Joe Hendren

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Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Will Peters survive the election?

With the political career of Winston Peters now hanging by a thread, many are asking whether NZ First will survive this election. Yet in NZ First's case I believe a focus on the chance of the party regaining 5% or more of the party vote underestimates the regional nature of NZ First support.

Last month a poll showed Winston Peters 20% behind National candidate Simon Bridges for the Tauranga electorate. It is likely that Tauranga is now Bridges to lose, and Peters has no chance of regaining his old seat. That said, with NZ First running at around 3% in polls at the time most political pundits gave Peters a chance of making a comeback given Winston's fearsome campaigning skills. The same poll had NZ First on 6% support in the party vote contest - under half the 13.3% party vote percentage gained in Tauranga in 2005.

Shifting the focus entirely onto the national party vote misses something important about the nature of NZ First's support base - it has long had strong regional characteristics. This means the standings of candidates in electorate races in their previous area of strength will have a stronger correlation with their likely party vote than a party with support spread relatively evenly throughout New Zealand.

In a blog post prior to the 2005 election, I looked at NZ First's support base, making use of a useful post by Poster Child* that listed the top 10 electorates by party vote for each party. I summarised the situation based on the 2002 results:

NZ First support appears to be focused around the top of the North Island. In fact, most of these electorates are right next to each other - the Peters disease must be airborne! From Northland to the North, to Taranaki-King Country and Rotorua in the south, an iron passes over an Italian suit, and people fall for it. Thankfully, Auckland city appears to have greater immunity.

I thought it would be interesting to repeat the exercise using the 2005 results. Once again I was spared from having to trawl through all the election results thanks to DPFs election summary from 2005.

Using a map showing electorate boundaries from the Electoral Commission, I shaded in NZ First top 15 electorates in terms of the party vote. NZ First top electorate of Tauranga (then Bay of Plenty) is black, with lightening shades of grey used to illustrate lower levels of support. I can't say the shades of grey used have a scientific relationship to the levels of party vote - the graphic only aims to be indicative.

While Te Tai Tokerau was NZ First's 12th top electorate, I didn't include it as layered shading would have looked confusing - the outline of Te Tai Tokerau is roughly similar to that of Northland in any case.

Once again, the pattern is similar to 2002 with most of the the dark grey electorates surrounding Tauranga. A Winston bomb with a prevailing wind, with Auckland in a fallout shelter.

This suggests that polling in individual electorates, for both the party and the electorate vote is going to be more significant for NZ First than other parties. The survival of NZ First could well be determined by the levels of support in Tauranga, Bay of Plenty, Northland and Coromandel.

Some may wonder why I am so hard on Winston when we both have sceptical views towards the neo-liberal free trade agenda and the current Reserve Bank Act. Quite simply because NZ First possess limited credibility to be an effective advocate on these issues. While Peters may have campaigned on the left in 1996, he was a neo-liberal poodle as Treasurer between 1996 and 1998 - the supposed walkout over Wellington airport may have been an attempt to cover this up. While Peters may be right to strongly criticise Max Bradford's electricity reforms in 2008 - the fact is that NZ First joined National to vote in favour of these changes in 1998.

At the same time Peters was criticising big business, it has been revealed that he was taking large donations from Bob Jones. NZ First opposition to state funding of political parties now makes sense. As Murray Horton says Winston may talk the talk, but he fails to walk the walk.

So I hope NZ First is dog tucker this election. I hope for some political renewal where other parties take up issues such as fair trade and reform of monetary policy, and leave all the wink wink Asian bashing and public harassment of legitimate refugees such as Ahmed Zaoui in the political wilderness where they belong.

NZ First 2005 Top 15 Electorates by Party Vote Percentage
  1. Tauranga 13.3%
  2. Bay of Plenty 12.0%
  3. Northland 10.2%
  4. Coromandel 10.1%
  5. Rotorua 9.2%
  6. Whangarei 9.0%
  7. Wairarapa 8.9%
  8. Piako 8.9%
  9. Port Waikato 8.4%
  10. Rodney 8.1%
  11. Taranaki-King Country 8.1%
  12. Te Tai Tokerau 7.9%
  13. Taupo 7.8%
  14. Hamilton West 7.5%
  15. Rangitikei 7.4%

* A blog that is no longer with us - I wish Poster Child was still with us Bren, if you have started another blog in another guise please say hi :)

PS: DPF I could not find the link to your analysis - if there is one I am happy to add it.
PPS: For some reason blogger made this post before I had finished writing it. I am sure I only clicked 'save as draft' but found it had been published this morning. Be interested to know if anyone else has had similar issues with blogger. If the post seemed to be incomplete earlier - it was!

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