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What NZ First voters actually want

It's obvious what these supporters want, but divining the intention of all NZ First voters is very tricky.

ANALYSIS: Kiwis have spent a lot of time in the past few weeks discussing exactly what NZ First voters - all 187,000 of them - really want with their votes.

This matters a lot for people's arguments and the coalition-building process, especially with phrases like "moral authority" being chucked around.

If you see NZ First votes as a vote to change the Government - the slogan was "Had Enough?" - then New Zealanders delivered a clear majority for parties who want to see National booted out of office.

But if you see NZ First votes as a rural push-back against the metropolitan lefties in Labour and the Greens, then conservative parties have an obvious majority to keep Bill English as prime minister.

The few data-points that we've had - social media reactions, one Colmar Brunton poll with a 40-point lead for Labour - suggest NZ First voters are keen for a deal with Labour.

But social media is self-selecting (especially for younger and urban people), and the Colmar Brunton poll only had 72 NZ First voters to canvass the views of, leading to an 11.6 per cent margin of error. Since the poll was before the election, NZ First voters could be considering a deal just between Labour and NZ First, not Labour, NZ First and the Green Party, as they would now need to form a government.


So the present state of the voter base is somewhat mysterious. But with the help of the post-election New Zealand Election Study (NZES), which questions thousands of confirmed voters on a huge range of topics after each election, we can get a firm feeling on what the typical NZ First voter wants.


We can start with the most obvious question NZES throws out for our current predicament: If it came down to it, would they prefer National or Labour to be in Government?

In 2014, National was way ahead on this front with 41.74 per cent of NZ First voters preferring them to Labour. That compared to just 23.41 per cent wanting Labour over National.

Labour had a particularly bad election in 2014. Just 25 per cent of all votes went to them, not far above the mark for NZ First voters. In the survey, "Neither" beat them with 28 per cent of the vote.

Data from previous elections suggest that 2014 may have been a blip. In 2011 and 2008, Labour was way ahead of National with NZ First voters, about 20 points in 2011 and 15 in 2008.

Why the blip? Well, less than one-in-five NZ First voters held a positive view of Labour leader David Cunliffe. Hard to get over something like that.


To get around problems that NZ First voters may have had with specific iterations, parties or leaders, we can look at how they rate themselves politically. 

NZ First voters really do seem to see themselves as centrists. With a full 10-point scale on offer, where 0 is far left and 10 is far right, 33.2 per cent of NZ First voters in 2014 put themselves smack bang on 5 - the centre. Roughly 21 per cent of them put themselves on either the right or left of that.

However, this number has varied in previous elections. In 2011, the left-of-centre voters doubled the right-of-centre ones, but the right-of-centres doubled the left ones in 2008. Throughout all of this, the full centre-voters have enjoyed a firm majority.

But a simple 10-point scale can hide a lot. When we look at specific issues the typical NZ First voter becomes more complex. These voters are generally for greater government spending on universal benefits like superannuation, but slightly less inclined to favour more spending for targeted benefits, like the dole (they are still to the left of National voters on both of these issues.)

On social issues, over half them agreed in 2014 with the statement "reference to the Treaty of Waitangi should be removed from the law" - even keel with National voters but way above the number for Labour or Green voters. And about a quarter agreed that "abortion is always wrong" - far more than those who voted for Labour, National and the Greens.


One of the more interesting questions in the NZES asks who voters would never consider voting for.

On this front, there is some bad news for the NZ First/Green relationship - NZ First voters are no fans of the Greens. (The only party currently in Parliament they hate more is ACT.)

In the past three elections, at least a quarter of all NZ First voters said they would never vote for the Green Party. 

But this isn't necessarily good news for National - it follows close behind, with 20.59 per cent of NZ First voters in 2014 saying they would never consider voting for it.

Of all the parties in Parliament other than NZ First, these voters seem most attracted to the Labour Party. Even in the doldrums of 2014, just 7.14 per cent of them said they would never vote for Labour. In 2011, the number sunk as low as 4.1 per cent.


No two voters are alike, and clearly Peters was right when he said on Tuesday that whichever way he went, people were going to be disappointed. 

There are cast-offs from both major parties in his tent, and a whole mix of political views.

Based on the Colmar Brunton poll, it's easy to argue that Peters' base wants him to go with Labour. Plenty in the NZES support this view, particularly the economic views of his voters and their distaste for the National Party.

But that distaste extends far further when it concerns the Green Party. Since Labour needs the Green Party as well as NZ First to govern, there's a very good argument to be made the other way too - that while voters may prefer a clean Labour-NZ First government to another term of National, keeping the Greens and ACT out of power is of paramount importance.

And a coalition of parties with different views could actually please some voters. You might like the sight of Peters reining in the views of a party you disagree with, instead of acting as a collaborative part of another.

If we know one thing about NZ First voters, it's that they love seeing Peters stick it to the big guys.




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