Who Voted ACT in 2017

The ACT Party got an extremely high level of media coverage for a party so disliked by the electorate, but it didn’t help them in 2017

The ACT Party cuts a lonely figure on the New Zealand landscape. Although their advertising budget was literally hundreds of times greater than the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party, they couldn’t win even twice as many votes. This tells a story of a party whose goals are not well aligned with the will of the New Zealand people; some could argue they were directly antithetical. This article looks at who their voters were.

ACT won 13,075 votes in 2017, down from 16,689 in 2014. This suggests that they were abandoned by some 20% of their voters from 2014. Fortunately, the correlation matrix tells us about several places that their vote became weaker.

ACT voters were the wealthiest of any party’s voters. The correlation between voting ACT in 2017 and median personal income was 0.61, which was a fair bit higher than the correlation of 0.36 between voting ACT in 2014 and median personal income (for reasons that we will investigate).

Not even the correlation between median personal income and voting National in 2017 was as strong – this was 0.49. In 2014 the average ACT voter was poorer than the average National voter, so the fact that they are wealthier in 2017 is a useful clue. It suggests that some ACT voters nearer the middle of the income ladder switched allegiances.

The correlations with voting for ACT and being in the higher income bands strengthened from 2014 to 2017. For those earning $150K+, the correlation with voting ACT in 2017 was 0.79, up from 0.44 in 2014. For those earning $100-150K, it increased to 0.66 in 2017 from 0.43 in 2014, and for those earning $70-100K it increased to 0.53 in 2017 from 0.35 in 2014.

At least part of the reason for these explanations is because the correlations between having a university degree and voting ACT strengthened from 2014 to 2017. By 2017 the correlation between voting ACT and having a university degree was 0.70 for having a Bachelor’s, 0.58 for having an Honours, 0.65 for having a Master’s and 0.51 for having a doctorate.

ACT also became a lot whiter from 2014 to 2017. By 2017 the correlation between voting ACT and being a Kiwi of European descent had become 0.16, much more positive than 2014 when it was -0.28. This reflects a collapse in Asian support – the correlation between being Asian and voting ACT was 0.85 in 2014, but only 0.46 by 2017.

These correlations start to tell a story of a large number of Asians who left the ACT Party for the National Party after 2014 (this is supported by the investigation into who voted for the National Party in 2017).

Despite the initial assumption made by many, the large numbers of Asians voting National could actually speak to an increasing solidarity between Asians and other Kiwis, because although National speaks for low taxes and low welfare they aren’t as aggressive about it as ACT are.

Pacific Islanders don’t like ACT (the correlation between being a Pacific Islander and voting ACT in 2017 was -0.23) and Maoris really don’t like ACT (the correlation between being Maori and voting ACT in 2017 was -0.51). This is not surprising if one considers how fervently ACT support the wealthy.

One curiosity is that the ACT voting bloc became older this election. The correlation between median age and voting ACT in 2017 was 0.26, compared to 0.02 in 2014. This is hinted at by the strengthening in the correlations between voting ACT and being aged 50-64 (from -0.07 in 2014 to 0.17 in 2017) and between voting ACT and being aged 65+ (from -0.11 in 2014 to 0.11 in 2017).

Considering also that the average ACT voter was much less likely to be born overseas in 2017 (the correlation between voting ACT and being born overseas fell from 0.78 in 2014 to 0.57 in 2017), this paints a picture of a rich, old, white, very highly-educated core of ACT voters who have remained with the party, and a less-committed group of younger, heavily Asian professionals, some of whom still supported ACT in large numbers in 2017, but many of whom were successfully tempted to switch allegiance to the National Party.


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.

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