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Analysis by Dr Bryce Edwards.

Political Roundup: National is failing to inspire voters

Political scientist, Dr Bryce Edwards.

Labour’s Hamilton West by-election loss at the weekend has been widely described as a disaster for the party, illustrating just how much the tide has turned on the Government.

But what did the by-election result say about the state of the National Party? Tama Potaka’s win was a vote of confidence in him as a candidate and for the party as a whole. Winning 46 per cent of the vote was a strong performance, easily beating the Labour candidate’s 30 per cent support.

National failed to inspire voters in Hamilton West

However, the extremely low voter turnout really does need to be considered when evaluating National’s success. According to the Electoral Commission, the eligible voting population in Hamilton West is about 57,211. Therefore, 14,392 votes is a turnout of only about 25 per cent. (Some news reports suggest a higher turnout figure, but they’re failing to include the number of eligible voters in Hamilton West who weren’t enrolled.)

What’s more, Potaka’s winning total of 6629 represents the endorsement of less than 12 per cent of eligible voters in Hamilton West. So while Potaka crushed his Labour opponent, a sober reading of the result shows it was somewhat less than the total victory it appears to be.

The problem is that National, by and large, failed to mobilise support for their candidate. Potaka actually received 7807 fewer votes than National’s losing candidate in 2020, Tim McIndoe – so that’s less than half the vote National mobilised just two years ago at a time when the tide was going out on the party.

Despite Luxon’s underdog posturing in the run-up to election day it would have been shocking if National hadn’t won, as the party had everything going in its favour. The cost of living crisis, together with the increased concern about crime and ram raids on shops provided the perfect conditions for National to take the seat off Labour. What’s more, the whole contest had been sparked by the embarrassing resignation of Gaurav Sharma, who had made all sorts of damaging accusations about bullying in the Labour Government.

National’s failure to take advantage of Labour’s woes

In mobilising only 12 per cent of eligible Hamilton West voters to choose Potaka, the by-election highlights how National is also failing to convince voters throughout the rest of the country.

Right now, the National Party is polling consistently above its Labour rival, and while this is a significant turnaround from the last few years, there needs to be an acknowledgement that National is still trapped in the high 30s – the most recent Curia poll had National on 39 per cent, the Kantar poll had them on 38 per cent.

Shouldn’t National be doing better than this? The Labour Government has had a terrible year, handing the Opposition the best conditions to prosper in years, and yet National hasn’t been able to take full advantage of this. The feeling inside National must be that they should currently be at least ten points ahead of Labour rather than just a few.

On just about every major issue that is important to voters, Labour has been in trouble throughout 2022. The crises keep coming – the housing crisis and the cost of living crisis are the two big ones in which voters have great reason to be most dissatisfied with Labour’s performance. But there have been so many other failures that have created the perfect conditions for the Opposition. From the unconvincing Three Waters reforms through to Hate Speech laws and the RNZ-TVNZ merger, Labour has stumbled.

National’s inability to leverage Labour’s weaknesses more fully is partly down to Christopher Luxon. On the one hand, the new leader has obviously done well to keep his party united and lift their support up. And his own preferred prime minister poll numbers are relatively good. But has he really inspired the public? There’s not much evidence of it.

Luxon is probably aware of his need to appear to be more substantial. Hence in an RNZ interview this morning he talks of the need to carry out reforms that are more than just “incrementalism”. The RNZ news item is titled, “Christopher Luxon pledges to be bolder if elected”.

National failing to present an alternative

Overall, National is doing a relatively good job of opposing the Labour Government, but is failing to present a convincing alternative to the status quo. Yes, the true-blue supporters are relatively happy that the party is more coherent and organised than in the past. But National is currently far too bland and thin in vision to really win over many of the voters that are losing faith in Labour.

