National Party

How National can win Northcote

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While National has held Northcote since 2005, there's every indication that this time around it could switch hands back to Labour. With the Key/English era of National well and truly over, National faces an uphill battle to retain Northcote.

The key to victory in any by-election is maximising turnout by your own supporters. By-elections simply don't attract the same level of turnout as a General Election. In the nine by-elections in the past decade turnout has averaged 58% of what it was at the proceeding General Election. That's a massive drop in voter numbers and illustrates just what a difference a successful get out the vote campaign can do for a by-election. For interests sake the lowest turnout was the Mt Albert non-competition of 2017 where turnout was only 38% of what it had been in 2014, while the highest was Northland's 2015 by-election where 84% of voters from 2014 turned out.

This brings us to National's first big hurdle - getting its supporters out to vote. There's a couple of things that could dampen turnout for National. The first is supporters understandable sitting on the fence and waiting to see how National's new leadership team performs and what direction they take National in. After the successful Key/English years this is an entirely reasonable position for supporters to take, as the National Party of 2018 onwards simply can't sit on its laurels and expect warm fuzzy feelings of the Key/English era to carry them forward. Labour was somewhat guilty of that during Goff's leadership, and it's important National learns from that experience.

There's no easy way for National to earn that support other than getting runs on the board in terms of holding the Government to account and producing new ambitious policies themselves. The by-election, which seems like to hit shortly after Budget 2018, will make that latter part of the equation difficult, as Labour will have it's big set piece of the year to talk about, and National will need to have a credible alternative in place as well as acknowledging any good points in Labour's Budget. National can't be the "No" opposition party that Labour was for so long.

None of this is to say that Simon Bridges and his front bench can't secure that support, I definitely think that they're able to. But securing it within such a short time frame of becoming leader is going to be tough. That being said they've been helped by the Government's ongoing run of bad headlines which is now into its third week thanks to Clare Curran and Jenny Marcroft.

The other issue that will hit National in terms of turnout is largely dependent on who their candidate is. Reports today suggest that upwards of 10 people are potentially looking at seeking the Northcote nomination. There's rumours that a few centre-right local board politicians are looking at contesting the nomination, and speculation that there may be at least one possible contender returning from overseas, and a former mayoral candidate putting their names forward too. There's also the rumour that Air New Zealand's CEO Christopher Luxon might seek the nomination.

There's merit in either approach - either a local body politician or a high profile candidate like Luxon. A local body politician has the benefit of already being immersed in local issues, and already likely having networks in the local party and community that they can draw on during a campaign. Conversely, a high profile candidate like Luxon could be exactly what National needs to combat the hugely popular appeal of Jacinda Ardern that Labour will undoubtedly use to maximum effect in the by-election.

There's also risks in both approaches too. At a local body level the centre-right hasn't exactly covered itself in glory in recent memory with its electoral success. The conflict between competing centre-right tickets didn't help the overall cause in 2016. That failure has been the source of much debate within the National Party about whether the party should set up its own local body ticket to compete with Labour and create a conveyor belt of future MPs too. That's not to say that some of the National Party aligned local body politicians couldn't do a great job as MP for Northcote, but I simply don't know enough about any of them outside of the bigger picture of the 2016 campaign to comment further.

The high profile candidate approach from National could also look desperate too. High profile candidates either go one of two ways - be a fantastic success like John Key was, or ultimately end up being cringe-worthy like Don Brash has ended up being for the right (despite his near success in 2005). From what I've seen of Christopher Luxon it seems more likely he'd follow in John Key's footsteps, rather than follow the Brash burn bright but briefly approach. Luxon has had a pretty successful career at Air New Zealand, and would be able to hit the ground running in terms of the media commitments required of candidates, but it's harder to know how he'll relate to voters on the ground and the gruelling ground nature of day-to-day campaigning. He'll have experience dealing with a wide range of people at Air New Zealand, but being a candidate is a world apart from being the CEO of our national carrier.

Much like Labour, National should be able to deploy a fairly strong ground team to knock on doors, deliver pamphlets put up hoardings, call voters, and do all the usual campaign 101 things that keep campaigns working. In this regard the Young Nats in Auckland have excelled in recent campaigns of putting in the hard yards.

National will also benefit to some extent from Labour and New Zealand First's anti-Asian approach. With Northcote have twice the rate of people identifying as coming from an Asian background that New Zealand, National will be able to use this as an issue to drive people away from voting for the Labour candidate. As much as Labour and New Zealand First will claim their policies are about overseas people, if you read any of the reaction to Labour's "Chinese-sounding surnames" debacle of a couple of years ago you'll know how many Asian-Kiwis coped racial abuse stemming from that.

Another challenge for National is that at this point Northcote looks like it might be their first by-election without Steven Joyce, whose reputation as campaign chair is well deserved. How that might play out in terms of what unfolds in Northcote is hard to tell. Joyce, living in Albany, would have been as well placed as anyone to know first-hand what issues would and wouldn't motivate voters in Northcote. If National can get him involved in some sort of advisory capacity it will be a big help for them, though at the same time they do need to start blooding a new generation of campaign managers and campaign chairs to lead the party into the future.

The other issue National faces is that Northcote, as a bellweather seat, has shown a habit of generally voting where the largest party support is. If we went off the 2017 election results National would be a shoo-in for Northcote. However a lot of water has gone under the bridge since then, with Bill English leaving and Simon Bridges taking over. The dampening impact of the end of the Key/English era can't be underestimated, and National will need to work overtime to mitigate that effect alone. Likewise with recent political polls showing Labour's support in the high 40s, and National's lurking around the mid to low 40s, my calculations have National holding a 4.5 to 5.5 percentage point advantage, and that's without taking into account the recent leadership change.

National also can't break out the cheque book in quite the same way Labour can with regards to policies. Not only are we two and a half years away from the next election, meaning it's hard to promise things that you can't credibly deliver until virtually a full Parliamentary term away, but National has had a mixed bag with those types of by-election sweeteners in the past. It also doesn't suit National's narrative that it's not just about how much a government spends, but what results they get from that spending.

One thing that is in National's favour is that regardless of whether New Zealand First runs a candidate they've probably already bled any potential National supporters from their voters back to National in annoyance over Winston Peters going with Labour. ACT also seems unlikely to take many votes from National in the seat either.

