I won’t be in New Zealand on election day; however I have roped in a wise old mate to tell me what’s going on as the evening of the 14th progresses.
One aspect of the outcome that should be of great interest to politics devotees is how many eligible voters bother to cast a ballot. High participation in elections boost the left side of the political spectrum just as a low turnout will favour the right-wing parties - National, New Zealand First and Act.
In the 2020 general election, 725,000 voters or nearly 18 per cent of enrolled voters failed to cast a ballot.
I dubbed these people enrolled non-voters or ENVs and undertook specialised research in the knowledge that these individuals can and do decide election outcomes. This was clearest in the 2005 general election. High turnout in the South Auckland electorates arrived late in the evening and won that election for Labour.
Post-election analysis showed that state house tenants – about 210,000 voters – turned out for Labour in unprecedented numbers in response to Don Brash’s policy of abolishing Labour’s income-related rents and applying market rentals.
Should this happen again next Saturday, those anticipating a National-led government may be in for a disappointment.
Some general characteristics of ENVs are apparent from election results.
Non-voting relates inversely to wealth. The richer the electorate, the lower the rate of non-voting. The largest proportion of ENVs are in the Māori electorates and the very safe Labour-held electorates.
ENVs are generally impossible to research using normal sampling methods and will be found amongst the large and growing number of polling targets who refuse to participate.
Methodical research confirms that the poor are heavily overrepresented in non-voting statistics.
Beneficiaries, minimum wage workers, solo parents, state house tenants and Māori, especially young Māori, feature strongly in ENV statistics as do younger voters in general. Predictably, the vast majority of non-voters rent their accommodation.
There are two sorts of enrolled non-voters - chronic non-voters and intermittent non-voters. Chronic non-voters are a minority of the ENVs.
These people seldom, if ever, cast a ballot.
They include dementia and other patients whose carers make sure they are enrolled so their benefits are safe, some religious groups who eschew voting – most notably the Exclusive Brethren - but typically they are people who are detached from politics and believe that the democratic system has no relevance for them.
Those who vote now and again – intermittent non-voters - make up more than half a million electors and they mostly are drawn to vote for negative reasons.
In other words, when they bother to vote it is against a party which threatens their usually modest level of comfort.
These are amongst the most difficult electors to contact; they typically don’t watch or listen to the news, and few read the newspapers.
However if Richard Prebble, an often-astute political commentator, is correct and the National/Act/NZ First combination comes up short of a majority, it is possible that these voters will decide the election.
National’s tax cuts will amount to a trivial sum, if anything, for most of this cohort and will be more than obliterated by the removal of public transport subsidies, another National party policy.
Whether you believe there has been right wing “race baiting” or not, many Māori are aghast at Winston’s denial of their indigenous status, Act’s intention to put the Treaty of Waitangi to a referendum and National’s promise to abolish the Māori Health Authority.
National’s pro-landlord policies could well motivate many of these folks to vote. Renters have much to be wary of with National intending to bring back no cause evictions and rent increases as often as the landlord chooses.
Beneficiaries numbering 350,000 will also have good reason to vote in this election. National’s intention to save $2 billion by changing the benchmark for lifting benefits will cost these folk from $50 to $60 a week in the term of a National-led government, according to the New Zealand Herald, and Act’s policy is to reduce benefits to pre-Covid levels.
Younger voters may also find a reason to vote in greater numbers. Australian research shows that it is the under 30s who focus most strongly on climate change policies. National’s Christopher Luxon promised last week to abolish the clean car discount in his first hundred days in office. This policy has accelerated the uptake of non-polluting vehicles ahead of other similar countries and is a piece of symbolism like National’s intention to resume fossil fuel prospecting that may see a higher level of younger people deciding to participate.
Right wing parties know well that low income people and many beneficiaries, apart from superannuitants, don’t bother to vote which encourages them to target their incomes for cost savings.
Generally this is a rational tactic but sometimes it backfires badly.
We’ll see next Saturday.
* Mike Williams grew up in Hawke’s Bay and is a former Labour Party president