Analysis: Though the Labour Party’s drop in the polls means it will likely lose a number of battleground electorates to National come October 14, it is still holding strong in the Māori seats.

Two new polls, commissioned by Whakaata Māori and conducted by Curia Market Research, have Labour candidates leading in key Māori electorates by small margins.

In Te Tai Hauāuru, Labour’s Soraya Peke-Mason garnered 40 percent support to Te Pāti Maori co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer’s 35 percent. National’s Harete Hipango trailed on 14 percent.

Labour leads more comfortably in Ikaroa-Rāwhiti, with new candidate Cushla Tangaere-Manuel on 46 percent while incumbent Meka Whaitiri – who defected to Te Pāti Māori earlier this year – is on just 35 percent.

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If these results were repeated on election day, Te Pāti Māori co-leader Rawiri Waititi would need to once again win the Waiariki seat to return the party to Parliament, as the other four Māori electorates are not seen to be as competitive by political commentators. If Waititi fails in Waiariki, the party would find itself gone from Parliament after just three years, based on current polls which have it well below the 5 percent threshold on party vote.

One silver lining for Te Pāti Māori is the significant number of undecideds in both seats. The results above exclude voters who have yet to pick a candidate. These voters made up 16 percent of the respondents in Te Tai Hauāuru and 29 percent in Ikaroa-Rāwhiti.

In both seats, the undecided voters are enough to swing the election back to Te Pāti Māori.

There’s another possible good sign for Ngarewa-Packer and Whaitiri – Labour’s drop in the party vote. In Te Tai Hauāuru, just 34 percent planned to give their second tick to Labour and the party fared only a hair better in Ikaroa-Rāwhiti with 35 percent.

These results would be Labour’s lowest ever showing in the party vote in each seat. National was also on track for its highest ever showing in the two seats, at 13 percent in the west and 11 percent in the east.

If Labour’s stock keeps falling even in these traditionally red seats, Te Pāti Māori candidates might just be able to turn it to their advantage in the electorate vote.

Both polls aired before candidate debates on Whakaata Māori last week. On Tuesday, Peke-Mason, Ngarewa-Packer and Hipango faced off in a fiery debate over the cost of living and the two major parties’ dedication to Māori.

The Curia poll found cost of living was the main issue for voters in the electorate and particularly for young people. Peke-Mason touted the Government’s moves to make prescriptions free and Labour’s policy to take GST off fresh fruit and vegetables – an unusual move as the policy has been mostly ignored by Prime Minister Chris Hipkins on the campaign trail.

“It’s not enough, but it’s a programme, it’s a plan, it’s what we’ve got in place now,” she said of the Government’s moves on cost of living. “It’s targeted and it’s just to put that little bit more back in the pockets of everyone and there’s more that we need to do.”

Ngarewa-Packer pointed out her party is campaigning to take GST off of all food.

“It’s all about the ability to live with dignity, the ability to have a good quality of life, to ensure our whānau can achieve their true potential,” she said. “The critical part of cost of living is dealing with the poverty and the issue is we’ve had no big parties come up with wealth taxes and that’s one of our big bastions.”

For her part, Hipango fell back on National’s attack lines about Labour’s mismanagement of the economy before answering a question from moderator Tina Wickliffe about National’s criticism of co-governance.

“Importantly, the National Party has said that we don’t support co-governance as a centralised model, where the power base has been centralised back into the ivory towers of bureaucracy. The power base needs to be devolved out into the communities,” she said.

“It is mana motuhake and it’s those partnerships and relationships that the Government and the Crown has directly with our people localised.”

Ngarewa-Packer pushed back, saying she was “struggling” listening to the Labour and National candidates talk a big game on Māori community needs but not advocate “a wealth tax that would instantly ease the pain of cost of living and poverty. If we’re talking about Te Tiriti, that should be the model for everything that we do. We’re not seeing an assertion of mana motuhake.”

On Thursday, Whaitiri and Tangaere-Manuel went head-to-head in a more cordial debate, though the former Labour minister didn’t spare any criticism for her old party.

Labour had been “too slow” to respond to community need after Cyclone Gabrielle, she said. As a Labour member she had had to “sieve” her language to speak to Māori and non-Māori, but that “burden” had now been lifted. When Tangaere-Manuel said restorative justice was the right solution to most crime and she’d advocate for that if elected, Whaitiri snickered and said Labour wouldn’t listen.

Still, the two were much more closely aligned on a range of policy issues, from cost of living to law and order to the cyclone response.

They displayed a rare moment of unity in these sorts of one-on-one events when Wickliffe asked Tangaere-Manuel what she could do better than the incumbent.

“It’s not about that,” Whaitiri interjected, prompting agreement from the Labour candidate.

“The reality, Tina, we’ve got the opportunity to have us both in there, doing the best for Māori, for Ikaroa-Rāwhiti,” Tangaere-Manuel said, referring to Whaitiri’s third place list ranking. Tangaere-Manuel isn’t on Labour’s list.

“I’ve always said that the electorate’s too big,” Whaitiri agreed, “and if every Māori in Ikaroa-Rāwhiti jumps on the Māori roll, you could have both Cushla and me.”

Marc Daalder is a senior political reporter based in Wellington who covers climate change, health, energy and violent extremism. Twitter/Bluesky: @marcdaalder

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