Race relations have become an increasingly divisive political issue, but other controversial topics such as hate speech may not pose an issue for the incoming government, new polling suggests.

A report from pollsters Talbot Mills, seeking to understand the degree to which New Zealand has become more politically polarised, shows people broadly agree on Covid-19 measures and gun laws but are divided over or opposed to policies for Māori and transgender people.

Auckland Council ‘kicks the can down the road’ on Māori seats
Auckland Council: Should Māori get two seats at the table?
The Detail: Co-governance at the coalface
Trouble on the maunga 

Support for or opposition to 14 policies was measured in a survey in August, before the election campaign. Of these, the creation of the firearms registry received the most support, with 75 percent of respondents backing it compared with just 9 percent on the other side. The least favoured policy was allowing transgender women to compete in women’s sport – just 14 percent supported it versus 60 percent who opposed.

Policies designed to help Māori and transgender New Zealanders or to promote te reo registered the greatest opposition.

Half of respondents opposed allowing transgender women (described as “biological males who identify as women” in the poll questions) to use women’s bathrooms, with 21 percent supporting the move. This was the only other policy opposed by a majority of respondents.

A larger number of those polled also opposed Māori wards (45 percent against, 19 percent for), co-governance (31 percent against, 26 percent for), making it easier for people to change their sex on their birth certificates (36 percent against, 30 percent for) and the Māori Health Authority (33 percent against, 32 percent for).

Even relatively minor changes to promote te reo, such as making road signs bilingual, just squeaked through, with 37 percent in favour and 35 percent opposed.

“It’s always been there, there’s always been that nerve, but it wasn’t really influencing politics to any great degree,” Stephen Mills, co-founder of Talbot Mills and author of the report, said. “It started to come up from the United Nations paper. It’s been bubbling away for the last few years.”

Views on Māori issues split on political lines, with Green voters most supportive, followed by Labour, New Zealand First, National and then Act voters. On Māori wards, more Labour voters opposed than backed the idea, though the other policies received net support from Labour.

On gender identity, the Greens and then Labour were most supportive again, though more Labour voters opposed trans women accessing women’s bathrooms and competing in women’s sports than supported them. New Zealand First voters were most opposed to the birth certificate and bathroom changes, and Act supporters were most against opening up access to women’s sport.

Other issues that have proved controversial in the past were broadly backed by respondents from across the political spectrum. A majority of voters for each party backed the creation of the firearms registry. Abortion, same sex marriage and strengthening hate speech laws were also supported by more voters from each party than opposed.

Covid-19 policies such as mask requirements and vaccine mandates enjoyed similar support, with NZ First voters being the only cohort to narrowly oppose the latter.

Talbot Mills also asked about support for stronger regulations aimed at reducing farming emissions. Overall, the proposal was supported by 40 percent of respondents and opposed by 21 percent. More Green, Labour and National voters backed the idea than opposed it, but Act and NZ First voters still went against it.

Support for some of these policies may have been related to the neutral framing of the questions, Mills said.

“If you’d phrased it about farmers having been hammered by too much regulation, you’d probably get a different response on that as well. There is division on that. You can’t always capture a complete response on complex issues in one question.”

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

Leave a comment