Voter turnout by age group

Here are the final voter turnout totals and percentages by age band for the 2017 election:


Turnout is voters as % of total enrolled.

Under 30 turnout increased significantly more than older age brackets. This may be due to efforts to encourage young people to vote, and may also be influenced by increasingly easy advance voting options, including polling booths on university campuses.

It may also be that younger peoeple were more inclined to vote this time because Labour suddenly didn’t look hopeless any more, and Jacinda Ardern encouraged them to participate.

Whatever the reasons, higher turnout, especially of young voters, is a good thing.

Age band comparison of turnout:



New Zealand’s voting blocs

Alex Eastwood-Williams describes New Zealand’s voting blocs in a post at Right Minds NZ.

Last week’s election result has resulted in a barrage of commentary from those arguing that MMP’s time has come to an end and that we are returning to a two-party system. I’m not here to argue that – in fact I vehemently disagree – but I am going to argue that New Zealand’s political marketplace is overcrowded.

Last week’s election result was not an endorsement of the two-party system but merely a rejection of the six-seven-or-sometimes-eight-party system.

Both the Greens and NZ First looked at risk of failing to make the 5% threshold but enough voters rallied behind them to get them safely over the line.

The Three Voting Blocs

The main point of this article will be to argue that there are just three types of voter, and therefore can only be three blocs in the New Zealand political marketplace (and the same applies worldwide).

Voters and political parties are either “Left”, “Right” or “Non-aligned”.

A bit simplistic but close enough to how things work.

That’s not to say I believe there will be a three party system – in fact I believe the three blocs can allow up to six political parties to co-exist in Parliament at a time, although only four parties would be able to survive healthily and long-term.

The way the political market will usually work would be that the three blocs would create four parties: There would be the dominant one in power which would usually be the only party of its bloc. For example, right now the ‘Right’ bloc are in power, and the National Party is virtually the sole political party in that bloc. (You can pretend that ACT are an independent party if you like, but let’s be honest – if National pulls the plug, they’re gone.)

Then there would be the opposition bloc which would usually have more than one party within it – currently that’s the ‘Left’ bloc with Labour and the Greens – although when Labour were in government, the opposite was true with National and ACT both two separate political entities occupying the same bloc.

‘Right bloc’ and ‘left bloc’ is also a simplification. National have remained in power by dominating the centre, as did Helen Clartk’s Labour government. So they are rightish and leftish.

Finally you have the ‘Non-aligned’ bloc: That is the voters and political parties who are neither left nor right, basically the “protest vote”. Usually there would be just one party: Currently this is New Zealand First – though this is likely to change once the coalition deal is signed, and historically Social Credit (who were socially conservative but economically left-wing) dominated this part of the political landscape. Sometimes there’s room for more than one party in the non-aligned bloc – before 2005, NZ First, United Future and the Maori Party could all claim to be part of this bloc.

It should be emphasised that the ‘Non-aligned’ bloc is not always “centrist” – in fact it’s often dominated by the parties whose views are so extreme that no other party will work with them – for example, the Mana Party between 2008 and 2011.

There’s possibly another group of voters as a part of or separate to the ‘non-aligned bloc’ – tactical voters. I could as easily vote for ACT or the Greens, depending on what my aim was.

And obviously non-aligned voters will often vote for left or right bloc parties.

As it happens, I think swing voters are much more rare and far less powerful than they’re assumed to be, though I would never discount the fact that, yes, there are voters who swing from the left bloc to the right bloc and thereby decide elections.

I think the power of swing voters is very debatable – I think their influence varied from election to election but they are a critical group of voters.

…one of the main reasons that left hasn’t been in power for a while is because the left bloc is totally fragmented. Even with Labour and the Greens agreeing not to step on each other’s toes, the left still can’t muster the same amount of support as the right and that’s because so many of their voters are wasting their vote on parties like Internet-Mana in 2014 and TOP in 2017. Labour in particular has failed to unify and dominate the left bloc the way that National has unified and dominated the right.