While National holds a slight advantage when looking at Northcote historically, the ongoing strong popularity of Jacinda Ardern personally, and National's own leadership change are going to make it a challenging proposition for National to win the seat again. And I say win here quite purposefully. It's not about National retaining Northcote. We're not talking about an incumbent justifying why they should still be MP. We're facing the situation where a brand new candidate needs to win the support of the Northcote community to take up that leadership role for them, and that means winning each and every vote from the ground up.

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.

Simon Bridges becomes Leader of the National Party

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Congratulations to Simon Bridges on becoming the new Leader of the National Party. In taking on the role, Bridges also becomes the first Māori to lead either major party in New Zealand, a significant milestone in New Zealand's history that's worth celebrating regardless of where your political loyalties lie.

Throughout the leadership campaign Bridges has talked about the need to review and renew National's approach going into the 2020 election, both from strategic and policy perspectives. 

I've been vocal about the importance of the National Party doing this, as it can't be trying to re-litigate the 2017 election when 2020 rolls around. It needs to celebrate the wins from the Key/English era, but acknowledge the shortcomings and come up with a bold policy vision to address the issues that New Zealand faces. Bridges own approach seems to echo this, with him saying in his first press conference as leader that he'll look to build on the good economic policies of the past-National Government, but address shortcomings in other areas.

Since going into opposition Bridges has proven to be a thorn in the Government's side. Winning a battle of Select Committee places by catching the Government out over whether it had the numbers to elect Trevor Mallard Speaker, on the opening day of Parliament, is an example of this. Likewise, Bridges' background as a Crown prosecutor, and having sparred with both Winston Peters in Tauranga, and Jacinda Ardern on national television, means he has form going toe-to-toe with the two central figures of the new Government.

Of course being in Opposition is more than just winning Beltway battles. As Bridges himself has alluded to, National has to both hold the Government account, but also look and act like a Government-in-waiting itself. It's a hard balance to achieve, and much of what Bridges will do over the next week ahead of National's Shadow Cabinet reshuffle will be ensuring that he gets that balance right.

I look forward to seeing how Simon Bridges takes National forward over the coming weeks.

Final thoughts on National's leadership contest

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Before midday on Tuesday we should know who the new Leader and Deputy Leader of the National Party are. Within a week or so we'll also have seen the resulting Shadow Cabinet reshuffle. 

The five leadership candidates would all bring their own set of strengths and weaknesses to the role. Given I've worked with most of them in the past, I'm not going to traverse these, but there has been some good (and some not so good) analysis out there, so feel free to google away.

What seems readily apparent is that each of the candidates would, to varying degrees, look to change the direction and strategy of the National Party heading into 2020. I'm firmly of the belief that this is a good thing. National can't spend the next two and a half years fighting the 2017 election campaign over and over again.

Labour made that mistake in 2011 and then fought a quasi-civil war for the next six years as it tried to move on from the Helen Clark era, contorting itself into a host of contradictory policy positions along the way. It's a legacy that still plagues them today, as demonstrated by their newfound enthusiasm for the CPTPP despite it essentially being the same deal as the TPP they so vehemently opposed.

The pace of that transition is important too. If National moves too quickly away from the Key/English era they run the risk of leaving behind the very supporters who delivered National such a large share of the party vote. Move too slowly and National will find itself responding to initiatives the Labour-led Government is proposing, rather than leading the conversation on New Zealand's direction and solution to our issues themselves.

That last part is crucial. National knows better than anyone about how fruitless it is to go after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern directly. It watched as Labour smacked its collective head fruitlessly against the edifice of John Key's enduring popularity for eight years, and they know that a similar approach against Ardern won't deliver results.

As to whether National needs to create or foster its own support parties for 2020, I've decided that it's presumptive to assume that new parties won't appear on their own.

Looking back over New Zealand's electoral history, you would have been hard pressed to find anyone who predicted, only a handful of months into the first term of a new government, the formation of any of the minor parties that have existed. In 1984 nobody would have picked that Jim Anderton would head off and create his own political party, likewise for Winston Peters when National took the Government benches in 1990, or the emergence of the Māori Party from Labour.

Notably, with the exception of the Greens breaking off from the Alliance between 1997 and 1999, minor parties generally get created from MPs occupying the government benches. Meaning that if a new minor party is likely to appear, it's more likely to be from Labour, the Greens, or NZ First, than it is from National.

Time and time again minor parties have been created by events unforeseen by political journalists or commentators at the start of a term. There's still every possibility that a new minor party could emerge organically, whether propelled into existence by a policy issue or a personality clash.

National needn't risk its own voter base, or open itself up to claims that it's falling apart, by trying to foster or split up to create its own minor party partner. A far more useful strategy is to pressure the parties of Government so they can deliver that potential partner party for them.

A bizarre take on the history of private military forces

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If you're writing a hot take on the use of private military forces in conflict, it probably pays to check your history before doing so. Such is the case of Daniel Couch's recently published piece on The Spinoff. Along with demanding questions be asked, and answers given, about National Party leadership candidate Mark Mitchell's past in this field - which is a fair enough concern, Couch makes the absurd claim that:

"Private military and security contractors have become a fundamental part of war. They have been instrumental in creating the increasingly murky and ethically bankrupt landscape of modern warfare."

The above two sentences border on the ridiculous, insofar that their central premise is claiming that the intertwining of private military forces and conflict is somehow a product of the late 20th and early 21st century, and that modern warfare is somehow more murky and ethically bankrupt than warfare throughout history.

The use of private military forces, whether called mercenaries, foreign volunteers, or private military or security contractors, has been a feature of conflict for all of recorded history from Ancient Egypt right through to the modern day.

Likewise, war - whether modern or otherwise - has always been murky and largely ethically bankrupt, regardless of whether private armies are employed. The notion that somehow war would be somehow more ethical and less murky if mercenaries weren't used is laughable. 

The simple reality is that private armies have always had a role in conflict, largely performing roles that the belligerents in a conflict are either unwilling, or unable to do. Whether it's supplementing conventional forces on the battlefield, conducting security services in rear areas away from the front line, or providing analysis and advice on the strategic level, you'll find the use of non-state actors throughout all of history.