Part of the reason is the Act Party. David Seymour is likely to be labelled the “Politician of the Year” by many commentators. His boldness and chutzpa put Luxon to shame. And so for as long as Act is positioning itself as the “rightwing party of ideas and principles”, then National is going to look rather uninspiring.

The blandness of National is also by design rather than neglect. National strategists have obviously decided to take a small target approach, in which they try to minimise the areas in which they can be critiqued on. By deliberately not projecting an alternative to Labour, National will be hoping to avoid alienating any floating, centrist voters.

Defenders of National might suggest that National is keeping its powder dry for the election campaign. And, yes, more policies will be released on the campaign trial. But they are likely to be more bland than bold.

National’s boldest policy so far has been its military academy announcement. And we saw last week that this is popular – 60 per cent believe that serious youth offenders should indeed be sent to bootcamps. Meanwhile, crime and justice experts continue to view the policy as anything more than populism.

The Hamilton-West by-election also indicated that a focus on law and order is the one area that National is willing to be bold and radical on. The issue of ram raids and crime was successfully leveraged by candidate Tama Potaka in a sign of what we might expect much more of from National in 2023.

But will a hard line on law and order be enough to get National’s vote up in the 40s? It’s unlikely. To win over former Labour voters, National will have to release some convincing policies to deal with the housing crisis and the cost of living. And more widely, it needs to show what it actually stands for – because that is far from clear at the moment.

Luxon will also have to lift his game. In 2022 he has been too gaffe-prone and unimpressive in his media interviews. But the bigger problem is that people generally find him too bland and empty.

National is clearly doing quite well at the moment, and is very much the odds-on favourite to be in government in a year’s time. New Zealand doesn’t allow political gambling, but the Australian betting sites are currently only paying $1.65 for a National win, versus $2.20 for a Labour win – which suggests there is about a 60 per cent chance of a change of government.

But before National gets too complacent, it should continue to ponder why its successful by-election candidate only managed to mobilise 12 per cent of the eligible electorate to turn out for him, and why National is struggling to hit 40 per cent support in highly-favourable conditions.

National and Luxon are clearly still failing to inspire.

Other items of interest and importance today

PARLIAMENT
Craig McCulloch (RNZ): Christopher Luxon’s bold vision pale on detail: ‘Rest assured, we will have policy’
Mark Quinlivan (Newshub): Grant Robertson, Nicola Willis to be the main focus of election 2023 instead of Jacinda Ardern, Christopher Luxon – commentator
Peter Dunne (Newsroom): Labour weighed down by political baggage
Gordon Campbell: On National’s clueless stance on National Super
Richard Harman (Politik): The irrational anger directed at Ardern (paywalled)
Brent Edwards (NBR): Immigration, MIQ criticism, dumping policies and retiring MPs (paywalled)
Toby Manhire (Spinoff): Ten days that define 2022 in NZ politics
Damien Venuto (Herald): A look back at a tough year in the polls for Labour
Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): The 2023 Real Left election manifesto
RNZ: Ardern, Seymour to auction ‘arrogant prick’ remark for prostate charity
1News: Ardern and Seymour in unlikely charity team-up
Thomas Coughlan (Herald): Jacinda Ardern, David Seymour to raise money for ‘pricks’ – prostate cancer charity
Lydia Lewis (RNZ): Dawn Raids apology a stand-out moment for outgoing politician
Don Franks: Workers Now

