

Grant Robertson: "So in the process of the negotiations we look very carefully at each of the commitments we were putting in there, and made our best estimate of the cost. Obviously when you're in opposition you have a certain amount of resources to do that. We are absolutely confident that we can meet the expenditure that is in there and actually still meet our Budget Responsibility Rules."

Lisa: "Can you give us a number? How much do all the things that you've signed up for, how much do they cost?"

Grant: "Aw look we've got estimates but that's the,"

Lisa: "Oh come on, what's the estimate?"

Grant: "Well no because I don't want to do that till"

Lisa: "It's the public purse."

Grant: "Well that's the very point, Lisa. It is the public purse. And we now have the ability to work with the public service to refine the estimates we've made. But I can give you my assurance that it fits within the confines of our Budget Responsibility Rules."

First of all, former Finance Minister and National Party spokesperson Steven Joyce pointed out that parties have full access to the public sector for policy costings during the coalition negotiation process. So Robertson's line that he can't release the numbers because he needs the public service to look at them first doesn't seem to be factual.

That blunder aside, what do Labour's Budget Responsibility rules propose?

The first rule is that Labour has committed to delivering a surplus every year "unless there is a significant natural event or a major economic shock or crisis." So Robertson can't let the Budget slip into deficit to fund these promises, otherwise he's broken the first rule of this document, as deals to get into government hardly fit into any of the caveats Labour added to their commitment.

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Labour's second rule is that they'll reduce net core Crown debt to 20% within five years of taking office - meaning they'd hit the target two years later than National had planned to. There's no caveats explicitly mentioned on this one, but I don't think anyone would begrudge those from Rule 1 being applied here. That still means Labour can't push out there debt reduction target beyond 2021/22 to fund the new policies from their deal making.

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Rule 3 is one area where Labour might have some wiggle room, so long as Labour is able to get the NZ Super Fund to over $63b by 2022/23, they could play around with the scale of their contributions to the NZ Super Fund, reducing the amount in early years and compensating that with larger amounts in later years, as well as relying on the fund continuing its impressive return on its investments too.

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In Rule 4 Labour has committed itself to $8b in additional health spending, $6b more in education, and $5b in income assistance for families. They'll have some room to move here, though they have boxed themselves into a corner with their perpetual (and dubious) claims of a $1.7b hole in the health budget. So as to not make a mockery of themselves, they'll need to at least maintain that as they readjust their numbers to accommodate their spending promises.

The other issues is that Labour has committed to keeping government expenditure as a share of the economy to within the 29%. Again there's some room for movement here, but it needs to balanced against Labour staying in surplus each year too.

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Rule 5 is all about tax and, it's important to note, there's no anticipated additional revenues forecast from changes to personal tax rates, and Labour did explicitly rule these out during the campaign. It's hard to see where Robertson would manage to break Rule 5 during his mini-Budget, but stranger things have happened.

Lisa Owen: "It's a four year Budget, looking out - forecast - so how much gets sucked up in the first year, second year, third year, fourth year?"

Grant Robertson: "That's exactly what you'll find when we produce our detailed budget. What we know is that we have the funding to do this."

Lisa: "So are you not confident of the estimates that you've already done?"

Grant: "Well as an opposition party you've only got so many resources and we're confident that with the information we have they're correct. The beauty of now being in government is that we actually get to test those estimates, but I am completely confident."

Oh, there we are again. Robertson again stumbles repeating that little white lie about not having access to the public service to cost your coalition and confidence and supply agreements.

Lisa Owen: "Would you agree that it's an accurate reflection to say that your budget is tight, really tight?"

Grant Robertson: "Look, I've never denied the fact that we're ambitious about what we want to do, and we want to make investments. But Lisa if we just look at this in a one..."

Lisa: "So it's tight?"

Grant: "I've never denied that, I've never denied that."

Lisa: "If your economic premises that you base it on, for example if growth doesn't peak out at 3.7%. If we have the 10 year downward slum that some predict for 2018, then you're in trouble with your money?"

Grant: "No I don't think we are."

Actually Grant, you are in trouble. Where you start to run into problems is that whereas the PREFU's forecasts are based on immigration numbers naturally returning to historic rates, Labour is actively looking to slash immigration numbers by nearly half. Labour's changes may actually have an even greater impact than intended, especially when combined with Labour, New Zealand First, and the Green Party all looking to restrict foreign investment in New Zealand, and renegotiate crucial free trade agreements. Treasury's PREFU takes into account the potential for external economic risks from events like Brexit and the like, but it hasn't taken into impact what will happen when Labour starts introducing the changes required by their own policies and their coalition agreement.

There's also the question of KiwiBuild, Labour's assumptions behind the capital recycling of the $2b investment into it rest on the housing market remaining relatively buoyant over that 10 year period. The problem here is that we're already seeing Auckland's property market cool off significantly, and if immigration is slashed as they're proposing to do, demand is going to drop off as well. Labour is more than likely going to have to pump more money into KiwiBuild to deliver their promises 100,000 new houses, or they're going to have to downscale it. Something will have to give.

What this suggests is that far from Labour's numbers being tight, Labour is going to either have to massage the numbers in such a way as to make a farce of both their mini-Budget and their Budget Responsibility Rules, or they're going to have to start breaking promises.

My guess is that unless Grant Robertson pulls off a miracle in the next few weeks, he is going to regret giving assurances that his numbers add up and still fit within his Budget responsibility rules, or he'll burn a lot of political capital by pulling off some very questionable financial contortions to make everything work. My pick is on the later, and when he does it, National will have a field day with him in the House.

What Labour may well be counting on is that in three years' time, nobody will remember the potential omnishambles that we might be about to see.

Day two and Work for the Dole could create trouble for new government

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Labour's most and least valuable electorates

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.

 

The Jacinda effect visualised in Auckland

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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.

You won't believe what happened in South Auckland!

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.

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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.

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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.

NZ First.png

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.

Mood for Change.png

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.

No youthquake yet but there is a greyquake

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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.

Voter turnout in the 2014 election by age cohort demonstrates the double whammy that a larger grey percentage of the voting demographic will have on the 2017 election. More older New Zealanders voting at a higher rate means they're having a larger impact than younger New Zealanders who don't turn out to vote.

Voter turnout in the 2014 election by age cohort demonstrates the double whammy that a larger grey percentage of the voting demographic will have on the 2017 election. More older New Zealanders voting at a higher rate means they're having a larger impact than younger New Zealanders who don't turn out to vote.

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.

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