Couch makes much of Mark Mitchell referring to an article David Shearer wrote about the use of private armies in conflict. While Shearer does acknowledge that private armies have always been part of warfare, I believe Shearer does err in attributing their changed role in warfare over the past three centuries. Shearer's basis for the assertion is that the rise of the nation-state and associated birth of nationalism meant that "the idea of fighting for one’s country rather than for commercial interests gained currency" and that as a result, mercenary forces which used to make up a significant percentage of the actual combatants in a conflict, markedly declined.

The shift in the balance of forces employed by belligerents - from being heavily reliant on private armies to conscripting their own citizens - has less to do with notions of nationalism motivating people to fight for their country, than it does with the ability of states to equip, feed, and transport ever larger numbers of people.

The industrial revolution, with its resulting ability to cheaply produce more rifles, more canons, more ammunition, more uniforms and kit, and transport vast numbers of soldiers via railways, or via first steam or coal turbine powered ships, was the primary change away from private armies playing such a high profile role in conflicts. The cost effectiveness factor that mercenaries offered belligerents - supplying as they traditionally had their own uniforms and equipment - was reduced very quickly.

The role of nationalism as a motivation for soldiers to fight for their country, as referenced by Shearer, was largely a by-product of the use of nationalism to create internal social and political cohesion within nation-states. Nationalism in itself wasn't the reason why private armies as front line combatants declined.

Yet private armies, whether explicitly as mercenary corps, or euphemistically called foreign volunteers, still continued to play important roles in conflicts throughout the past three centuries. While the French Revolution abolished the use of mercenary forces, Napoleon reinstated their use extensively as he sort to mobilise enough manpower for his wars across Europe and France's colonial empire. Both the Union and Confederacy actively recruited and accepted foreign volunteers to bolster their manpower during the American Civil War - volunteers solicited on the promise of pay glory, and citizenship, both the Prussians and French made use of them during the Franco-Prussian War (most famously the French Foreign Legion effectively operates as a mercenary force with France as its exclusive employer), and the First and Second World Wars, as well as the Spanish Civil War, all saw the use of what were effectively mercenary forces, under the guise of being foreign volunteers.

Shearer also argues that the use of mercenaries declined over this period because states were worried about potential damage to their perceived neutrality by having their citizens participating in someone else's conflict. This argument isn't borne out by facts. Germany objected profusely when American volunteers formed the Lafayette Escadrille and flew for the French in the First World War, primarily on the grounds that by allowing the citizens to go to France and be paid, equipped, and fed by the French army, the U.S. was abandoning its policy of neutrality. To appease the Germans, the French changed the name of the volunteer corps.

A similar situation prevailed in China in 1940/41 with the Flying Tigers, effectively backed by the United States Government, operated as mercenaries in support of the Nationalist Chinese against the Japanese.

Worries about neutrality have always played second fiddle to larger strategic priorities when it comes to these situations.

The notion that the use of mercenaries is somehow a new issue in conflict with regards to their employment in countries like Iraq and Afghanistan simply isn't backed up by the facts.

My next issue with Couch's article is when he somehow manages to equate Mark Mitchell, when he was Defence Minister, calling for New Zealand companies to bid for New Zealand Defence Force contracts as part of the 15 year, $20b investment in upgrading and overhauling New Zealand's defence infrastructure and capabilities, as somehow meaning that New Zealand money will be "promoting further violence."

Who does Couch think supplies the equipment that the New Zealand Defence Force uses? Of course it's private companies. Whether it's their uniforms, the food they eat, the kit they carry with them, the weapons and ammunition they use, it's all virtually all provided by private companies, and it makes perfect sense for it to be.

Mitchell's press release as Defence Minister made perfect sense for a Defence Minister to say. It's much more preferable if New Zealand companies are able to, where practical, supply the equipment and facilities that our defence force needs to perform its roles, rather than sending that money offshore.

Couch's attempt to somehow conflate private military forces or security firms, like the Threat Management Group founded by Mark Mitchell, and a call for New Zealand firms to tender to supply equipment and build infrastructure for the NZDF, is truly weird.

As I mentioned at the start, there are questions that it'd be good to get some answers around Mark Mitchell's background. But Couch's article, very nearly descending into moral and ethical panic as it does, adds little of value to the discussion.

Calls for generational change out of step with aging electorate

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When I hear the latest buzzword "generational change" being bandied about to describe politicians, it makes me cringe. There's almost a element of ageism about the term. It's as if somehow people who don't represent generational change (a term largely based on age rather than anything more meaningful such as values or policies) are less valuable to society, or have less to contribute to our political discourse.

The reality is that New Zealand, like most other Western democracies, has an aging population, a fact which gets amplified through voting patterns. In the 2017 election some 51% of voters were over 50-years-old. The median age of the voting public also greyed - increasing from 47 in 2014 to 48 in 2017.

In fact, the share of the voting public in the age bracket that seems to be most associated with generational change - MPs aged between 35 and 44 shrunk at the last election. While there was an increase in the share of votes coming from those aged 18 - 34, it was offset by growth at the older end of the spectrum.

Factoring into this too is that the median age of New Zealand's population is rapidly increasing, sitting at 37 in 2016. It's likely to likely to hit 40 by the early 2030s, and could accelerate further due to a falling fertility rate.

Throw in analysis around how each of the parties performed for the party vote in each age bracket (remember that this is a fairly broad analysis, so is indicative rather than gospel), and the whole idea of generational change for generational change's sake is a tad nonsensical. There's a very large pool of voters (and I mean people who go and actually participate in elections by casting votes) who aren't representative of generational change at all.

Ignoring or discounting the importance of those voters who emphasising or overstating an apparent need for generational change is done at your own peril.

How do you think Winston Peters has managed to claw out an ongoing niche for himself over the years? I'm not suggesting that National should go down the route of emulating Winston Peters. But they have to be mindful of not turning their back on older voters. If those voters perceive National doesn't care about them anymore, there's really only one place for them to go, and that's to Winston, and that doesn't help National's cause at all.

There are generational policy challenges ahead. Issues like climate change and the housing crisis require long-term thinking. Yet the age of a party's leader and a claim to represent generational change in leadership in itself does not qualify one to be any better equipped to deal with those challenges than their gender, marital or familial status, sexual orientation, or their accent.