ECONOMY, INEQUALITY
Josie Pagani (Stuff): Why ‘Wellbeing’ is hurting us
Ripu Bhatia (Stuff): Psychological distress, discrimination harming Māori wellbeing, Treasury finds
Kushlan Sugathapala (Herald): Must the Reserve Bank wreck the economy to fight inflation?
RNZ: Finance Minister Grant Robertson warned against recession spend-up
Herald Editorial: Booming economy too good to be true – and we know it (paywalled)
Liam Dann (Herald): Economy boomed: GDP data shows solid economic growth, reveals star performers
Ireland Hendry-Tennent (Newshub): GDP figures: New Zealand records 2.0 percent increase in September quarter
RNZ: GDP grows 2 percent in third quarter
1News: GDP grows 2% in September quarter – Stats NZ
Rebecca Howard (BusinessDesk): NZ economy ran hot in September quarter
Tim Dower (Newstalk ZB): Government books give us a clear picture ahead
Jamie Gray (Herald): NZ’s high current account deficit a key credit risk: S&P (paywalled)
Dan Brunskill (BusinessDesk): Animal spirits in 2023: five possible turning points for the markets (paywalled)
Rebecca Howard (BusinessDesk): Will tourism be a silver bullet for the current account? (paywalled)
Tamsyn Parker (Herald): Stock Takes: What will 2023 hold for the markets? (paywalled)

BUSINESS
Tex Edwards (Newsroom): The real reason nobody will take on the supermarkets
Adam Hollingworth (Newshub): Building industry downturn could cost 45,000 jobs as construction halves – expert
Stefan Dimitrof (Whakaata Māori): Hospitality bounceback welcomed but staffing issues persist
Dita De Boni (NBR): Lots of toil and some trouble: employment law wrap 2022 (paywalled)
Molly Swift (Newshub): Job candidates hold bargaining power as employers turn to sign-on bonuses as incentives in tight labour market – SEEK

LOCAL GOVERNMENT
Todd Niall (Stuff): Wayne Brown’s knack for raining on his own parade
Tina Morrison (Stuff): Why Auckland mayor Wayne Brown was in hot water for airport comments
Simon Wilson (Herald): Auckland mayor clashes with journalists but gets support for his budget
Todd Niall (Stuff): Wayne Brown gets budget sign-off after gaffe causes airport trading halt
Tim Murphy (Newsroom): Wayne goes collegial and works the weekend
Nick Truebridge (Newshub): Auckland Council’s super-saver budget passes first test
Grant Bradley (Herald): Wayne Brown and Auckland Airport – what did the Mayor know? (paywalled)
Finn Blackwell (RNZ): It was just a suggestion, Wayne Brown says, after trading in Auckland Airport’s shares disrupted
Herald: Auckland Airport trading halt lifted after company responds to Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown’s comments
Oliver Lewis (BusinessDesk): Auckland mayor Wayne Brown says airport capital-raising is ‘inevitable’ (paywalled)
RNZ: NZX trading halt on Auckland Airport shares lifted after mayor’s remarks on public cash raising
Erin Gourley (Stuff): Wellington mayor labels leaking of confidential papers ‘political sabotage’
Erin Gourley (Stuff): Wellington City Council to discuss $150m cost escalation in private
John Minto (Daily Blog): Ignorance and lack of cultural respect behind denial of karakia at Kaipara Council meeting
Don Brash: I admire Craig Jepson
Logan Savory (Stuff): Invercargill election candidates campaign spending revealed
Luisa Girao (ODT): Lush tops election spending, council reveals
Glenn McLean (Stuff): New Plymouth District Council boss received hefty pay rise the year before he resigned
Keiller MacDuff (Stuff): Environment Canterbury agrees pay for councillors
Joanne Naish (Stuff): 14 roles axed, $1.1m saved in Grey District Council restructure
Local Democracy Reporting: Lots to do and four months wasted by mayor’s changes at Whakatāne District Council, says councillor
Glenn McLean (Stuff): New Plymouth ratepayers face $40m blowout on thermal dryer project

MEDIA
Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): The Infamous TDB Media Awards 2022
Duncan Greive (Spinoff): The 10 biggest, baddest and weirdest NZ media stories of 2022
Jo Moir (Newsroom): Luxon’s commitment to fund RNZ properly to ‘do its job’
Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): What Labour should cut and why it shouldn’t be ANZPM
Bill Ralston (Listener/Herald): NZ’s public broadcasters ain’t broke, so why try to fix them? (paywalled)
Daniel Dunkley (BusinessDesk): TVNZ in Spark Sport joint venture talks (paywalled)
Herald: Rachel Smalley talks to Paula Bennett about broadcasting, funding medicines and government waste
Stuff: Caitlin Cherry named new editor of The Dominion Post

