Understanding New Zealand: Voting Patterns of Age

The electoral divide between Labour and National is usually characterised as one of wealth, and to a major extent it is. But it is also about age to a major extent, and some of the correlations between age and party allegiance are surprisingly strong.

The correlation between being in the 50-64 age group and voting for National in 2014 was a very strong 0.74. The correlation between being in this age group and voting Labour in 2014, by contrast, was also very strong but negative, at -0.68.

These correlations are especially strong if they are compared with the respective ones for the 30-49 age group. This age group is almost entirely indifferent to the mainstream parties. The correlation between being aged 30-49 and voting National in 2014 was 0.19, and for voting Labour in 2014 it was -0.04.

Really old people like to vote Conservative more than anything else. The correlation between being aged 65+ and voting Conservative in 2014 was 0.71. Even the correlation between being aged 65+ and voting National was weaker, at 0.65.

Some might be surprised to see that the correlation between being aged 65+ and voting New Zealand First was not near as strong – only 0.10. However, as mentioned in the section about the party, the association between crotchety old pensioners and New Zealand First support is mostly a fabrication.

Indeed, at the other end of the age range, support for New Zealand First was about the same level – the correlation between being aged 15-19 and voting New Zealand First in 2014 was 0.05. This suggests that the early signs of Generation Z being a conservative throwback to a previous mentality may well be replicated in New Zealand.

Young people, for their part, prefer to vote Green more than anything else. The correlation between being aged 15-19 and voting Green in 2014 was 0.22, and between being aged 20-29 and voting Green in 2014 it was 0.56.

The big two parties appear to have very little support among young people in general. The correlation between being aged 20-29 and voting National in 2014 was -0.34, and with voting Labour it was only 0.32. Worryingly for them, the correlation between being aged 20-29 and voting for a party as unlike them as ACT was 0.25.

Taking this into account alongside the strong correlation between being young and voting Green, it appears that the big two parties are fated to fall into ever weaker positions as the Greens absorb the discontents from Labour, ACT absorbs the discontents from National and New Zealand First absorbs the discontents from the entire system.

The very youngest two age brackets obviously does not tell us about the voting preferences of those aged under 15, but they do tell us about the voting preferences of their parents and therefore gives us a clue as to what influences will be at work on the next generation.

In particular, we can see the influence that the higher birth rate of Maoris has. All of the parties generally associated with a high degree of Maori support (Maori Party, Internet MANA, New Zealand First, Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party and Labour) had correlations of at least 0.45 with both of the age groups of 0-4 and 5-14 years of age.

The Maori Party and the ALCP were the strongest of these, New Zealand First and Labour were the weakest, and Internet MANA was in between.

The degree of disenfranchisement that the young suffer can be seen from the fact that there is a very strong correlation of 0.77 between median age and turnout rate in the 2014 General Election. This correlation is so strong that it speaks of a widespread perception among the young that there really is no point in voting on account of that the entire system is set up specifically to serve people other than them.

The strongest negative correlation between median age and voting for any party in 2014 was with the Labour Party, which was -0.70. The reflection of this was that the strongest positive correlation was with the National Party, which was a whopping 0.81.

The only other party that generally appealed to old people was the Conservatives. The correlation between voting for them in 2014 and median age was 0.75.

Definitively underlining the fact that the stereotype of creeping swarms of pensioners voting New Zealand First every three years is totally false, the correlation between voting New Zealand First in 2014 and median age was actually negative (although not significant) at -0.08.

The Greens, despite that they are the mutual nemesis of the New Zealand First Party, appeal to a similar average age of voter. The correlation between voting Green in 2014 and median age was -0.17.

Predictably, there were significant negative correlations between median age and voting for any of the minor Maori-heavy parties. These were Maori Party (-0.66), Internet MANA (-0.65) and ALCP (-0.55).

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This article is an excerpt from Understanding New Zealand, by Dan McGlashan, due to be published by VJM Publishing this winter.

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