And although 38 per cent of Kiwis abroad want a new flag, majority in Kea survey opt for no change.

Expatriate Kiwis are more likely to favour changing the flag than people still living in New Zealand - but they are markedly less keen on abandoning the monarchy.

A Kea NZ survey also found that Kiwis who have left the country are much less optimistic about the NZ economy than those who stayed at home.

The survey of 13,729 expatriates, 288 recent returnees and 2634 "friends of NZ" was conducted via a website to allow access through emails and social media from July to September 6. Most people responded before the first four winning flag designs were announced on September 1.

Almost half (43 per cent) of responses came from Australia, with most others from Europe (35 per cent, including 10 per cent from Britain) and North America (15 per cent).

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The flag

Three-eighths (38 per cent) of the Kea respondents want to change the flag, compared with only 28 per cent of NZ residents in a TV3 poll this week.

But there is still a slight majority (52 per cent) for keeping the flag in the Kea survey, compared with 65 per cent in the TV3 poll.

Auckland University researcher Dr Barry Milne said the result was consistent with his recent finding that people on higher incomes, and with more education, were more likely to support changing the flag - but that there was still a majority against change in all groups.

Anastasia Turnbull, spokeswoman for the Election Commission, said 53,057 voting packs in the flag referendum were sent to overseas addresses, or 1.7 per cent of the 3.2 million voting packs.

The monarchy

In contrast, 65 per cent of the Kea respondents want to keep the British monarch as our head of state, compared with only 55 per cent in a 2010 Herald-Digipoll survey on the issue. Only 20 per cent in the Kea survey, compared with more than a third in the Herald poll, favour a republic.

Dr Milne said he couldn't tell whether this reflected the numbers in the Kea survey living in Europe.

"There is clearly a group of people out there, led by John Key, for example, who are happy for New Zealand to stay a constitutional monarchy but want to change the flag," he said.

The economy

Asked about NZ's likely economic progress in the next 10 years, 42 per cent of Kea respondents said it would "not achieve its full potential", 13 per cent said it would "slip backwards a little" and 3 per cent expected it to slip back a lot. Only 24 per cent expect it to make "a lot of progress". In contrast, this month's ANZ-Roy Morgan consumer confidence survey found 45 per cent of NZ residents expect "continuous good times" in the next five years. Only 24 per cent expect "bad times", the other 31 per cent plumping for "some good and some bad" or unsure.

Greatest Kiwis

New Zealanders at home and abroad agree that Sir Edmund Hillary was the greatest Kiwi hero.
New Zealanders at home and abroad agree that Sir Edmund Hillary was the greatest Kiwi hero.

New Zealanders at home and abroad agree that Sir Edmund Hillary was the greatest Kiwi hero, but Sir Peter Jackson comes a close second.

Kea asked: "Which New Zealander has had the most impact on the world stage?" Hillary led with the support of 32 per cent of respondents, followed by Jackson (25 per cent), Helen Clark (11 per cent), Ernest Rutherford (7 per cent) and Richie McCaw (6 per cent).

A Herald-Colmar Brunton poll asked NZ residents last year: "Who do you consider to be a nationally or internationally recognised hero or heroine from NZ?"

Hillary was way ahead with 52 per cent, followed by McCaw (8 per cent), Sir Peter Blake (7 per cent), and Jackson, Clark, Valerie Adams and the All Blacks each with 5 per cent.

Flag confusion not the issue overseas

A computer generated image of what the five alternative flags could look like at Masterton's Genesis Recreation Centre.
A computer generated image of what the five alternative flags could look like at Masterton's Genesis Recreation Centre.

London-based Kiwi dancer Jono Selvadurai says people overseas are not confused by the New Zealand flag - they don't know where we are on the map.

Former Wellingtonian Selvadurai, 24, lived in New York for a year and went to London at the end of last year to pursue dancing opportunities.

"Yes, our flag has a lot of similarities to that of Australia, but at the same time our flag isn't where the confusion is overseas - it's geographically where we are that people struggle with," he says.

He sees no need to change either the flag or the monarchy, asking: "Why change something that doesn't need to be changed right now?"

As for New Zealand's greatest contributors, he plumps for "the Flight of the Conchords boys, Jemaine [Clement] and Bret [McKenzie]".

"The number of times I say I'm from NZ, the answer is always, 'I love Flight of the Conchords,' typically followed with a Kiwi accent impersonation and a Murray roll call," he says. "They managed to put NZ on the map in a way we wouldn't necessarily recognise or see back home."Vaimoana Tapaleao