HOUSING
Kelly Makiha (Rotorua Daily Post): Commissioners grant 13 Rotorua motels resource consent to operate emergency housing for two years
Laura Smith (Herald): Fighting for Rotorua: Emergency housing tenant shares harrowing experience of slime, soiled nappy
Ethan Te Ora (Stuff): What the extreme Cheryl Scott case says about the need to regulate landlords

COVID-19
Anusha Bradley (RNZ): The $1.59m Covid vaccination campaign that happened after almost everyone was vaccinated
Alexander Gillespie (The Conversation): The High Court and the Ombudsman have found fault with NZ’s MIQ system – should the government apologise?
Tim Dower (Newstalk ZB): MIQ report shows we need to be prepared to do better
RNZ: Covid-19: Boosters, masks and RATs on the menu for Christmas 2022

HEALTH AND DISABILITY
RNZ: National accused of regurgitating ‘zombie arguments’ against tobacco crackdown
Karanama Ruru (Stuff): Undercounting of Māori in health data a breach of treaty, report finds
1News: ‘Maelstrom of disinformation’ fuelled baby blood case – expert
1News: Pharmac reaches provisional deal on funding lung cancer drugs
Michael Fallow (Stuff): Why internationally distinguished surgeon will volunteer at Southand Charity Hospital
Ripu Bhatia (Stuff): Disabled denied ‘freedom to travel’ on InterCity bus network
Pokere Paewai (RNZ): Concerns Therapeutic Products Bill may overreach into Māori traditional practices
Jenny Ruth (BusinessDesk): Pay parity for some but not aged care nurses (paywalled)

CRIME, POLICE, JUSTICE
Glenn McConnell (Stuff): Under-fire police bosses tell MPs they can only do so much about youth crime
Adam Pearse (Herald): ‘Cups of tea with gang members’: National MP and Police Commissioner lock horns over gang operation
Adam Pearse (Herald): Small businesses can get Govt-subsidised fog cannons from February
RNZ: Fog cannon subsidy to become available in February – Minister
Verity Johnson (Stuff): The fear that’s descended on Auckland’s CBD
Deena Coster (Stuff): Gender diversity with New Zealand’s police ranks at five-year high
Jake Kenny (Stuff): New Zealand’s accommodation of Muslim faith in mosque terror attack case deemed ‘groundbreaking’

AHAMED SAMSUDEEN
Soumya Bhamidipati (RNZ): INZ recognised risk Ahamed Samsudeen posed but was stymied by law – review
Phil Pennington (RNZ): LynnMall terror attack review expresses surprise Samsudeen’s family wasn’t contacted
Cherie Howie and Adam Pearse (Herald): Auckland LynnMall supermarket terror attack: Survivor’s sadness and relief at review findings

ENVIRONMENT
Eloise Gibson (Stuff): Government baulks at raising carbon price as cost of living bites
Hamish Cardwell (RNZ): NZ’s emissions likely to drop a quarter by 2035, projections show
Steven Cowan: Seeing red over climate change
Justin Wong and Hanna McCallum (Stuff): Grant Robertson ‘very disappointed’ rail activists paintbombed Cabinet ministers’ offices across country
Steve Urlich (Stuff): The Resource Management Act rewrite is heading for an iceberg
Corina Jordan (Stuf): Resource Management Act rewrite will fail future generations, so why the rush?
RNZ: Survey shows New Zealanders think marine environment health is improving – it’s declining
Denise Piper (Stuff): Environment Court forces new no-fishing zone in Northland’s Bay of Islands
RNZ: Coromandel fishery to completely close after further decline in scallops