What matters more is whether their values match enough of the electorate, whether their policies can deliver outcomes that benefit enough voters and, not least of all, whether their personal style engenders confidence that they understand people's concerns and a sense of trust that they will address them.

Age, and by extension generational change, in itself does not provide politicians with a monopoly on these things. The world is far more complicated than that.

Ultimately, leaders are meant to lead for all New Zealanders, not just lead  for one generation over another.

There are old conservatives, there are young conservatives. There are old liberals, there are young liberals. Judge a leader's suitability on their values, their policies, their personality and style, but not their age and whether it symbolises generational change.

Libertas Digital's National Leadership MP Endorsement Tracker

To help everyone keep track of everything that's going on with National's leadership race, I thought I'd throw together a tracker so we can see who's running and which MPs are backing them. At this stage I've included both Mark Mitchell and Steven Joyce in the race, even though neither have made a declaration about whether they're in or out at the time of writing. I figured it'd be easier to include them now and remove them later than the other way around.

I've listed them in order of announcing, with Mark Mitchell and Steven Joyce alphabetically by first names. There's 28 blue bars as they need 29 to win, but obviously their own vote is the finishing line. I'll endeavour to keep this up-to-date based on publicly available endorsements, of which I'm only aware of four in favour of Amy Adams.

If they don't run it'll mean I don't have to have all those words awkwardly on the left like that. The fun of optimising graphics to display in link snippets on social media platforms!

A few thoughts on National's future direction...

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I'm not endorsing any of the candidates for National Party leader. I'm sorry to disappoint, but I've been very fortunate to work with all of those who are either in or are thinking about contesting, and I don't think it'd be appropriate for me to declare a preference one way or the other. While I have my preferences on who I'd like to see, and I have my reckons on who I think will win, what is ultimately more important to me is to see an change in the direction and tone that the National Party takes in the two and a half years leading up to the 2020 election.

Being in opposition is hard work. I haven't worked for or been involved with National when they've been in opposition, so I made a point of talking to a lot of people who were there before 2008 to get their thoughts on what National needs to do this term.

The challenge of opposition, especially when you've just been removed from Government, is a difficult one. You're balancing up three themes to your work:

  1. Defending the legacy of your time in Government
  2. Holding the new Government to account over its promises and its mistakes
  3. Positioning yourself as a credible Government in waiting for the next election.

Once you get beyond the first term of opposition, those themes narrow down to themes two and three, as typically the Government has, by then, largely undone the policies from your last time on the Treasury benches that they were likely to target anyway.

On that note, I've been thinking about how National could have better positioned a couple of recent initiatives to satisfy all three of those themes. These are the "Save our regional highway projects" and the "Protect NZ jobs" campaigns.

Broadly speaking, these campaigns largely mirror ideas I shared in my blog "Possible opposition strategies for the 52nd Parliament". The issue I have with both of them is the way they've been framed. While many of the regional highway projects in the petitions enjoy significant local support, people generally mobilise best when it comes to saving whales, or other endangered species, "saving" a road that hasn't been built is a hard concept to sell. Likewise, "Protect NZ jobs" feels to me more like a title Labour would have given to a campaign against a free trade agreement or to introduce tariffs or other Fortress New Zealand economic policies from the 1970s.

To be fair, I didn't really address this when I did my original blog. Possibly I should have if the ideas I'm writing here are being picked up and run with, though I can't give away all my good ideas for free! (hint hint - call me!).

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A simple change in the framing of them could have created a much better impression. "Save our regional highway projects" should have been named "Keep New Zealand moving", while "Project NZ jobs" should have been "Keep New Zealand working".

You still have the same general purpose of the campaigns, but the emphasis is changed. The framing of the campaigns isn't any longer seemingly about preserving some sort of Key/English status quo of policy. Rather you have the broader, and much easier to sell, message that National is all about keeping New Zealand growing and moving forward to make it a better place to live, work, and raise a family, all the while as framing Labour as wanting to put the brakes on that progress.

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The words "Save" and "Protect" are useful from an emotive sense, but you have to have a genuinely emotive issue to get people engaged if you're going to use them. The ultimate end game might be to save a roading project that's under threat, but the message you want to tell voters is that you're working hard so that their roads, and therefore local economy, keeps growing and moving forward.

I think this is at the heart of putting National in the best position to win in 2020 regardless of whoever is leader. You have to find a way to not only combine those three themes of defend, hold to account, and Government in waiting, in nearly everything you do, but also have them all flow towards that third point of being the next Government.

It's something that has to be reflected in all National's messaging, it's policies, and how its Leader and MPs conduct themselves. They need to be the party that has a vision to keep New Zealand growing, moving, working, healthy, happy, safe, and so on. It's an concept that will require a lot of policy rework, some bold and innovative ideas that steal a march on Labour's claim to be the future focused party. And ultimately, it'll mean that the above graphic of "Keep New Zealand moving" will need to have some trains, buses, and maybe even light rail in it too, and not just roads.


And before you jump all over me about design aesthetics, I've literally just whipped those up from my sickbed with a grumpy toddler in the house. So I won't claim it's my best work, just a starter for 10.

LIVE: National Party Leadership Race

20 February, 8am: Steven Joyce announced he's in the leadership race on RNZ's Morning Report.

19 February, 2.40pm: Mark Mitchell has now announced that he's running for leader. Says he's had strong support, was approached three weeks ago to consider standing in the event of Bill English resigning.

19 February, 12.55pm: It's been a bit quiet over the weekend. But Mark Mitchell is poised to make an announcement at 2.30pm in Orewa. Still no word from Steven Joyce. We've put together a MP Endorsement Tracker to keep up with any public endorsements from MPs for a specific candidate. We appreciate there's a lot of speculation about how many votes each candidate might have behind the scenes, but we're no really able to count those.

15 February, 3.40pm: Jonathan Coleman has ruled himself out of the leadership race.

14 February, 3.35pm: Amy Adams has announced she's running for leader. She was joined at the announcement with Nikki Kaye, Maggie Barry, Chris Bishop, and Tim Macindoe, the first show of support from any MPs for a leadership candidate

14 February, 11am: Simon Bridges has announced he's running for leader.

14 February, 10:30am: Correction: RNZ only say that Mark Mitchell had confirmed he's considering making a bid, but only after he's visited his daughter in Australia. I misread their tweet!

