The Rongotai Election

This year I voted for Russel Norman for my electorate and the Greens for my party vote.  I was going to vote for Annette King, but a few days before election day I realised that I could not recall a single thing that King had said in the last three years, whereas I had been consistently impressed by Norman.  So I voted for him.

If you voted for Labour and voted in Rongotai then Annette King was elected once again as your MP.  Which might seem like a good story for a Labour supporter in Rongotai, but if you begin to break down the results by polling station against the areas used in the 2013 census you get a very different picture for the party vote.  A different picture that shows you exactly how out of favour Labour is even in a “safe” Labour seat.

Area Units Booths

Overall the party vote for National in Rongotai was a win by 900 votes. There are whole areas of Rongotai where Labour doesn’t rate, and a fault line through half of the electorate where the Greens became the choice of the left.  The Lyall Bay area is probably most poorly represented by its red blob.  Of the two polling stations in that area one actually had the Greens in first place for party vote (but only by two votes over Labour), while the much larger polling station at Lyall Bay School saw National defeat Labour (but again by only two votes).  The totals for both of these polling stations give it to Labour, but there was a real tussle there: Labour 506, National 483, Greens 394.  Newtown West ostensibly went to Labour but only by two votes overall so I’m calling that a tie, which is similar to the results in Owhiro Bay and Kingston where National won the party vote but only fractionally over Labour.

The reason I used the area units from the 2013 census (the purple boundaries) is so that I could use the census data to investigate the voting in other ways.  I suppose that the most obvious way would be to look at Rongotai by income.  Median family income in Rongotai peaks in Seatoun and Worser Bay at $150,000, and is at its lowest in Kilbirnie East at $68,800.  For the picture below I have used the following key to represent median family income:

  • $ = 60-80,000
  • $$ = 80-100,000
  • $$$ = 100-120,000
  • $$$$ = 120+

Area Units Income

Which paints a fairly clear picture.  The less money you have the more you vote left.  There are a few exceptions: the well off but Green voting Houghton Bay-Melrose-Southgate (actually only just squeaks into this higher band with a median income of $100,100), and a couple of Miramar electorates who voted National but are lower down the socio-economic ladder in Rongtotai.  The overall stereotype looks true: the very rich vote National and the poorer vote Labour (or the Greens).

Ethnicity would be the next layer to add.  Without wanting to get into a long breakdown of all ethnic groups for all the areas I have used Europeans as a marker for homogeneity.  The percentage on this map refers to the European population in that area.  The most diverse areas in Rongotai float around 55-62% with Roseneath and Island Bay being the most homogeneous at 90%.

Area Units Ethnicity

Those wealthy Europeans like to party vote National (Seatoun was the only area to vote for Chris Finlayson over Annette King in the electorate vote).  What looks concerning for Labour in this result are large parts of Miramar.  The results in those central Miramar booths was close, but National edged it every time.  Once again, Houghton Bay remains an interesting anomaly in the pattern.

Even though these statistics seem to paint a clear picture they do hide the finer grain.  For example, it might seem obvious that Kilbirnie East with a low-income and high ethnic diversity voted for Labour, but it was actually a close run thing.  Even in that area Labour only beat National for the party vote by 84 votes.  To me that one result sums up how badly Labour did.

The media have been saying that this is Labour’s worst result since 1928, but it is really Labour’s worst result ever because in 1928 Labour had never been the government.  In 1928 the Labour party was building momentum as an opposition party but it wasn’t until 1935 that Labour was able to form the government for the first time, and never since have Labour polled as low as they did last weekend.

History suggests a few things.  Firstly, political parties can completely vanish.  The Liberal Party was a massively influential party in New Zealand led by Seddon and then Ward.  It governed for 21 years and was generally progressive in its approach.  By the 1930s it had vanished.  Labour can do the same thing.  History is not a guarantee of anything.  In the end sentiment will not protect you against irrelevance and oblivion.

Secondly, new parties can rise to prominence, especially if they are in tune with the concern of the age.  The Labour Party came to dominance at the tail of the Great Depression and the rise of labour movements in general.  It feels, therefore, entirely possible that the Green Party could continue to rise over the years to come.  Not much is certain about how the world will carry on, but the pressure on the environment and resources seems to be forging ahead unabated, while the major parties pay lip service to addressing that degradation.  The Green Party may begin to appear increasingly sensible in light of those changes.

On reflection I think that the two main parties have not actually yet grasped that we have MMP.  Leaders debates between Labour and National suggest that media also don’t understand MMP.  Why the Green Party and New Zealand First were not in the debate with Cunliffe and Key I simply don’t understand.  Across Rongotai the Greens were the other party of choice.  Occasionally winning actual areas, and often in a tussle over the others, and yet the debates put them in an eight way bun fight with Brendan Horan, Jamie Whyte and Colin Craig.

I suspect it is one reason why so many people don’t vote.  What is presented in the media is First Past the Post and that looks a lot like a discussion about things that the educated, predominantly white, comfortable middle class want to hear about.  Does anyone think for a moment that the poor and disenfranchised give a damn about capital gains tax?

It is the white middle class and wealthy talking to each other.  Yet people still wonder why the non-white or non middle class (or both) don’t engage?  And yet Labour plays the game with National, and both enjoy the prestige of the “leaders” debate.  On that front you would have to ask Labour: “what leadership?”  Three days after the election the Greens are on the radio ringing alarm bells about RMA reform, and the loss of environmental protections ahead – i.e. being the opposition once again – while the Labour caucus disembowels itself and Winston Peters simply vanishes (he will pop up again in three years).

Nothing is clearer to me from what happened in Rongotai than that the Greens could win my electorate in six years.  They could do that with or without Labour.  With Labour would be better but without looks possible.  When National crumbled to its lowest ebb there was no other party on the right for them to worry about so they could rebuild.  Labour does not have that luxury.  They have the Greens.  If the Greens start to resonate with the Maori and Pasifika communities then Labour is really in big  trouble.

But that is all speculation.  What we should be turning our minds to now – as the Greens have already done – is the role of a robust minority opposition over the next three years.