Who Voted For National in 2017

The National Party has the confidence of the rich to deliver

The National Party went from being able to govern with a handful of suppliant support partners after the 2014 General Election to needing the support of Winston Peters after 2017. As Peters has expressed a will to change, this is a much weaker position (and reflects falling to 44.45% support in 2017 from 47.04% in 2014). This article looks at who voted for them this year.

Fundamentally, National is the major conservative party and therefore they want most things to change as little as possible. Their voters are mostly made up of the sort of people who already occupy a reasonably high social position and who want to maintain this by not reducing inequality or redistributing resources.

This would explain why the correlation between voting National and median personal income is so high: at 0.53 in 2014 and 0.49 in 2017. National voters are considerably wealthier than the average Kiwi, and they are wealthier than the voters of any other party except for ACT (the correlation between voting ACT in 2017 and median personal income was 0.61).

Unsurprisingly, then, there is a very strong correlation of 0.63 between living in a freehold house and voting National.

National continues to get support from voters in the wealthier income bands, although these correlations became slightly weaker in 2017. All of the income bands from $60K or above had positive correlations with voting for National in 2017, but there were all marginally weaker than the same correlations in 2014 (from 0.24 to 0.21 for $60-70K; 0.36 to 0.32 for $70-100K; 0.34 to 0.30 for $100-150K; 0.35 to 0.30 for $150K+).

Related to this, one of the strongest correlations with voting for National in 2017 was with being self-employed with employees – this was 0.72. This is strong enough to suggest that anyone self-employed with employees who found themselves voting for a party other than National would have few fellows.

By 2017, the average National voter was fairly likely to be born overseas. The correlation between being born overseas and voting National in 2017 was 0.38, up from 0.33 in 2014. That probably reflects the degree to which National has been chasing specifically Asian voters who might be tempted to vote conservative on account of high wealth and/or low solidarity, and to which Pacific Islander voters switched to them because of religious sentiments around abortion etc.

Maoris, for their part, predictably abstained from the National Party. The correlation between being Maori and voting National in 2014 was -0.75 and in 2017 it was -0.74. Correlations of these strengths can be guessed at from the fact that National scores less than 10% in some Maori electorates.

This tells us that the vast bulk of the change in native-born support for the National Party was from native-born Kiwis of European descent. Indeed, the correlation between being a Kiwi of European descent and voting National fell from 0.60 in 2014 to 0.52 in 2017 – still pretty strong, but not as strikingly so.

From this we can determine that the reduction in support for National among Kiwis of European descent, from very strong to moderately strong, was partially balanced by an increase in pro-National sentiment among Pacific Islanders and Asians. So it follows that the correlation between voting National in 2017 compared to 2014 became more positive for Asians – increasing from 0.09 to 0.16 – and that the correlation between voting National in 2017 compared to 2014 became less negative for Pacific Islanders – weakening from -0.46 to -0.39.

It’s important here to take care not to mislead. The National Party voting bloc might have slightly fewer white people and slightly more Islanders than last time, but the National Party is still very much a pro-European party, and Pacific Islanders still mostly prefer Labour.

At least part of the reason for the increase in Pacific Islander support for National was religious sentiments inclining them towards conservative positions on ever-more present issues like gay marriage and cannabis law reform. We can see that the correlations between voting National and being either a Mormon or a Jehovah’s Witness – two religions with a high proportion of Pacific Islander followers – became less negative towards National: from -0.63 in 2014 to -0.57 in 2017 in the case of Mormons, and from -0.53 in 2014 to -0.49 in 2017 in the case of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The correlation between voting National and median age fell from 2014 to 2017, from 0.81 to 0.78. This was particularly noticeable in the 50+ age brackets and for being on the pension – the correlations between being in any of these categories and voting National fell from 2014 to 2017.

However, this correlation between age and voting conservative is one of the strongest and most significant in this entire study. Simply getting older is more likely than almost anything else to make a New Zealander become conservative.

Curiously, people with university degrees were less likely to vote National this time around. Although anyone holding a university degree was more likely than not to vote National (ceteris paribus), the correlations between voting National fell for all of them from 2014 to 2017: from 0.25 to 0.22 for a Bachelor’s, from 0.22 to 0.16 for an Honours, from 0.20 to 0.16 for a Master’s and from 0.20 to 0.13 for a doctorate.

The National Party lost a little of its mild South Island bias as well. The correlation between living on the South Island and voting National in 2017 was not significant, at 0.08 (down from 0.13 in 2014). This small change is probably because a lot of the white middle-class grandparents cohort, who are numerous on the South Island, switched away from National to be replaced by Pacific Islanders who live on the North Island.

Managers were the occupation that preferred National more than any other. The correlation between voting for National in 2017 and being a manager was 0.52.


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.

One thought on “Who Voted For National in 2017”

  1. While much of this would also be supported by individual-level data, beware the ecological fallacy! The text should make it clearer that this is extrapolating from electorate-level analysis.

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