14 February, 9.45am: Newstalk ZB has Steven Joyce saying he's considering options on running for the leadership.


Over the coming days I'll try to put together a quick graphic as and when news breaks about who's in and who's out of the National Party's leadership contest. I'll endeavour to update it as and when announcements are made, though I'm still recovering from a nasty illness and injury so will be entirely dependent on whether I'm able to get out of bed.

The above is based on publicly reported statements that I've seen on Twitter. Where an MP hasn't yet made any statement (e.g. Amy Adams hasn't said anything at all on the race) I've opted to not include them in any of the boxes.

Previewing 2018: National

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2018 will be a tricky year for National, with the Labour-led government still benefitting from a new car smell, and being able to formally launch a raft of signature policies, especially over the first half of the year. So what's in store for the blue team in 2018?

National kicked off the 2018 political year early, with Transport spokesperson Judith Collins launching a series of petitions designed to put the government under pressure to regarding a raft of roading projects that had been proposed under National. This was followed by Nikki Kaye launching another petition calling on the government to resource schools so that primary and intermediate aged school children had access to be taught a second language.

Politically they're both useful strategies. Many of the roading projects being fought for via the petitions enjoy significant support at the electorate level, and Nikki Kaye's second language petition stems from a policy idea National launched in election 2017 that was very warmly received. I suspect much of National's approach in 2018 will look similar to what we've seen over the past couple of weeks.

That means that on the one hand National will look to a piece of Key/English era policy that's under threat and use a potential threat to it as a way to attack the new government, but at the same time they'll promote a new, innovative policy in a different area. It's a strategy that will allow National to both stand up to protect their own record in government, as well as move their policy platform forward for 2020.

Remember too that petitions aren't just about promoting a policy or pressuring the government on a given issue, they're also an important tool to bolster email lists and inform voter ID databases. Expect a steady stream of these throughout 2018.

The big question that will hover over National throughout 2018 is whether Bill English will stay or go. English indicated after the election that he intended to stay on to contest 2020 as leader, and the reality is that should he want to, and National's poll numbers continue to hold up, there's every chance he could do that. Bill English is immensely well respected and liked within the National Party, and unless National's polling drops below 40%, it's unlikely there will be any moves to challenge him.

In the event that English decides to leave, or the poll numbers drop off, I'd expect any leadership transition to take place in the second half of the year, possibly around June to August. In part, this is because the new government should, off the back of a busy first half of the year, hit its best poll numbers as a result of the Budget, meaning that post-Budget could be when Bill English decides to call stumps on what's been a long and dedicated career of public service.

Likewise, from that point forward, the strengths that English would trade on versus the government - the experience of him and his team - will deliver diminishing returns as more water goes under the government's bridge as their team builds on their own experience and irons out any teething problems.

Much of National's ability to reinvent themselves going into 2020 may well rest on what English does. If English does decide to leave, along with the leadership contest, it will likely trigger a few other departures too. List MPs like David Carter, Chris Finlayson, and Nicky Wagner may well announce their departures soon after, while a slew of electorate MPs such as Gerry Brownlee, Anne Tolley, Ian McKelvie, and Nick Smith, will likely wait until late 2019 or early 2020 to announce they won't be standing again. I'd be genuinely surprised if any of the National electorate MPs leave mid-term and trigger a by-election, unless they happen to stand for a local body role in 2019.

All of this leaves the question - if not Bill English as leader, then who? In my mind there's a handful of contenders who I'll list in no particular order:

  • Paula Bennett: Currently Deputy Leader, and former Deputy Prime Minister, Bennett is generally well liked throughout the party. Much like John Key, she not only has a compelling backstory, but she does tend to polarise opinion outside the party, with people either loving or hating her. Bennett's personal "westie" brand would offer an interesting contrast with the more inner city urban charisma of Jacinda Ardern.
  • Simon Bridges: National's Leader of the House, Bridges has long been talked about as a future leader of the party. Respected throughout the party, Bridges occupies a special place in National for having nearly snuffed out New Zealand First by beating Winston Peters in Tauranga in 2008. Bridges also has experience going one-on-one versus Ardern, having both been part of TVNZ's political "Young Guns" panel on Breakfast.
  • Nikki Kaye: The Auckland Central MP and former Education Minister has one thing that no other candidate has - she's beaten Jacinda Ardern not once, but twice in Auckland Central, a seat that demographically could be a strong Labour seat. Kaye has also won plaudits both for a formidable work ethic, as well as bringing a fresh and innovative approach to her portfolio areas. While Nikki Kaye has recently ruled out running to be leader if Bill English leaves, I don't think anyone should read too much into that denial.
  • Amy Adams: With her background and links to rural New Zealand, Adams offers an opportunity for National to go after New Zealand First in provincial New Zealand. On top of that, Adams also has a strong grasp of policy and a well respected record during her tenure as a Minister. Adams also kept her powder dry during the post-Key leadership contest.
  • Jonathan Coleman: Following John Key's resignation, the then Health Minister pitched himself as someone who could refresh National's approach. There's no reason to think that Coleman's ambition has diminished since going into opposition, and his hand may very well be strengthened in a post-English world.

Outside possibilities include Judith Collins, who challenged for the leadership in December 2016, as well as Steven Joyce who has refused to speculate on any ambition to be leader of the party.

Whatever happens with National's leadership, there is a need to use 2018 to make the switch from the traditional combative role of opposition to being an opposition that leads the conversation on policy issues. The usual attack-based approach to opposition didn't work for either Labour or National during their spells in the wilderness in the past two decades, and it was only largely when both parties moved away from that approach that they started to enjoy electorate success.

This will be a challenge for National, because as much as they need to make this switch going into 2020, it's also important that they're not seen to turn their backs too quickly on the Key/English era. A leadership change would make this easier, but it is still possible if English decides to stay on to contest the 2020 election.

National will still need to, as much as possible, hold the government to account, keep the feet of poorly performing or struggling government ministers to the fire, poke and prod at policy and personality tension points between Labour, New Zealand First, and the Greens, and ensure that they make their voices heard at Parliament. But now is the time to get their ducks in a row for 2020.

National uses petitions to pressure government over roads

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National's first move of the 2018 political year is to put local pressure on the government over nine roading projects that were a result of the last government.

