Analysis of the votes for the two most significant losing parties tells us where those departing votes went. Jack Vowles looks at the directions voters abandoning National and NZ First took.

With the final results of the 2020 general election, the dust has settled. From the figures released, we know the election saw the biggest net vote shifts of any New Zealand election over the past century or more. But underneath the shifts exposed by the results, much more was going on. Some voters moved in the opposite directions to others. There was much more movement than we can identify from the official results. One group in particular is of great interest: those who voted National in 2017 and Labour in 2020.

Data from individuals is needed to expose all these movements. Vox Pop Labs, provider of the Vote Compass tool, has conducted a post-election survey of 25,700 people. Its respondents are people who have participated in Vote Compass – although not all in 2020. This is not a random sample, but responses have been weighted by key socio-demographics to make them as representative as possible, and on top of that by percentages of the party votes cast at the 2017 and 2020 elections.

The weighted sample therefore meets a lot of tests in terms of its representativeness and its correspondence to the votes cast both in 2017 and 2020. Above all, the large size of the sample means we have a relatively high level of confidence about the numbers to be found in each cell of a tabulation of the two distributions. In the figures below, the vertical lines crossed at their top and bottom represent the confidence intervals or margins of error. There remain a few reasons why one might be sceptical of this data, but it is the best we have or are likely to have.

The data in Figure 1 tells us Labour’s 2020 votes came predominantly from 2017 Labour voters, as expected: 54 percent. A big proportion – nearly 19 percent – came from people who voted National in 2017 (7.6 per cent of the entire electorate). Nearly 12 percent came from people who did not vote in 2017 (but were eligible to do so). Between 4 and 5 percent came from former New Zealand First voters, 5 percent from former Green voters and about 2 percent from newly eligible voters. Of those, Labour and the Greens got the lion’s share of those who voted; almost half the newly eligible voters did not vote.

Analysis of the votes for the two most significant losing parties tells us where those departing votes went. Figure 2 shows more New Zealand First voters switched to Labour than stayed with New Zealand First: 35 percent. By contrast, National and ACT together only gained 20 percent of New Zealand First’s former voters. A significant slice of 2017 New Zealand First voters did not vote in 2020. 

Figure 3 shows National’s 2017 voters abandoned ship in two directions, as expected: 23 percent to Labour and 14 percent to ACT. The survey contains data on where people put themselves on the left-right scale; among those going from National to Labour, as expected, the average was just under five on a 10-point scale, putting them exactly in the centre or ‘middle ground’. There has been speculation that many of those switching from National to Labour did so to keep the Green Party out of a coalition and thus prevent any possibility of a wealth tax being introduced. When asked the reason for their vote, five people who switched from National to Labour did mention the wealth tax and the need to keep the Green Party out of government. For only three of these was this the major reason for their vote shift; and these people form a small minority of the 500 National to Labour switchers in the sample. In their responses to another question in the survey, two thirds of those 500 switchers indicated they were actually in favour of a wealth tax.

Professor Jack Vowles is in the Political Science and International Relations programme at Te Herenga Waka - Victoria University of Wellington.

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