Opinion: The Tāmaki electorate, nestled to the east of Auckland’s CBD, has been a stronghold for National since its creation in 1946 and has been held by the party without interruption since 1960. Its current MP, Simon O’Connor, has held the seat since 2011. 

The seat would not accordingly be an interesting one to watch. However, O’Connor’s social conservatism and Christian faith have frequently drawn criticism from liberal quarters. This has been amplified in recent years by a similar prejudice aimed towards leader Christopher Luxon, who is also a Christian.  

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Act is convinced it can win the seat on the back of this and is standing its deputy leader, Brooke van Velden.  

The challenger is very confident, claiming to receive a lot of support on the doorsteps of the electorate and reporting much criticism of the incumbent. Of course, every candidate in every seat in the country says that. There are about 65,000 people in the average electorate and no candidate of whatever party is going to find it too hard to find people willing to tell them what they want to hear. 

Act has also claimed its internal polling shows the race to be very close. We don’t know the details of this poll, its methodology or how representative or scientific it is. It was laundered through the media by Herald columnist and fellow-traveller Matthew Hooton. It would be a mistake to bet the farm on such things. 

The biggest challenge facing Act is the maths of the contest.  

Van Velden is up against somebody whose local popularity can be better quantified with reliable statistical evidence than the murky polling and anecdotal accounts Act has served up so far

In the 2020 election, O’Connor managed to secure an absolute majority of the electorate votes, winning 53 percent of the valid electorate votes. This was in the face of National’s party vote slipping to 37 percent in the seat. This underscored his personal appeal among locals, which clearly transcends party affiliations. 

National is not going to win 37 percent of the vote in Tāmaki this time around. If it wins about 35 percent of the party vote nationwide it will probably win at least 50 percent of the vote in that seat.  

Although Act’s popularity nationwide has energised its campaign, it would be a mistake to assume it will be felt the same everywhere. For example, as National’s vote collapsed in 2020, Act went from less than 1 percent of the national party vote to almost 8 percent. But it won just a touch over 5 percent in Tāmaki.  

In other words, being more right leaning than average does not automatically equate to a higher degree of support for Act. 

For example, Tāmaki almost certainly has its fair share of people with anti-Christian prejudices but on the whole the 2018 Census showed that electorate has much noticeably higher rates of religious affiliation than average (for example it’s 51 percent Christian vs 37 percent nationally). Again, this highlights the problems of relying on the subjective, anecdotal evidence of what candidates report they are hearing from constituents, failing to account for the diverse and potentially conflicting views within a geographic population. 

An Act win in Tāmaki is not impossible, but Van Velden would need a lot of things to go right. She would not only need to secure all Act voters but also most Labour and Green voters while taking a significant portion of National voters. She needs to win those National voters without a nod of consent from the National Party itself and without the perception of Act’s survival depending on it, giving the seat a very different dynamic to the one that has prevailed in Epsom.  

She is up against somebody whose local popularity can be better quantified with reliable statistical evidence than the murky polling and anecdotal accounts Act has served up so far. And it all rests on the questionable assumption that Labour and Green voters would be willing to overlook their likely aversion to Act’s staunchly right-wing economic policies, and vote for an Act candidate based purely on their assumed strong antipathy towards social conservatism.  

I have my doubts. 

Liam Hehir is a writer and newspaper columnist from the rural Manawatu and a former National Party activist.

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