There are many competing reasons for thinking that Winston Peters ought to go with one or the other of Labour or National in the post-election negotiations to form a Government. Some say that any arrangement with the Greens involved will not be stable enough, some say that the Opposition parties won a clear majority and therefore a mandate for change, some say that Winston will go with whoever he feels like going with. This article, by Understanding New Zealand author Dan McGlashan, looks at things another way.
We will follow here the argument that Peters ought to side with whichever out of Labour and National represents the people most similar to their own, and to that end this article will make a judgment using six major demographic categories, viz. age, ethnicity, education, income level, gender and homeownership rates.
The correlation between voting National in 2017 and median age was a very strong 0.77, which represents the old people who own everything, and between voting Labour in 2017 and median age it was -0.66, which represents the people who are yet to become financially established and are living primarily on their wages.
The correlation between voting New Zealand First in 2014 and median age was negative, at -0.08, but by 2017 it had become significantly positive, at 0.24. This is primarily because of a large number of young, working-class Maoris shifting to Labour.
Young people drifted away from New Zealand First this election, and old people drifted in. The correlation between being aged 20-29 and voting New Zealand First was -0.38 in 2014 but had become -0.60 by 2017, whereas the correlation between being aged 65+ and voting New Zealand First was 0.10 in 2014 and had become 0.36 by 2017.
Young voters tend to not like either National or New Zealand First, whereas elderly voters like both, so that suggests a greater age overlap with the National Party. Decisively, the correlation of 0.24 between voting New Zealand First in 2017 and median age is 90 basis points away from the Labour figure, and only 53 basis points away from the National figure, so National win this one.
National 1, Labour 0
The stereotype is of New Zealand First as an old, white, racist’s party, which is a very odd perception when it’s led by someone who played for the Auckland Maori rugby team. The truth is much more complex.
Voting New Zealand First in 2014 and being a Kiwi of European descent was perfectly uncorrelated, at 0.00. Between voting New Zealand First in 2014 and being Maori the correlation was a strongly positive 0.66. That means that at the time of the last election, the stereotype of New Zealand First voters was entirely false.
Some truth crept into it in 2017, however. By 2017 the correlation between being a Kiwi of European descent and voting New Zealand First had risen to 0.19, whereas the correlation between being Maori and voting New Zealand First had fallen to 0.40. This means that New Zealand First is still more of a Maori party than it is anything else, but that sentiments of white Kiwis are also well represented.
The correlation between being a Kiwi of European descent and voting National in 2017 was a strong 0.51, and for voting Labour it was correspondingly weak, at -0.56.
This means that New Zealand First is slightly more like National when it comes to whiteness, but far more like Labour when it comes to Maoriness. The correlation between being Maori and voting National in 2017 was a strongly negative -0.68, whereas the figure for voting Labour in 2017 was, at 0.57, very close to the New Zealand First figure.
New Zealand First was fairly to similar to National in that their party was mildly disfavoured by Pacific Islanders, in contrast to Labour. The correlations between being a Pacific Islander and voting National or New Zealand First in 2017 were -0.35 and -0.17 respectively, very different to the correlation between being a Pacific Islander and voting Labour, which was, at 0.57, as strong as the one with being Maori and voting Labour in 2017.
This is unlike the case of Asians, who were moderately more likely to prefer National to Labour, and who despise New Zealand First. The correlation between being Asian and voting National in 2017 was 0.10, only a smidgen stronger than what it was in 2014. Between being Asian and voting Labour in 2017 it was -0.09, but between being Asian and voting New Zealand First in 2017 it was -0.58.
All in all, if you weight each ethnicity by the number of Kiwis belonging to it, it’s more or less a draw.
National 1.5, Labour 0.5
Labour shares with New Zealand First an affinity from those with few NZQA qualifications. New Zealand First was by far the most poorly educated voting bloc in 2014, and, although it’s true that they still are, the margins became smaller.
The correlations between having no NZQA qualifications and voting New Zealand First or Labour in 2017 were similar, at 0.69 and 0.45 respectively, and very different to that of having no NZQA qualifications and voting National in 2017, which was -0.32.
This isn’t really surprising because someone with no NZQA qualifications is not likely to have a large income or a number of rental houses, and so will not benefit from National’s refusal to institute a capital gains tax, and they are very likely to be living hand to mouth or close to it, which means they lost out from the rise in GST to 15%.
Some will be very surprised by the voting patterns of the highly educated, though. On the one hand, it might not be surprising that the university educated were mildly disinclined to vote Labour in 2017. The correlations with doing so were -0.32 for people with a Bachelor’s degree, -0.28 for people with an Honours degree, -0.27 for people with a Master’s degree, and -0.21 for people with a doctorate.
But neither were they particularly inclined to vote National. The correlations with voting National in 2017 were 0.15 for having a Bachelor’s degree, 0.10 for having an Honours degree, and 0.09 for having either of the two highest degrees. As it turns out, a large number of these people voted TOP, ACT or Green.
Compared to their sentiments towards Labour and National, university graduates are extremely disinclined to support New Zealand First. The correlations between voting New Zealand First in 2017 and having a university education was -0.73 in the case of having a Bachelor’s degree, -0.69 for an Honours degree, -0.74 for a Master’s degree and -0.60 for a doctorate.
