Opinion: Back in July I facilitated a panel discussion at Parliament on what we might get from the forthcoming election campaign. It was one of the first of the political soothsaying season. One of the most memorable parts of that debate was the insight from Ngaire Crawford at Isentia, the media research and monitoring company.
In a nutshell it was that the electorate was fed up. People were tired and grumpy. Also, that there were a high proportion of voters were undecided as how they would vote. What tended to happen then is those undecideds would vote for the party they usually voted for, or not at all. These together pointed to a low turnout this year.
The final leaders’ debate of the campaign, hosted by 1News last night, showed the leaders of the two main parties looking weary – and at times it was certainly grumpy.
All the leader debates of both the major and minor parties have had their fair share of grumpy and combativeness. The single biggest complaint I’ve heard from that, and it was evident right up to the last leader’s debate, was that the huff’n’puff and trying to blow the other guy’s house down left voters frustrated and wondering more about what the parties were going to do.
In the Māori electorates the contrast in approach could not have been more striking. The candidates have, in the main, been friendly toward each other, at times supportive and there has been much good grace and humour between them. This was particularly evident in the seven Māori electorate debates hosted by Whakaata Māori television.
In saying that, it wasn’t a saccharine sweet love in. There was debate and there were firm views espoused. There was passionate promotion and defence of party positions. But, without the he-said-she-said, did-not-did-too political white-anting, we had debates that were more forward looking and focused on would candidates and parties would do.
It seemed to bring out the best in the candidates. It was absolutely the case for Meka Whaitiri, the former Labour Cabinet Minister who changed canoe late in the piece to stand for Te Pāti Māori; she was the most articulate and engaging I could ever remember seeing her in the Ikaroa-Rawhiti East Coast debate.
After being used to the mainstream political biffo and mudslinging this, to me anyway, was refreshing.
I did poke the bear when I asked Te Pāti Māori Party co-leader Rawiri Waititi if the party might have a broader appeal across Māoridom for the party vote he is seeking, if he moderated some of his language. Saying things like ‘not a fan of democracy’ and using the word ‘terrorist governments’ to describe the actions of past governments doesn’t sit well with all.
Rawiri gave an unequivocal no to that. Te Pāti Māori supporters were quick to jump on that on social media and, in essence, say we will not be told to sit down and be quiet.
I get it. But they somewhat missed the point.
Who will win?
As for who is going to win the Māori seats, Whakaata Maori and Curia Market Research polled the seven Māori electorates ahead of each candidate debate. There were certainly some surprises in those polls. Except for the Waiariki Bay of Plenty seat, where the incumbent Waititi polled 50 percent support, well ahead of Labour candidate Toni Boynton on 28 percent, Labour led in the other six Māori seats.
That points to a similar scenario to 2020. Rawiri wins his seat, and how many other MPs come with him depends on how much party vote they get.
Surprise number one. In Ikaroa-Rawhiti, Cushla Tangaere-Manuel, who was only selected at the end of June when Meka Whatiri announced she was leaving Labour, polled 33 percent to Meka’s 25 percent. However, at the time of polling a whopping 29 percent of voters remained undecided. To me that indicates grumpiness in the way the party hierarchy handled her transition to Te Pāti Māori and the exit of already selected candidate Heather Te Au Skipworth.
Surprise number two. In Hauraki-Waikato, while veteran Waikato-Tainui MP Nanaia Mahuta who elected to not go on the party list was in front with 36 percent, Te Pāti Māori’s Hana-Rāwhiti Maipi-Clarke was within the margin of error on 32 percent.
Twenty-one-year-old Hana-Rāwhiti wasn’t yet born when Nanaia first went into Parliament; now she is the face of a new wave of young Māori voters who are politically engaged and active.
Surprise number three. In Te Tai Hauauru (Taranaki, Manawatu, Kapiti) Labour’s list MP Soroya Peke-Mason, who only came into Parliament a year ago with the departure of Trevor Mallard to be the Ambassador to Ireland, was leading Te Pāti Māori co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer by five points. 34% over 29% is again within the margin of error.
Kelvin Davis in the Northland seat of Te Tai Tokerau, Peeni Henare in the Auckland seat of Tamaki Makarau and Rino Tirikatene in the southern seat of Te Tai Tonga have been widely expected to hold their seats.
However … In Te Tai Tonga, Rino went into this election with just under a 7000-vote majority. In 2020 Te Pāti Māori candidate Takuta Ferris polled just over two-and-a-half thousand votes. Less than half of Rino’s majority.
Doc, as he is affectionately known (Takuta being the Maori word for doctor) has been the big improver from the last campaign to this one. First time round he came in with a lot of promise but never shone. This time he has been one of Te Pāti Māori’s best. He was asked to step up for The Press leaders’ debate in Christchurch this week and he grabbed the opportunity with both hands.
Voters in the Māori electorates have signalled incredibly strongly that they want Te Pāti Māori and Labour to work together. Labour leads the party vote in all the Māori seats with Te Pāti Māori a close second. This goes back to the point I made a month ago. Māori voters do split their vote to signal their electoral preference.
I’m wondering if there’s a hint of grumpiness with Labour in what is happening with one of the minor parties. In 2020 National (yes, it is a minor party in the Māori electorates) got between 2.3 and 5.6 percent support in the Māori electorates. The red wave cut National’s already meagre support in those seats in half.
This time the polling shows party vote support for National in double figures in four of the seven seats, the highest being 14 percent in Hauraki-Waikato. While still modest that is quite some turnaround.
What does all this mean? That there is a lot still up in the air and Saturday night is going to be really interesting. Can Te Pāti Māori pick up one or even two more seats and can they get enough party vote to bring in a couple more MPs? It’s going to be tight.
And that brings us back to tired and grumpy. Will the voters in these electorates be energised enough and even see the point enough to vote?