The main reasons for the left not being in power for nine years have been:

  • Labour has largely been seen as lacking direction, weakly led and run, and hopeless.
  • National have been seen as reasonable managers of the economy through a very challenging period and have done well enough to sustain unprecedented levels of support.

Meanwhile in middle

The ‘Non-aligned’ bloc is by far the most fascinating because it doesn’t play by the same rules.

As I stated above, “centrist” does not mean “non-aligned” – in fact centre parties rarely stay non-aligned for long. As soon as they form a government with either the left or the right, they become part of that bloc, and something else will usually emerge to take its place in the non-aligned bloc.

For example, while New Zealand First has been non-aligned for most of its history, it became part of the Left bloc when it entered a confidence and supply agreement with Labour in 2005. It didn’t return to power until it was able to reclaim its non-aligned status in 2011 by promising not to go with either side.

It wasn’t just their alignment – there were issues of competence and trust that played a significant part in NZ First’s exit from Parliament in 2008.

A similar fate befell United Future, who reached the height of their power and popularity in 2002 when they were truly unaligned, but have since faded away by attempting to join first the left bloc and then the right bloc.

It was more than attempts, it worked successfully enough over a number of terms.

What happened in 2017

Far from being an endorsement of a two-party system, the 2017 election left us with a five-party system (if you count ACT as separate to National), and down from a ridiculous and overcrowded seven-party system.

This is perfectly normal and fits the above parameters: National (plus ACT’s one seat) dominate the right bloc which came marginally ahead of the left bloc. Labour and the Greens dominate the left bloc which would have gained another 2% if people hadn’t wasted their vote on Gareth Morgan, and therefore would have been on par with the right. And NZ First, being the rogues they are, were the non-aligned vote – the people who were neither left nor right.

All that changed was that there were two less parties in the right bloc – because by joining with National, both United Future and the Maori Party became aligned with the right, and with there not being too much room on the right bloc for parties other than National, this is pretty normal.

Though it’s fully possible for the three blocs to result in seven or eight parties being elected to Parliament, this will seldom last longer than a term without an Epsom or Ohariu type deal – and anything more than four parties would be hugely inefficient.

While emphasis returned to the two largest parties this only happened late in the term, when Jacinda Ardern inspired a resurgence in support for Labour.

Not long ago, in July, it looked like being a very different mix – one dominant party, three moderate sized parties with opportunities still for ACT, UF, MANA and TOP.

So the number and mix of parties is fickle.

Not mentioned in this is a primary reason for the party sizes and mix we have – our MMP threshold. This has made it impossible (so far) for any new party to get a toe in Parliament’s door.

Beware the undecideds

Polls show a reducing number of undecided or unknown voting preferences there is still a significant number. I think that there may be quite a number of voters who have indicated a preference may also be susceptible to changing their minds.

Colmar Brunton had 20% ‘Don’t know’ or ;refused’ in July, that had halved last week to 10%.

The Listener had 18% ‘Don’t know’ in May, down to 10% last week.

It’s impossible to know whether undecided voters will vote, or if they do which way they will vote. They could vote in similar proportions to the current decided voters, or they could swing one way.

This has been an eventful campaign, with some major swings in support. there could yet be more changes as voters make up their minds about whether to jump on or stay on the Ardern bandwagon, or revert to the relative known of what English and National offer.

Greens could bounce back a bit, which would be more at Labour’s expense. And Anything could happen with Winston Peters and NZ First support.

Likely vote ranges at this stage:

Labour 40-46% – their momentum seems to have peaked, for now. They could pick up a late swing but a rescue swing for the Greens would work against that.

National 36-46% – they could slide some more as voters give up on the same old who are running a poor campaign aside from steady English, or they could pick up some support if voters decide the alternative looks too risky.

NZ First 6-12% – it’s hard to know with Winston. He looks grumpy and struggling a bit, but he is adept at benefiting from any opportunities that might arise during a campaign. I think that the ‘NZ First always improve late in campaigns’ is dubious historically and means little in a very different campaign this time round.

