The New Zealand First Party has been around for over 20 years and has carved a reputation as a nationalist socialist party that caters especially to the old. Although this is somewhat true it is a simplicity that comes nowhere close to giving the full picture of what is arguably New Zealand’s third largest political movement.
The statistic that will surprise many is that there is no correlation at all between voting New Zealand First in 2014 and being of European descent. This value is an even 0.00, which gives the lie to the commonly-held belief that New Zealand First appeals heavily to white nationalist sentiments. In fact, the correlation between being Maori and voting New Zealand First is a strong 0.66, which tells us that Winston Peters’s party has a much stronger appeal to the tangata whenua than it does to the culture of the settlers.
This correlation can be easily observed without any complicated analysis: one need simply note the high percentage of New Zealand First support in the Maori electorates.
Although the statistics downplay the idea that New Zealand First appeals to racist sentiments, they certainly do not have much support among Asians – the correlation between voting New Zealand First and being Asian is -0.60. For being a Pacific Islander the correlation is -0.08, which suggests that Islanders are generally indifferent to Peters’s message.
Another surprising statistic is that there is no significant correlation between Median Age and voting New Zealand First (-0.08). So the idea that New Zealand First is a pensioners’ party also is a banal simplification. Indeed, the average New Zealand First voter is not much older than the average Green voter (for whom the correlation with Median Age is -0.17). Certainly much younger than the average National voter, for whom the correlation with Median Age was a very strong 0.81.
New Zealand First voters are the poorest of the supporters of any major party: voting for them has a correlation of -0.59 with Net Personal Income. They are also the most poorly educated. There is a correlation of 0.79 with voting New Zealand First and having no qualifications, which suggests a surprising working-class sentiment among their voters.
Indeed, as the New Zealand working class, especially those with no qualifications, are the primary losers from mass immigration, which sees their niche in the job market swamped with competition at the same time their rents skyrocket, it is not surprising they vote New Zealand First in great numbers.
Voting New Zealand First had a correlation of -0.41 with voting to change the flag in the second flag referendum, which might reflect monarchist sentiments, or perhaps a working class conservative streak. It could also reflect a distaste among New Zealand First supporters for the flagship project of an international banker who sold assets and opened the borders.
Supporting the idea that New Zealand First has a strong working class base, voting for them has a correlation of 0.40 with not voting at all, suggesting a significant degree of disenfranchisement. This is, however, not as strong as the correlation between voting Labour and not voting (0.67). Perhaps this is evidence of a higher level of political engagement among New Zealand First supporters compared to people in similar sociodemographics. This might reflect a higher level of political sophistication among New Zealand First supporters in comparison to those who support Labour.
Of interest to potential post-2017 coalition options, voting New Zealand First had a correlation of -0.34 with voting National, -0.39 with voting Green and 0.11 with voting Labour. The strongest correlations were 0.44 with voting Internet MANA and 0.46 with voting for the Maori Party.
On the face of it, this suggests that a Labour-New Zealand First-Maori coalition might be the left’s best best after 2017. As the correlation between voting Labour and voting Maori Party is 0.41 this arrangement might well be most amenable to all sides. That New Zealand First voters have an apparent dislike for Green voters that is even stronger than their enmity for National voters suggests the current cozy assumption of a Labour-Greens-New Zealand First coalition post 2017 might be miscalculated.
Interestingly, voting New Zealand First had a correlation of 0.57 with voting for the Cannabis Party. Although this can be mostly explained by the common factor of Maori support, it probably also reflects a shared rejection of the mainstream media message (cannabis users and New Zealand First supporters tend to share an extreme skepticism of the mainstream media).
This article is an excerpt from Understanding New Zealand, by Dan McGlashan, published by VJM Publishing in the winter of 2017.