Polls have been consistent for months – and have given this election an air of inevitability – but we still don’t know much about how a historically large group of migrants plan to exercise their vote this election

The possibility of an under-polled migrant vote represents one of the few wildcards left to play out in the election. 

Between 2013 and the beginning of 2020 we added over 300,000 people to our population through net migration, according to Massey University Pro Vice-Chancellor of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences Paul Spoonley.

Those who are citizens, permanent residents or on certain types of resident visas will be eligible to vote in our elections – we just don’t have much data on who they’ll choose.

“They are going to be one of the unknowns this election in terms of either their voting intentions or how they actually vote.

We do know they are largely composed of two “uber communities” of Chinese- and Indian-origin migrants, although the number of Filipino migrants has also grown dramatically. 

“The first election where we began to see the impact of that [migration] was 2017, but this is the election where we’ll really see how this very large cohort of new migrants are voting,” Spoonley said.

“And the thing that strikes me is that nearly all of our polling with the exception of Andrew [Zhu] tells us nothing about their voting intentions.

“They are going to be one of the unknowns this election in terms of either their voting intentions or how they actually vote.”

Andrew Zhu’s company Trace Research has been conducting polls in the Chinese community and found voters there were splitting off from their historically strong support for the National Party towards ACT and the much smaller “TEA” party (the “Taxpayers and Entrepreneurs Alliance” – it doesn’t register in national polls).

Within Auckland electorates the influence of migrant voters is large. Zhu said on average, electorates there have voter bases of which 25 percent are of Asian ethnicity.

“If you look at Takanini alone that’s 41 percent Asian population [of which] over 50 percent are Chinese.

“Some electorates really rely on the Asian vote.”

Chinese voters drifting to ACT

National is the preferred party of choice for Chinese voters, but the party has lost 28 percent of its support (21 percentage points) since 2014. Between August and September, support for the party fell by nine points.

Labour’s support has increased from 14 percent in 2014 to between 21 and 22 percent for most of its term in office (the last poll was conducted in September 2020). 

Yet over 70 percent of Chinese voters polled describe themselves as “very satisfied” with the Government’s Covid-19 response. 

“That satisfaction did not translate into party support for Labour,” Zhu said.

He put this down to Chinese voters likely drawing a distinction between the bureaucracy and the political parties in charge.

Economic recovery has also taken over as the number one priority for Chinese voters polled. Ahead of “law and order” – which was the main concern of Chinese voters in 2017.

The demographics also skew a different way to the general population. Younger Chinese were more likely to vote for right-wing parties while older Chinese voters skew towards Labour. 

Spoonley noted this could also be because of a historic voter loyalty amongst older Cantonese migrants towards the Labour Party – who freed up immigration rules for them in 1945.

Zhu said older Chinese voters were also more likely to be retired, on superannuation, more concerned with issues like healthcare and less concerned with economic growth.

Indian voters split

The Indian community’s historically strong support for Labour was reportedly drifting away before the pandemic, after the party’s harder stance of migration took hold. 

Migrant Workers Association President Anu Kaloti said the community had essentially split into small business owners unhappy with the lockdown who leaned to the right, and more recently-arrived working migrants who were leaning left.

“Some of the more recently-arrived migrants who have voting rights, they quite like how Labour handled [Covid-19 and] the whole wage subsidy. I think they would be leaning towards Labour a bit more.

However, a big surprise for her this election had been how quickly ACT had made inroads into the Indian community on issues like allowing offshore migrants to return and freezing the minimum wage. 

“The thing that might pull them back is how migrants have not been not very well looked after in this whole pandemic. That could be one issue that stops the migrants voting for Labour.”

Both National and Labour have been relatively silent on major issues around the immigration system, including the New Zealand residence programme and when – or if – normally resident migrants on temporary visas stranded offshore will be allowed to return.

And amongst newer migrants there was some reluctance to vote Labour after a term where the Government seemed to lurch from one immigration crisis to another.

“The thing that might pull them back is how migrants have not been not very well looked after in this whole pandemic. That could be one issue that stops the migrants voting for Labour.”

Kaloti said the Greens were making some inroads into the Indian community with their “pro-migrant” stance – and making their presence felt at some migrant events – but lockdown had likely hampered those efforts. 

Pacific Island voters consider smaller parties

Migrant issues could also factor into the voting decisions of Pacific Island voters this election, although a community leader expects the bulk will vote for Labour.

Chairman of the Pacific Response Coordination Team of the Pacific Leadership Forum Pakilau Manase Lua said some were weighing up giving their vote to smaller parties like the Green Party and even The Opportunities Party over the issue of a proposed overstayer amnesty.

“There have been minor parties who have been very clear that they will support finding pathways to residency for overstayers which is a good thing to do and the big parties are remaining silent on it.

“You’ve got people who were on holiday from Tonga and Samoa who are still stuck here and they could be potentially a workforce.

“While the borders are closed you’ve got no workforce coming in so why not use the people that are here?”

Covid-19 had thrown a lot of problems into the mix and exposed the plight of overstayers.

Their situation has health implications. Advocates for these overstayers argue they are unlikely to engage in contact tracing or turn up for testing if they suspect they’ve been infected with Covid-19.

Over 35,000 people signed a petition to grant overstayers a form of legal status to stay and Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon also voiced his support for the idea.

However, Lua acknowledged it was unlikely traditional voting patterns would change this election even with this issue on the table.

He will be focusing on getting younger Pacific Island voters to turn up at the polls.

With no history of voting, he believed their votes were very much up for grabs for any party that might want them.

“Pacific voters are fiercely loyal in terms of who they vote for and if they’re Red, they’re Red for life – usually that’s what happens.

“However it’s the 18-25 year olds who could swing things and they tend not to vote.”

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