It's a move that picks up on an idea I suggested back in October 2017, whereby MPs use local petitions in a move to both bolster their local political standing and force the government to expend political capital, especially in regional New Zealand, in order to either change or ditch those projects.

At an electorate level it's a good move. Many of these projects enjoy significant local support, and are largely in areas where National did well in the party vote. In a way, National is somewhat forced into defending them regardless of whether they were actually needed, because to let them be turfed without a fight could be seen as turning their back on legacy projects of the National government.

Likewise, it gives the local National MP a chance to attack the government and keep their supporters politically engaged while the new government, presumably, steadies itself after a bumpy start last year.

From the other perspective, the government is able to take the edge off these petitions. Without wanting to rush any review process, if the government is able to provide a clearer picture and timeline about the future of transport projects, especially if that future involves pursuing an alternative project in that area, they'll be able to fend off the worst of the pressure.

Much of the heat that the government will take at the local level will be from the future uncertainty generated by the review. While there will be some resentment over changes to previously announced projects, and undoubtedly a group of people not believing any changed project would actually be delivered, being able to speak to an alternative transport solution will help the government greatly.

None of this is to say some of the roading projects National had planned don't have merit, or that some of them are unnecessary or uneconomic, but I'll leave that to other commentators to analyse.

The real aims for National out of this exercise should be as follows:

  • force the government to expend political capital defending the reviews and changes,
  • keep the morale up of supporters in the regions in the short term,
  • grow their database of supporter contact details and policy interest areas,
  • and, once the government has inevitably made decisions and changes to those projects, work towards a new, more balanced 21st century transport policy to take into the 2020 election.

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.

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.

Possible opposition strategies for the 52nd Parliament

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It is the rule in war, if ten times the enemy’s strength, surround them; if five times, attack them; if double, be able to divide them; if equal, engage them; if fewer, defend against them; if weaker, be able to avoid them.
— Sun Tzu, The Art of War, Chapter III: Strategic Attack

With Parliament getting back underway next week, I thought it'd be useful to briefly take a look at some of the strategies that each of the opposition parties might use over the coming months. These ideally play to the strengths, and avoid the weaknesses that each party has.

National

National is in the interesting position of dominating the opposition benches in a way no opposition party has in the MMP era. With only David Seymour in ACT to share the benches with, they won't face the issues that Labour did in opposition where they were frequently outshone by New Zealand First or the Green Party. There were plenty of times when Winston Peters, Russel Norman, Metiria Turei, and more recently James Shaw, all seemed to be more effective leaders of the opposition than whoever was at the helm for Labour.

With that in mind, National still does need to stick to its knitting - the economy, law and order, and supporting provincial New Zealand. With mixed messages already coming out of the Labour-led government about the future of the economy and their spending plans, National needs to seize on these inconsistencies, and any bad economic news that might arise, and stick it squarely on the Labour-led government and it policies.

National also needs to be ready to identify inconsistencies in policy positions between the three parties in government and pounce on these to fuel the internal tensions with the government and the parties themselves. With the Green Party and New Zealand First diametrically opposed in many policy areas, there should be plenty of opportunities to highlight these differences, especially in Question Time. They should have particular fun in finding contradictory statements from the Green Party and New Zealand First, then forcing the relevant Labour Minister, or the Prime Minister herself, to pick sides in these disagreements.

With a view to the 2020 election, National also needs to take the fight to New Zealand First and Labour in rural and provincial New Zealand. With more than half of New Zealand First's vote coming from extremely strong National Party seats, National should be able to take enough support from New Zealand First to ensure they're not in Parliament after the next election. Going after Winston Peters' Provincial Pork Barrel will be difficult, unless the entire thing ends up as a series of useless white elephants.

Where National can do well is by picking its battles in the provinces. For example, if there's a provincial roading project that's shovel ready and construction was due to start soon, the local National MP, should be leading a campaign to save that project from the review of all projects that is party of Labour's policy platform. These have to be projects that have either just, or are about to, start construction, or are going through the resource consent process already, instead of ones that were still very much on the drawing board.

The local MP should be looking to run petitions, ask both written and oral questions in Parliament, and work the hell out of the Official Information Act to ensure that if a project is cancelled in their electorate, they've forced the government to expend the maximum amount of political capital in doing so.

National does, however, need to pick its battles. Issues like Auckland's Regional Fuel Tax might be better left to go through to the keeper, given there seems to be relatively widespread support for it. Likewise, National should generally be supportive of the social initiatives that Labour is looking to rollout to try and solve child poverty, while encouraging them to make use of the Social Investment approach that was gaining traction.

In terms of the House, where National could play Labour, the Green Party, and New Zealand First off against each other to progress legislation in a relatively quick manner over the past three terms, as well as to get progress on issues on the Business Committee, Labour doesn't quite have the same option this time, with National able to decide how fast, or slow, it wants legislation to progress in the House and through Select Committees. Though National will need to be careful it doesn't end up looking more like the US Republicans if it does so.

Also, while it might be tempting, National has to avoid Labour's mistake of barking at every passing car, or overplaying the hand they're given by a government mistake. Being in a perpetual state of outrage over every little indiscretion didn't get Labour anywhere fast, and National needs to remember that and stay focused on the major issues.

With that in mind, while they're busy battling away on the above, National also has to be working on developing bold and innovative policies that they can take to the 2020 election. Labour's "Future of Work" roadshow offers a model of how to do this, though obviously National has to avoid the mistakes Labour made when it came to launching the final results of it. Instead, National needs to go around New Zealand, listen to people, hear their concerns, their ideas, and their dreams, and then come up with, or look overseas for, policies that can help address those things.

Because while National may hope for the best - that is either New Zealand First or the Green Party implodes before 2020 - they should prepare for the worse - that the government makes it through the term in reasonable shape and that they'll be campaigning against a popular, charismatic, and much more experienced Jacinda Ardern than the one who tripped over several times this past campaign. Unless National can find their own personality solution to match Jacinda Ardern, their best option is to take innovative and exciting policies to the 2020 election.

ACT

If ACT is to survive it needs to reinvent itself, and fast. David Seymour looks set to get one question every three weeks in Question Time, which is hardly going to make things easy to score zingers in the House. Seymour's End of Life Choice Bill will help with his profile as he champions an extremely important and topical issue, and he may even get helped if it does go to a public referendum too, as it'll provide even more profile for Seymour's role in helping make this happen.

