Saturday, December 2, 2023

Red or blue? Provincial voters could choose NZ’s next govt

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To get enough votes to form a coalition government after the 2023 general election, the National Party must achieve a blue wave of at least 10% across the country.
The wave of popularity that met Jacinda Ardern in 2020 swept her Labour Party to an unprecedented victory, with a clean sweep of the party votes in all provincial electorates.
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In the red wave of Jacinda Ardern popularity that swept the 2020 election, Labour gained 11 provincial electorates, 10 of them from National.

Historically the preserve of the National Party, provincial power is more evenly shared at present – National has 16 seats and Labour 13.

Prior to 2020, Labour held only two provincial seats – Napier and West Coast – outside the main population centres.

It gained 11 more provincial seats – Northland, Whangārei, Hamilton East and West, East Coast, Tukituki in Hawke’s Bay, Whanganui, Otaki, Wairarapa, Nelson and Rangitata.

The eight it will have highest hopes of retaining are on the East Coast (Kiri Allan), in Napier (candidate not selected), Whanganui (Steph Lewis), Wairarapa (Kieran McAnulty), Nelson (Rachel Boyack), West Coast (Damien O’Connor), Rangitata (Jo Luxton) and Taieri (Ingrid Leary).

Leary made a strong first-up showing in South Otago, where the new seat of Taieri contains Dunedin South, Mosgiel, Outram, Milton and Balclutha, with a majority of 12,398 votes.

Labour will also be counting on retaining at least five of the seven Māori seats with the other two likely to go to Te Pāti Māori.

The red wave of voting in 2020 saw Labour make a clean sweep of the party votes in all provincial electorates.

National’s total vote percentage dropped 10 percentage points, from 44% to 34%, while Labour’s rose 12 percentage points.

The National-held electorates that were previously majorities of 10,000-plus votes lost out heavily to Labour in the party votes, and candidates had their personal majorities chopped below 5000.

Typical was Selwyn in Canterbury, where Nicola Grigg won for National by 4968 personal votes, one of the best results for National, but the party vote went to Labour by 3486.

Neighbouring National MP Matt Doocey in the Waimakariri electorate won the seat by 1507 votes but lost the party vote to Labour by 9843.

To recall the conventional wisdom of National Party dominance of non-urban New Zealand, this is what I wrote in a 2020 pre-election article.

“National’s 2017 majorities in the provincial seats were such that most sitting MPs should only fear an unprecedented swing to Labour outside the cities.”

That unprecedented swing to Labour occurred – it achieved 50% of the party vote and 48% of the electorate vote.

It won party vote majorities in 71 of the 72 territorial electorates, the only exception being Epsom, including all urban, rural and regional electorates where National candidates won the personal vote and were elected.

National’s parliamentary presence dropped from 55 MPs to 33, while NZ First lost all its nine seats. National has subsequently improved to 34 with the Hamilton West 2022 by-election win for Tama Potaka.

The gains at the time of the general election were Labour plus 19, ACT plus nine, Greens plus two and Te Pāti Māori plus two. The gains were at the expense of National and NZ First.

Labour has subsequently lost Hamilton West and the Māori electorate of Ikaroa-Rāwhiti, where Meka Whaitiri has defected to Te Pāti Māori.

Assuming ACT Party retains its nine seats, National needs to win 52 seats to be able to form a coalition government, with a total vote share of 45%.

That means a gain of 18 on its current position, and that would require regaining almost all the losses of 2020 – 11 in the provinces and seven urban seats.

The enormity of National’s task cannot be over-emphasised.

In urban electorates Labour holds a clean sweep of Palmerston North, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin.

Four National MPs will retire at this election, all of them from provincial electorates.

Former short-term National Party leader Todd Muller has stood down in Bay of Plenty, a safe National seat he held for three terms.

Two six-term MPs for National, Jacqui Dean in Waitaki and David Bennett in Hamilton East, are retiring.

Four-term National MP and former Manawatū district mayor Ian McKelvie has retired, and the Rangitikei candidate selected is Suze Redmayne, producer for Coastal Lamb at Turakina.

In the Labour camp two-term Hamilton East MP Jamie Strange and two-term List MP in Rotorua, Tāmati Coffey, will not contest.

Neither will four-term MP for Labour in Napier, Stuart Nash, demoted from the cabinet recently for a breach of confidentiality.

One-term Whangārei MP Emily Henderson, who had one of the smallest majorities for a Labour-won electorate over Dr Shane Reti, will not stand again.

The biggest resignation from a Labour seat was that of former prime minister Jacinda Ardern in the inner-city electorate of Mt Albert, Auckland.

In total Labour has 11 resignations, about one-sixth of its total parliamentary strength.

The Electoral Commission will not make any boundary changes for the 2024 election, having made several in 2020 following a boundary review.

A boundary review occurs after each five-yearly census.

Each of 72 electorates presently contains approximately 65,000 to 67,000 people, including voters.

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