Understanding New Zealand 3: Who Voted National In 2020

The 2020 General Election was a disaster for National. Their vote count collapsed from 1,152,075 (44.4%) to 738,275 (25.6%). This catastrophic result saw National with no chance of negotiating their way into government.

National lost voters in two major directions. Not only did they lose votes to their fellow right-wing party ACT, but they also lost votes across the centre to Labour.

Although National never got many votes from young people (the correlation between voting National in 2017 and being aged 20-29 was significantly negative), they got even fewer in 2020. Young New Zealand voters followed the general trend of drifting away from conservative parties between 2017 and 2020.

One pattern here is very striking: support for National rises as age rises, up until the 50-54 year old age bracket, at which point it levels off. National support increases the most quickly between ages 30-45, because this is the age in which the largest number make the transition from renter to homeowner, and therefore from a victim of the Establishment to a beneficiary of it.

People in the age brackets where homeownership is very high, i.e. those aged 50 or above, are solidly National supporters. The correlation between voting National in 2020 and owning one’s own home in a family trust was 0.81, and with owning or part owning one’s own home outright it was 0.56. The correlation between voting National in 2020 and neither owning one’s home in a family trust nor outright was -0.75.

The reason for this is obvious: National is more interested in taxing labour than capital, so those who own a lot of capital vote National out of self-interest. The New Zealand homeowner can rest assured that the National Party will never impose a capital gains tax nor a land tax. They are very much the representatives of accumulated capital.

The ongoing and worsening housing crisis is probably the foremost reason that National lost many younger voters, but maintained their position among the middle-aged. After all, the more arduous and difficult it is for a young person to get into a house, the more cruisy and luxurious life is for those who own the houses.

If Labour are the established party of the working class, National are the established party of the Establishment.

If National is the party of the Establishment, then they predictably get a lot of votes from white people. In 2020, the correlation between voting National and being of European descent was 0.53. This is strong enough to suggest that the vast majority of National support comes from white people.

Support for National sank noticeably among Pacific Islanders and Asians, however. Asians are almost completely indifferent to National, and Pacific Islanders now dislike National almost as much as Maoris do. It’s possible that National becomes more and more a white person’s party over time.

The National Party isn’t just the party of those holding wealth, it’s also the party of those earning it. There were significant correlations between voting National in 2020 and having a personal income of over $50,000 per year. The correlation between voting National in 2020 and having a personal income of over $70,000 was 0.41.

However, the correlations between being wealthy and voting National were not as strong as the correlations between being old and voting National, and the correlation between earning over $70,000 and voting for a party was stronger for the Greens (0.52) than it was for National. This speaks to the degree to which votes for National are often cast for reasons of social conservatism.

On the subject of social conservatism, this has traditionally been where National got a lot of its voters. Christians are generally happy to have homosexuals, prostitutes and cannabis users locked up in prison for moral reasons, and to that end they tend to vote National.

In 2017, the correlation between voting National and being Christian was 0.33. But by 2020 this had fallen to 0.10. Support for National also fell between 2017 and 2020 among Buddhists (0.20 to 0.12), Hindus (-0.06 to -0.14) and Muslims (-0.10 to -0.19). These voters probably didn’t switch because of moral reasons, but because of the poor example National set with their multiple changes of leadership.

In 2017 National and Labour were heavily polarised, and appealed to very different demographics. The correlation between voting National in 2017 and voting Labour in 2017 was -0.94, suggesting that there was very little overlap between the two voting blocs.

By 2020, the correlation between voting National and voting Labour was -0.16. This was because so many elderly, rich, white, Christian voters switched to Labour that there was no longer any significant difference between the voters of the two parties. National was still older, richer, whiter – but not by anywhere near as much.

So many old, rich, white people abandoned National for ACT in 2020 that the correlation between voting for either party in 2020 was 0.92. In 2017 this correlation was only 0.61.

There were also strong correlations between voting National in 2020 and voting New Conservative in 2020 (0.68) or voting Sustainable NZ in 2020 (0.50).

Significant negative correlations existed between voting National in 2020 and voting Maori Party in 2020 (-0.71), voting Vision NZ in 2020 or voting Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party in 2020 (both -0.60). These parties have a young, poor and brown demographic and are therefore different to the National-voting demographic in several major ways.

None of the correlations between voting National in 2020 and voting for the other parties in 2020 were significant, which speaks to the degree that National is a middle-of-the-road party.


This article is an excerpt from the upcoming 3rd Edition of Understanding New Zealand, by Dan McGlashan and published by VJM Publishing. Understanding New Zealand is the comprehensive guide to the demographics and voting patterns of the New Zealand people.


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