Provincial electorates are predicted to turn solidly blue this general election and sweep National into power with coalition partners the ACT Party and possibly New Zealand First.
Richard Harman, editor of the Politik website, expects the swing to National will be stronger in the provinces than in the big cities.
“It is hard to find a farmer or a rural person that admits to supporting Labour.
“The polls suggest up to 15% swing to National and it could be higher in rural and regional electorates,” he said.
The National Party has support in the high 30s according to the latest polls, which would deliver 46 seats, 13 more than it has currently.
Twelve is the number of rural and regional electorates Labour took from National in the red landslide of 2020.
“All the action in changing of parties is going to be in the provinces,” Harman said.
Provincial voters would be turning back the clock to 2017 and before, when National could rely upon a near sweep of rural and regional representation.
All that Labour won in 2017 outside of the biggest urban centres were West Coast-Tasman (Damien O’Connor), Palmerston North (Iain Lees-Galloway) and Napier (Stuart Nash).
NZ First leader Winston Peters had previously lost the Northland seat to National’s Matt King in a 2015 by-election.
National under Bill English reduced its count of MPs by four from former leader Sir John Key’s previous election in 2014.
None of the 23 rural and regional seats that it held were lost by National in 2017.
In contrast, Labour’s achievement in 2020 under Jacinda Ardern was extraordinary, when its 50% party vote plus local candidate support turned nearly half of the rural and regional electorates from blue to red.
When the dust settled, Labour had 15 provincial electorates, plus six of the seven Māori electorates, and National had retained 13.
Those 12 that went to Labour were, from north to south, Northland, Whangārei, Hamilton East and West, East Coast, Tukituki, New Plymouth, Whanganui, Wairarapa, Ōtaki, Nelson and Rangitata.
National under Judith Collins attracted just 25% of the party votes – only half of Labour’s total.
ACT and the Green Party registered 7-8% each and NZ First got 2.5%, down from 7.2%, and therefore lost its nine parliamentary seats.
This time round Labour’s strongholds are almost all inner-city electorates: 13 in Auckland, six in Wellington and five in Christchurch.
According to the Newsroom current poll projection of 33%, Labour could cut its numbers in half, from 65 MPs to 33.
The city MPs would be supplemented by as few as six or seven making it to Wellington from the Labour list.
Current ministers and high on Labour’s list are Grant Robertson, Jan Tinetti, Ayesha Verrall, Willie Jackson, Willow-Jean Prime, Adrian Rurawhe and Andrew Little.
In the exposed provincial electorates, Labour had 2020 vote majorities ranging from 163 (Northland) to 8191 (Whanganui).
In seats where Labour’s majority is 2000 to 6000, a swing to National of 5% would be enough to turn the map from red to blue.
A governing coalition of National and ACT would have a narrow majority of 61 in the 120-seat parliament.
They may, however, need the support of seven seats from NZ First.
Labour, the Greens and Māori Party could not govern with only 52 seats and Labour leader Chris Hipkins has already ruled out working with NZ First.