PRIMARY AND EXTRACTIVE INDUSTRIES, ENERGY
Gray Gibson and Alexa Cook (Newshub): New Government energy announcement praised by industry for mitigating future risk of blackouts
Jenée Tibshraeny (Herald): Govt open to continuing to allow onshore oil and gas exploration
Marc Daalder (Newsroom): Govt pauses new oil and gas exploration
RNZ: Government defers oil and gas exploration block offers, seeks submissions on offshore wind
Maddison Gourlay and Catherine Groenestein (Stuff): Govt explores offshore renewables as part of the transition to clean energy
Ian Llewellyn (BusinessDesk): Govt hot on wind, cold on gas (paywalled)
Jamie Ensor (Newshub): Review of Ministry of Primary Industries investigation into Kuriger family case finds matter dealt with adequately
Riley Kennedy (BusinessDesk): Kuriger dispute: MPI actions ‘not motivated by improper purpose’ (paywalled)
Rachael Kelly (Stuff): Groundswell NZ leaders meet with PM Ardern in Wellington
RNZ: Rural telethon launches to supply meat to city missions and foodbanks

EDUCATION
Lee Kenny (Stuff): Te Pūkenga needs almost $500m in extra funding amid calls to end ‘out of control spending’
John Gerritsen (RNZ): Chance of secondary school teacher shortage in 2023, oversupply for primary schools
Katie Ham (Stuff): AUT academics concerned mass redundancies have turned into ‘targeted attacks’

CHILD WELFARE
Ireland Hendry-Tennent (Newshub): Experts slam Inland Revenue over lack of action on huge number of parents not paying child support
Arena Williams and Stuart Smith (Stuff): Oversight of Oranga Tamariki is desperately needed to fix the dysfunction
Vaimaila Leatinu’u (Herald): Rainbow youth survey finds Māori face added disparities, including those in state care

ROYAL COMMISSION INTO ABUSE IN CARE
Phil Pennington (RNZ): Archives NZ breach allows access to Royal Commission records on abuse survivors
Andrew McRae and Jimmy Ellingham (RNZ): Royal Commission into Abuse in Care inquiry details suffering of adolescent Lake Alice Psychiatric Hospital patients
Aaron Smale (Newsroom): Lake Alice report finally documents the truth
David Williams (Newsroom): ‘I wasn’t even meant to be there’
Tumamao Harawira (Whakaata Māori): Beautiful Children report on Lake Alice abuse presented to Parliament

THREE WATERS
Eric Crampton (Herald): Owning pipes and disowning constitutions (paywalled)
Stephen Ward (Stuff): ‘No brainer’ or ‘bribe’? Hamilton turns on the Three Waters cash tap

OFFICIAL INFORMATION ACT
Peter Boshier (BusinessDesk): Official Information Act helped us lift the veil of secrecy
ODT Editorial: Tear down this wall (paywalled)

OTHER
RNZ: Privacy Commissioner mulls biometrics code of practice
Chris Keall (Herald) The Government’s Digital Council dies, as it was born, in high farce (paywalled)
James Perry (Whakaata Māori): More than 87% of Aotearoa connected as Opononi finally switches on UFB
Jamie Tahana (RNZ): ‘Many’ injustices to Kāpiti Māori admitted in Tribunal report
Gill Bonnett (RNZ): Immigration NZ’s security check failures prompt GP and family to reconsider staying
RNZ: NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern touts role in removing Iran from UN women’s group
Sonia Lewycka, Rachel Simon-Kumar and Roshini Peiris-John (The Conversation):  A new study shows NZ’s young minorities feel racism differently – wealth or being able to ‘pass’ as white makes a difference
Karl du Fresne: Why no royal commission on the Whakaari disaster?
Herald: Daran Ponter on the bus-tastrophe engulfing the country
Deborah LaHatte (Whakaata Māori): Shakespeare Globe Centre NZ board says sorry for not calling out racist rhetoric

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