In October’s general election the National Party expects to regain most of the rural and regional electorates it lost to the incumbent Labour government in 2020.
Based on current polling, National may return to holding at least two-thirds of provincial electorate seats, compared with one-third after then-prime minister Jacinda Ardern led Labour’s red wave to a sweep of the country.
In 2017 National won 45% of the party votes and had 55 MPs, before being left out of coalition government by NZ First and Labour, only to crash to 25% and 33 MPs in 2020.
Recent polls indicate it could have 45-47 MPs and be in a position to form a government with the high-flying ACT Party after October’s election.
National went into the 2020 election with a 10-to-one advantage over Labour in the rural and regional electorates.
It had vote majorities as high as 19,500 in predominantly rural seats like Selwyn, where Nicola Grigg took over from Amy Adams for National, but her majority was cut by two-thirds.
Eleven out of 26 rural and regional electorates were flipped from National to Labour: Northland, East Coast, Hamilton East, Hamilton West, Nelson, New Plymouth, Ōtaki, Rangitata, Tukituki, Wairarapa and Whanganui.
These were seats in which National had majorities of 2000-8000 votes in 2017.
Hamilton West has since gone back to National in a by-election.
For the general election, in order of winnability for National, the electorates most likely to come back from Labour are Northland, Whangārei, Tukituki, New Plymouth, Hamilton East, Ōtaki, Rangitata and Nelson.
In these electorates, approximately 200-2500 voters switching their votes from Labour to National would result in a change in representation.
Geographically, north to south, National expects to win back Northland, East Coast, Hawke’s Bay and Wairarapa, Taranaki and Whanganui, Nelson and Rangitata, all being traditional stronghold regions.
Financial consultant Blair Cameron is No 35 on National’s list and will be trying to win back Nelson from Rachel Boyack, ranked 42 for Labour and with a 4525-vote majority in 2020.
National Party leader Christopher Luxon has been touting the diversity of National’s list, and this has made for some interesting dynamics.
For example, National has 11 male candidates in rural and regional electorates who need to win to be assured of entering parliament because they are placed well down the party list.
Five are sitting MPs: Joseph Mooney, Invercargill (53 on the list), Scott Simpson, Coromandel (55), Stuart Smith, Kaikoura (56), Sam Uffindell, Tauranga (57) and Tim van der Molen in Waikato (58 on the list).
Six are candidates who have not been MPs before: Miles Anderson, Waitaki (59), Mike Butterick, Wairarapa (61), Tim Costley, Ōtaki (64), Ryan Hamilton, Hamilton East (66), David MacLeod, New Plymouth (67), and Grant McCallum, Northland (68).
National’s approach is to assume these 11 men will win their seats, allowing room for diverse candidates higher up the list.
For example, candidate Dana Kirkpatrick (at 44) is contesting East Coast against Tāmati Coffey, who had resigned from Parliament – until Kiri Allan also resigned and Coffey was persuaded by Labour to stand.
Four further women are high up on National’s list and are set to make it to Wellington: Nicola Grigg, Selwyn (19), Suze Redmayne, Rangitikei (21), Maureen Pugh, West Coast-Tasman (26) and Barbara Kuriger, Taranaki-King Country (36).
Only Redmayne is not a sitting MP. She is assured of inaugural success however the votes fall in Rangitikei, where former Federated Farmers president Andrew Hoggard is also running for the ACT Party.
He, too, will likely be going to Wellington on the strength of his No 5 placing on ACT’s list.
ACT agricultural spokesperson Mark Cameron, a dairy farmer in Northland, is also expected to return because of his seventh placing.
For Labour, the rural and regional MPs most assured to return to Wellington should they lose their electorate races are four cabinet ministers: Willow-Jean Prime, Northland (9), Damien O’Connor, West Coast-Tasman (10), Kieran McAnulty, Wairarapa (16), and Rangitata MP Jo Luxton (19), plus possibly Waimakariri candidate Dan Rosewarne (32) and Taranaki-King Country candidate Angela Roberts (35).
Further down Labour’s list are four women MPs facing do-or-die battles in their electorates: Anna Lorck, Tukituki (40), Angie Warren-Clark, Whangārei (43), Terisa Ngobi, Ōtaki (46) and Steph Lewis, Whanganui (50).
These list placings will not be successful, going by Labour’s current polling.
NZ First has three candidates standing in provincial electorates who are high on the party’s list and may make it to Wellington if NZ First achieves 5% party vote and re-enters parliament.
They are deputy leader Shane Jones, Northland (2), Marlborough District councillor Jamie Arbuckle, Kaikoura (5), and former MP, Otago farmer and agriculture spokesperson Mark Patterson, Taieri (6).
Businesswoman Helma Vermeulen in Whanganui is at No 10 on the NZ First list. Next highest-ranked candidate in a regional seat is Robert Ballantyne, Rangitata (12), a former farmer and businessman.