Seymour will also fight tooth and nail to save Partnership Schools from being closed, and that's sure to provide a lot of ammunition for him as Chris Hipkins is forced to confront parents whose children have been failed by state schools.

Rodney Hide's old hat of Perk Buster has also sat largely untouched since he left Parliament, and it's possible that Seymour could gain some traction and headlines out of that. There look to be several government ministers and policies that will be implemented that could be ripe pickings for Seymour if he goes down this tract. And with little to do during Question Time, Seymour would do well to target this as an area of opportunity, especially as it will help differentiate him from National.

But outside of that, Seymour needs to fundamentally change ACT. I don't think New Zealand culture has ever particularly warmed to the very libertarian ideas that ACT has come to represent, or even it's name for that matter! Instead, Seymour and ACT need to find a way to put a Kiwi flavour into that approach. They need to accept, for instance, that New Zealanders seem relatively comfortable with the government's role in our economy and society being roughly where it is now, somewhere in the order of 30% of GDP.

While it's also good that ACT has moved away from its previous flat tax rate positions, it's still proposing some quite drastic cuts. Where ACT might do better is building on Seymour's previous work around tax bracket creep, where wage inflation means that more and more people progressively end up in higher tax brackets, and instead focus on matching increases in the tax brackets with inflation instead to ensure people don't find their wage increases progressively eroded.

So where does that leave ACT? I think the Partnership Schools issue might be the nucleus of where ACT can invent its own Kiwi flavoured libertarianism, one that accepts that the government does, by virtue of our small size, have a role to play in New Zealand's economy and society, but that the government should use its role to enable New Zealanders to have choices about how they interact with that.

Partnership Schools are, in essence, about giving families choices to help their children get an education where state schools have failed them. How this might translate to other sectors it's hard to say, for instance you're hardly going to have a choice of police forces. But in health, for instances, you might be to get rid of the crazy system of having to enrol at a GP practice, and instead enable people to go to whichever GP they choose for the same price. I can't pretend to be a policy expert on this, but it's clear that ACT's libertarian approach as it stands needs to be changed to better reflect Kiwi values.

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.

National's most and least valuable electorates

Big party vote wins in 10 key electorates with significantly higher than average voter turnouts proved to be the backbone to the National Party's remarkable 44.4 per cent party vote total.

I've decided to kick off a series looking at the most and least valuable electorates for National, Labour, New Zealand First, the Greens, The Opportunities Party, and the Māori Party to see if they dispel, or confirm, some of the commonly held myths about our political parties, as well as looking at some of the strengths, weaknesses and opportunities they present to the parties. To do this I've looked at the top 10 and bottom 10 electorates for each of those parties in terms of how many votes they contributed to their party's overall party vote tally.

I'll work through the parties in order of party votes received this election, so we'll kick off with National. It's clear that the backbone to National's support confirms the commonly held perception that affluent and rural areas back National heavily. So no surprises there.

What I think is interesting though is how high the turnout is in those electorates too. The top two electorates for voter turnout - Rodney and Selwyn - delivered National 15.16 percentage points (pp) and 14.61pp more party votes than National would get on the night. Even in Waikati, the third highest turnout where National's share of the party vote was the lowest of their top 10 most valuable electorates, it was still 9.40pp higher than the end result.

Those top 10 electorates delivered for National 20.96% of their overall party vote tally this election, despite only representing 15.8% of overall party votes cast across the entire country. National's ability to not only win big in terms of party votes, but also in terms of turnout in these 10 seats. You'll see later this week that Labour has the opposite problem, in that its support is somewhat more evenly spread out around the country.

Unsurprisingly, the seven Māori electorates are the seven worst performing electorates for National, with Te Tai Tonga delivering National 12.47% of the party vote in that electorate being the only standout. But as National doesn't campaign in those electorates I've removed them from this analysis as it doesn't really tell us anything we didn't know before hand.

Where things get more interesting is when you start to look at National's least valuable electorates outside of the seven Māori electorates.

Manukau East, as I've written previously, was the sole electorate in the country to experience a swing to the right. While that, and the fact that National also grew their party vote in Manukau East too, will be welcome news for National, it's also National's second least valuable electorate in the country (excluding the Māori electorates as discussed above). Likewise other electorates where National did grow their share of the party vote in Auckland like Māngere, Manurewa, and Kelston, are all electorates with some of the lowest voter turnout rates. So again, National can be pleased it's won some extra votes in those seats, they're not in big enough quantities to make a meaningful difference.

What is interesting is that of the top 10 electorates for turnout, only Wellington Central makes an appearance in National's least valuable seats.

When you start to look at the broader picture, 39.7% of National's support comes from its top 20 seats, and 67% of it comes from half of all electorates, illustrating just how dependent National is on those electorates with large turnouts voting for National in large numbers. 

While this is clearly a strength of National's, it's also their key weakness. Should they lose even a few percentage points of support in those key seats, it has a much larger effect on National's overall prospects. If you were Labour looking ahead to the 2020 election, you'd be asking yourself the two questions of how to you maximise your own turnout in your safe seats, but also how can you steal back some gains from National in what are some pretty clearly defined geographical areas, the rural fringes of Auckland and the inner city suburbs of Epsom, Tāmaki, and the North Shore.

I think these a selection of electorates that, if National can maintain their strength in those top 10, could also soon join them, they are:

  1. Coromandel (6th for turnout, 50.98% party vote for National)
  2. Ōtaki (10th turnout, 46.03% party vote)
  3. Whangarei (11th turnout, 44.85% party vote)
  4. Northland (15th turnout, 46.18% party vote)
  5. Wairarapa (16th turnout, 48.64% party vote)
  6. Taupō (17th turnout, 53.74% party vote)
  7. Tauranga (19th turnout, 52.62% party vote)

What ties all these electorates together is that they all have much higher than average voter turnout rates, and they all party voted for National at a higher rate than the rest of the country. I think Whangarei and Northland could be very interesting in that regard, as with Shane Jones and Winston Peters respectively in those electorates, they boosted New Zealand First's party votes there too, meaning that if New Zealand First implodes this Parliament, then National stands to benefit greater.

