Opinion: Over the last few weeks, we have been looking at the various electorates that the National Party is keen to hold onto or win as it climbs back from its 2020 low and potentially back into power. This included:
* Tāmaki, which I think National’s Simon O’Connor will hold despite an energetic challenge by Act;
* Ilam, which National should win back from Labour’s Sarah Pallet, barring any unexpected success by Raf Manji from The Opportunities Party; and,
* The very close races in Wairarapa and Hutt South, which Labour may just hold but which could change based on the bounce of the ball.
* Bishop may just knock over the Minister in Hutt South
* The latest charts and data on Election 2023
* Campaign chairs get claws out over debate
* Fact check: Did Hipkins and Luxon say anything false?
For the final edition before the election, we will take a rapid tour through some of the other electorates that feature on National’s hit-list.
This South Island electorate stretches from Timaru to the Rakaia River. Previously a National seat, it flipped to Labour after former MP Andrew Falloon resigned in disgrace. Labour’s Jo Luxton won by an 11 percent margin, which was a healthy majority.
However, this is very much a middle-income electorate. Census data indicates a significant percentage of voters work over 50 hours a week and a large proportion of the families there earn between $70,000 and $100,000, indicating a strong middle-income base. In other words, it is exactly the type of electorate that will respond most negatively to the rising cost of living.
Add to that the fact that National’s James Meager is a capable candidate and with a significant swing on the party vote, we can expect this seat to go blue once again.
This is my electorate in the central North Island. It is often assumed to be a safe National seat. The history is more complicated, however.
Rangitīkei has been a bit of a wildcard in the past. It went to Bruce Beetham of Social Credit in a 1978 by-election and was held by him in two successive elections. In 1999, Simon Power won the seat for National by a mere 289 votes. Despite being very well regarded locally, National MP Ian McKelvie saw his majority cut in 2020 from more than 10,000 votes to fewer than 3,000.
All of this meant there was some apprehension with McKelvie’s retirement. Not that there is anything wrong with new National candidate Suze Redmayne, but also standing is former Federated Farmers president Andrew Hoggard. With excellent name recognition and Act on the upswing, the perceived risk was not so much Hoggard winning but that he might split the right vote.
The thinking now is that Redmayne should be safe. Hoggard will take his share of the farm vote, but the reality is that, even in a rural seat like Rangitīkei, there just aren’t enough of those votes to deny National the win given the improved party vote it can expect.
Most of Ōtaki is in the Horowhenua District but it extends in the part of the northern Kāpiti Coast. The current MP is Labour’s Terisa Ngobi, who won the seat after Nathan Guy retired at the last election. This is one of those seats that people sometimes mistake for a conservative seat but in actual fact it is one of the most “bellwether” constituencies in New Zealand.
That itself would point to a National Party win for National’s Tim Costley. When you also consider that he stood in Ōtaki in 2020 and lost by fewer than 3,000 votes (when National polled about half the party votes of Labour) you would have to conclude he will be confident this time around.
Napier is a bit like Ōtaki in that people assume it to be more conservative than it is. Contributing to this view is that retiring Stuart Nash was one of the endangered species we call a centrist Labour MP.
But Napier is interesting. Its age and income profile closely resemble the national distribution. It also has a significant Māori population, a demographic that traditionally favours Labour candidates. All of which contributes to the seat seeing more than its fair share of political turnover over the decades.
The big unknown here is the impact of the cyclone. A crisis can help a candidate from a governing party but only when the response is going well. At a certain point, however, frustration sets in and the recovery to date has been anything but fast.
All that aside, National’s Katie Nimon is well-positioned to win the Napier electorate. Were Stuart Nash still standing, his local profile and reputation may have been enough to withstand that nationwide swing to National. All things being equal, Nimon should win against Labour’s Mark Hutchinson in an open race.
This Auckland electorate includes Northcote, Birkenhead and parts of Glenfield. Though the electorate was only created in 1996, it is composed of areas that have a history of swinging backwards and forwards between Labour and National. That tracks with the 2020 result, where Labour’s Shanan Halbert won the seat from National’s Dan Bidois, who now looks set to win it back.
There are a couple of reasons for this, beginning with the fact that Halbert’s majority was quite a bit less than 3,000 votes. Though he has maintained a reasonably high profile, allegations of bullying levelled against him by the media mean this is a double-edged sword.
Labour’s Willow-Jean Prime narrowly won this seat in the last election on the back of the swing to Labour that year and a strong record of local advocacy as a list MP based in the region. The swing back would ordinarily spell doom but there are three reasons why the seat has the potential to be interesting.
The first is that the National incumbent that Prime defeated in 2020 is running again but not on the National ticket. Former MP Matt King was radicalised by anti-mandate protests last year and has since launched his own political party. Then there is a high-profile NZ First candidate in the form of Shane Jones, who won’t come close to winning the seat but who may siphon off some centre-right votes. Finally, Act’s Mark Cameron may win a few thousand electorate votes.
All of which would be a bigger problem for National had it not selected Grant McCallum as its candidate. A strong local profile plus credible history in the region should see him home on the tail wind of a strong party vote for National.
This is yet another seat that people assume should be National’s by right. Its history proves otherwise, with the seat switching between Labour and National with the prevailing tides. On the back of 2020’s red wave, Labour’s Steph Lewis has a formidable majority to defend – over 8,000 votes.
Despite the name, the Whanganui electorate extends quite far into South Taranaki. This makes for a surprisingly diverse seat that encompasses a range of socio-economic demographics. Which may explain why the seat has turned on numerous occasions over the years.
One interesting thing about Whanganui is that it has a demonstrated pattern of rewarding tenacity and persistence in electoral candidates. Chester Borrows made two attempts before finally securing a win against Labour’s Jill Pettis in 2005. So, if National’s Carl Bates doesn’t secure a win this time around, he shouldn’t be discouraged from trying again.
Final note on polls
I haven’t mentioned individual electorate polls here and I make no apologies for that. They’re just too unreliable. If we were to rely solely on the polls, we would have inaccurately predicted the outcomes of several key races in 2020.
That year, polls suggested that Chlöe Swarbrick would not win in Auckland Central. They also indicated that Willow-Jean Prime would be defeated in Northland. Rawiri Waititi also trailed badly in Waiariki.
They all won.
It’s possible that there have been significant advancements in electorate polling over the last three years that might boost their predictive power. However, I would caution against it. But I guess we will all know soon enough.