This suggests that neither Labour or National have much in common with New Zealand First educationally, but Labour does share with New Zealand First a supporter base of very uneducated people. This is worth three-quarters of a point to Labour and one quarter to National.
National 1.75, Labour 1.25
Leaving aside the truly broke, who know that their bread is buttered with Labour, not National, and who are indifferent to New Zealand First, voters in every income band are about equally likely to prefer Labour and New Zealand First to National.
The most wealthy Kiwis dislike New Zealand First even more than they dislike the Labour Party, which is perhaps a commentary on how the Labour Party supports the wealthy by way of supporting neoliberalism.
People with an income of $150K+ had a correlation of 0.24 with voting National in 2017, -0.43 with voting Labour in 2017 and -0.51 with voting New Zealand First in 2017, and those with an income of $100-150K had a correlation of 0.26 with voting National in 2017, -0.40 with voting Labour in 2017 and -0.54 with voting New Zealand First in 2017.
This suggests that the people who are creaming it the most look at Labour and New Zealand First with a similar level of disdain.
People in the $50-60K income band were almost perfectly indifferent to all three parties. The correlation between being in this income band and voting National in 2017 was 0.01, with voting Labour in 2017 it was -0.03 and with voting New Zealand First in 2017 it was 0.04.
This tells us that people in the middle – either the young, poor, ambitious and going up or the old, middle-class, satisfied and looking to hang on – wouldn’t really mind which way Peters went.
The people in the working-class income bands between $25 and $40K, in contrast to those in the $100K+ income bands, look at Labour and New Zealand First with a similar level of approval.
Kiwis earning $35-40K had a correlation of 0.49 with voting New Zealand First in 2017, which is much closer to the correlation between being in this income band and voting Labour in 2017 (0.38) than it is to the one between being in this income band and voting National in 2017 (-0.37).
In the income bands lower than this, people tended to support New Zealand First all the more. To the poorest New Zealanders, there is no apparent difference between National and Labour, and such a mindset seems to find a home in New Zealand First.
Ultimately, wealthy Kiwis like National and dislike Labour and New Zealand First, and poor Kiwis dislike National and like Labour and New Zealand First, so this one goes to Labour.
National 1.75, Labour 2.25
The correlation between voting National in 2017 and being male was 0.23, understandable as men earn more money than women and are therefore relatively likely to lose from the balance of taxation and welfare spending.
The correlation between voting Labour in 2017 and being female was 0.40, also understandable for the opposite reasons to why the men vote National – women earn less money and therefore benefit more from a party that raises taxes for the sake of social spending.
New Zealand First voters fell right in the middle. The correlation between voting New Zealand First in 2017 and being female was 0.10, which placed it almost exactly as far away from the National figure as from the Labour one.
In other words, New Zealand First voters were slightly more likely to be female, which fell in between National’s moderately more likely to be male and Labour’s strongly more likely to be female.
National 2.25, Labour 2.75
Curiously, the correlations between living in a mortgaged house and voting in 2017 for any of the three parties under discussion were basically identical. For National and Labour it was both 0.16, and for New Zealand First it was 0.14.
For living in a freehold house, things were a bit different. Predictably, people who lived in freehold houses were much more likely to vote National than Labour. The correlation between living in a freehold house and voting for National in 2017 was 0.65, and with voting for Labour in 2017 it was -0.51.
But people who voted New Zealand First fell almost right in the middle – the correlation between living in a freehold house and voting New Zealand First in 2017 was 0.22. This might be marginally closer to National but this was not the case in 2014. At that election, voting for New Zealand First had a correlation of -0.05 with living in a freehold house.
A similar pattern presented itself for those who were renters. The correlation between living in a rented house and voting for National in 2017 was a very strong -0.79, and with voting for Labour in 2017 it was also fairly strong, but in the other direction, at 0.56.
Again, New Zealand First voters fell in the middle. The correlation between living in a rented house and voting Nw Zealand First in 2017 was -0.26, which again falls right in between Labour and National. This one has to be another tie, at half a point each.
Final score: National 2.75, Labour 3.25
In the final analysis, it would be far from easy for Peters to choose between Labour and National on the basis of demographic similarities. Age would push him towards National, income towards Labour, and gender and homeownership rates would be even.
This makes for a very strong negotiating position in one sense. Unlike the Green Party – who cannot support National without committing suicide in the manner of the Maori Party and the British Liberal Democrats – New Zealand First could plausibly support either Labour or National, meaning that either side has an incentive to offer as much as it can to them.
However, Winston Peters has also been forked. He has to make one group of committed New Zealand First supporters unhappy. Either he makes the elderly European contingent unhappy by going with the Green Party, or he makes the working-class Maori contingent unhappy by going with National.
No doubt this calculus means that Peters will take his sweet time, and consider every possibility, before deciding on whose head he will place the crown.
This article is an excerpt from the 2nd Edition of Understanding New Zealand, which Dan McGlashan and VJM Publishing will have ready for sale at the end of October 2017. This will contain statistics calculated according to the official final vote counts and will be freshly updated with data from the 2017 General Election.