Coromandel, Ōtaki, Wairarapa, and Taupō electorates are all what should be strong, provincial electorates for National, and Coromandel and Ōtaki in particular should lean that way further through a combination of rapidly aging populations and in Ōtaki's case especially, some massive infrastructure projects in the works over the coming five years.

Bill and Winston almost owe Colin Craig a beer... almost

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When they're sitting down for coalition negotiations over the coming days, Bill English and Winston Peters should raise a glass in honour of Colin Craig, the man who saved both their parties this election.

Well, I'm exaggerating a bit there. But an analysis comparing preliminary results from both the 2014 and 2017 elections suggests a correlation between electorates where the Conservatives won a high share of the party vote and the electorates in 2017 which comparatively contributed more to the final overall party vote totals of National and New Zealand First this election.

The idea is simple. In 2014 approximately 95,000 New Zealanders voted for the Conservative Party led by Colin Craig. In the preliminary results on 20 September 2014, that figure was 86,616. In 2017's preliminary results that figure had dropped to just 5,318. On election night there were some 81,298 voters who had left the HMNZS Colin Craig in those three years, and I wanted to find them.

There were a few assumptions that were easy to make. I thought it was pretty unlikely many of them would have switched their votes to Labour, the Greens, or even The Opportunities Party given TOP's liberal stance on marijuana.

The issues that motivated voters to cast their ballots for the Conservatives were predominantly social issues that they had a conservative take on. That meant there were only three likely parties for those votes to go to.

Given ACT got so few votes, it was clear they hadn't all rushed there. Plus ACT under David Seymour emphasises a more libertarian ideology than say the ACT of John Banks or Richard Prebble which had a healthy does of social conservatism mixed in with its Rogernomics bent.

That left only National and New Zealand First as the two contenders for those votes. National under John Key was a fairly socially liberal party, but Bill English, as a Catholic, does have a socially conservative streak in him. Likewise New Zealand First and in particular Winston Peters, have always appealed to the protectionist, anti-outsider, harking back to the good-old-days mentality that is commonly associated with voters of a conservative nature. And, if overseas experience teaches us anything, those of a conservative nature aren't shy about voting, so I didn't expect them to stay away in large numbers.

What I wanted to see specifically though was whether this translated into my previous examination of the changing party vote share in each electorate between the two elections. Maybe I'd missed something. Could National's stronger than expected (and Labour's weaker than expected) results in Auckland be explained purely off Conservative voters bulking up the ranks of National and New Zealand First.

The answers surprised me. As you might imagine, there seems to be a pretty clear correlation that generally shows that in electorates where the Conservatives did well in 2014, then those electorates managed to contribute more to the overall party vote totals of National and New Zealand First than they did in 2014.

And bare in mind that this is off preliminary results from 2014 and 2017, so I'm trying to compare apples with apples as much is possible across two elections.

In case you can't expand the above image, the light blue line is the share of the party vote that the Conservatives received in each electorate in 2014. The dark blue and grey lines is the percentage change of how those electorates contributed to National and New Zealand First's overall party vote in 2017 compared to 2014. If the lines jut out to the right it means that electorate has contributed a greater share to the party's overall party vote than it did in 2014. If it's to the left, it contributed less overall. Where I'd earlier just looked at individual electorates in isolation, this allows us to compare electorates within the context of the overall party vote. So I'll dig more into this later.

As you can see in the above image (if you need a bigger version feel free to contact me) where the Conservatives got over 4.47% of the party vote in an electorate in 2014 (that's Waitaki in the above) there appears to have been enough support transferred to National and New Zealand First in 2017 to shore up their support.

As New Zealand First needed fewer of those Conservative votes in each electorate to prop up their party vote numbers, I have to wonder if there was a bit of a churn cycle going on as National sought to replace the support it was losing to Labour. This cycle would see Conservative voters largely going to New Zealand First and some to National, but New Zealand First shedding voters towards National, especially in the large rural or provincial city electorates where National made a big push during the campaign.

Where the Conservatives got 4.47% they generally don't seem to have had enough votes to protect National or New Zealand First. Notable at the bottom of the list are Wellington Central, Auckland Central, and Mt Albert, all places that were in the top 10 locations that Labour grew its party vote relative to 2014.

Where things start to get interesting too is that this highlights the importance of National's performance in West and South Auckland outside of just collecting former Conservative and New Zealand First voters. Looking at the top 10 electorates where National grew it's share of the party vote relative to 2014, only Botany and Pakuranga sit above that tipping point where the number of Conservative voters was high enough to protect National and New Zealand First.

What's also worth noting about all of those electorates is that they have some of the worst voter turnout rates - if not the worst - in the country. It means that not only did National manage to capitalise on Labour's weaknesses with ethnic communities and potentially the mortgage belt in Auckland, but also Labour simply was not able to turn out voters with nearly all of those electorates down in total votes in the 2017 preliminary results compared to 2014 (only Botany and Te Atatu recorded more preliminary votes) which seems incredible when you consider that there should be more people living in those electorates relative to 2014!

There's a few outliers in the data. New Zealand First's Clutha-Southland performance for one, which I suspect is driven by other, more recent events in that electorate, while Northland and Whangarei were likely driven by the presence of Winston Peters and Shane Jones respectively.

That's enough for now! Will churn through some more insights from this dataset soon hopefully. And obviously I'll try to re-run this analysis to to compare the final results from 2014 with the final results from 2017.

National's Auckland firewall visualised

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Auckland has become the National Party's firewall as demonstrated by their ability to either grow or minimise party vote loss across all but five of Auckland's 22 electorates.

What's interesting about this relative to Labour is that it illustrates that Labour has largely taken party vote share from the Green Party to achieve its gains North-Western Auckland, while Labour has hurt National directly in Auckland Central and the directly adjacent electorates of Mt Albert, Epsom, North Shore, and Tamaki.

As shown in my analysis of Labour's failure to mobilise its voters in West and South Auckland, these areas nearly all grew National's party vote share relative to 2014, barring Maungakieie (which only dropped 0.15% points).

In summary:

  • Five electorates lost more of the party vote share for National than their average loss across New Zealand (excluding the Maori electorates)
  • Five electorates lost less than the party vote share for National than the average
  • And 12 electorates actually grew National's share of the party vote, though Hunua and Upper Harbour could easily tip in a the above category once special votes are counted.