You've heard the message every single vote counts. But have you thought about the single vote? Votes of people who are unpartnered, or folks who have partners, but no children.
They're the people politicians sometimes exclude with language emphasising "family values".
The family values trope conjures images of a nuclear family: mum, dad, 2.2 children, plus dog. This kind of family was more common in the 70s than today, yet politicos still trumpet the family theme, either because it's in their party's playbook and/or they think it'll win votes.
"Family values" can be a dog whistle, a candidate's attempt to let voters know she is more virtuous than her opponent; that people who don't subscribe to a particular model of living are less than or other than.
It's not a partisan issue, either. Politicians from the left, centre and right use language that intentionally or unintentionally excludes voters who fail to fit within the family facsimile.
Candidates' statements published in the Bay of Plenty Times and Rotorua Daily Post illustrate this point. To be fair, many office seekers have issued comments touting individual rights and "opportunities for all citizens to thrive and prosper".
That kind of inclusive language puts everyone in the picture.
Other statements reinforce the notion families reign supreme. New Conservative candidates say the party's focus is on "strong families" "supporting the family unit" and "traditional family values".
A National candidate welcomes the chance to continue advocating for "you and your family". A Labour candidate wants to ensure families can "enjoy affordable housing, decent jobs, quality education and accessible healthcare".
Aside from New Conservatives, who hammer the "traditional family values" theme pretty hard, I'd argue other parties may not realise they risk alienating people who live alone or exist outside a traditional family.
Family life has changed dramatically the past few decades, with more working parents, more solo parents and more people choosing to remain child-free than they did a generation ago.
Same-sex marriage became legal in New Zealand in 2013. It's no longer a new thing. It just is.
Some research indicates children raised within a stable, two-parent partnership enjoy greater income equality and social mobility, yet not everyone lives within that box.
Relationships crumble, partners die or fail to materialise at all. People choose to remain solo or have singledom foisted upon them. We have more choices about how and with whom we live.
The number of marriages and civil unions has dropped significantly since its peak in 1971. Statistics New Zealand reports the general marriage rate in 2019 was 9.8 per 1000 people aged 16 years and over. This is less than one-quarter of the 1971 peak, when the rate was 45.5.
Of course families are important. Everyone started in one. I've been a parent for half my adult life and have scars to prove it. I've barely survived school holidays with two teenagers whose vampire sleeping habits and gold medal whinge fests are shredding my nerves.
I appreciate tax credits for people with children but I don't believe my vote counts any more or less than someone who hasn't procreated.
Aotearoa is getting older and more of us are living alone. Ministry of Social Development data predicts a 77 per cent jump in the number of Kiwis over 65 from 2016 to 2036. One in 4.5 of us will be eligible for a Super Gold Card in about 15 years.
Nearly 25 per cent of households in the Bay are made up of people living alone. The number of single person households is expected to double by 2063, from 24,000 to 52,000.
Census trends also show a marked increase in couples without children, a decline in two-parent families and an increase in single-parent families.
What this means for anyone stumping for votes is a growing number of us exist outside traditional families. Saying you're "standing up for families" can be exclusionary, even if that's not the intent.
The working families cliche, favoured by politicians of many stripes, should be retired.
Employers don't hire families, they hire individuals. It would be illegal to hire a 2-year-old. Also, they're not known for attention to detail or customer service. Talk about working people instead. Or just people, because not everyone works for a living.
Some Kiwis are unpaid caregivers; others are unemployed or out of the workforce due to serious illness or disability.
Pay attention to language candidates use as election day approaches next Saturday. Are they saying they'll represent all constituents, or do you, the voter, need to fit within a traditional family box to matter?
With more and more New Zealanders breaking the old mould, politicians would be wise to speak and write in a way that makes all voters - regardless of family status - feel valued.