Greens 4-8% – Greens have had a Turei shock, but seem to have recovered enough as voters realised the risk of them missing the threshold. I would be surprised if the miss 5%, they could get back a bit more support, but are likely to be still well short of their last two election results.

Maori Party 1-3% – a lot is riding on the party vote for the Maori Party, especially for Marama Fox. They have a good chance of repeating their two MP level, especially if support for Labour softens, and have an outside chance of getting a third.

TOP 1-3% – In some ways TOP and especially Gareth Morgan have looked a very good prospect, but Morgan has also been controversial in negative ways so there seems no chance of them getting near the threshold.

ACT Party 0.2-1% – they seem to be making no headway in their aim of getting over 1% and getting a second MP.

No other party looks like getting anything useful out of the party vote.

However there is quite a margin for error in these estimates. It has been a volatile election with significant party and leadership changes, and more voters seem to be ‘floating’, looking for who to vote for. Tactical voting is also a significant factor under MMP.

Swing voters look to the polls to give them some idea of who to vote for. Polls are only an approximate indication, and there is often a reaction to polls by voters, so polls and ‘poll of polls’, being backward looking, can only give a rough idea and can’t be election result predictions.

There are a likely to be a sizeable number of undecided voters that could decide this election. We will know in two weeks what the result is. All we can do before then is guess.

Voter/non-voter rates

An interesting comparison of enrolled voter/non-voter rates by age group from


The 18-24 group is larger because it covers 7 years, the rest are five year groupings except for 70+

Enrolments improve as people get older but after the fifties they start to die off more.

By the time of the last general election in 2014, nearly 23 per cent of registered voters did not vote, and a further 252,581 eligible voters did not even enrol.

It’s looking like it could be worse this year – the registration data showed just over 349,000 eligible voters had yet to enrol, said Richard Shaw, Professor of Politics at Massey University, in May.

More will have enrolled since May and from now until the election.

It’s hard to know what the voter turnout will be in September. The lack of a strong alternative may put some people off voting.

“Broadly speaking, those who are quietly shuffling away from electoral politics tend to be Maori, people without work or on low incomes, and members of some recent migrant communities (especially those from nations without long-standing democratic norms and conventions).”

From Older Kiwi voters still out in force, but what about our younger citizens?


Enrolments declining, flawed poll

Stuff reports Voter enrolment rates declining:

Voter enrolment rates are declining in almost every electorate in New Zealand, despite a general election being less than two months away.

As we reported last month about 367,000 eligible voters are yet to enrol to vote.

Since that report, the percentage of eligible voters enrolled to vote has fallen in all but six electorates, according to the latest figures from the Electoral Commission – albeit by less than one per cent in most cases.

That’s disappointing but not surprising considering the declining standards in politics, the current campaign circus and the disarray in Labour. It will be an uphill battle for Labour and other parties who have claimed they will “get out the vote” by targeting non-voters.

Stuff has a poll on it’s Political page that links with this but it is seriously flawed. Current result are:

Will you be voting in this year’s General Election?

  • Yes, I always vote – 902 votes, 92.5%
  • Not this year. None of the parties represent my political views – 55 votes, 5.6%
  • I never vote – 18 votes, 1.8%

The Yes response is far higher than likely voter turnout (last election it was 74.2%) but this self selecting poll will never give anywhere near an accurate result.

People who are disillusioned with the current parties are less likely to be reading the Political pages at Stuff and those who never vote are far less likely to be anywhere near a political news page poll.

This is like going to a public bar and polling patrons on who might have a drink on election day. The “Never drink” response is likely to be quite low.

Turnout over the last sixty years (since polling has been on a Saturday):

1954 13-Nov 91.4
1957 30-Nov 92.9
1960 26-Nov 89.8
1963 30-Nov 89.6
1966 26-Nov 86
1969 29-Nov 88.9
1972 25-Nov 89.1
1975 29-Nov 82.5
1978 25-Nov 69.2[9]
1981 28-Nov 91.4
1984 14-Jul 93.7
1987 15-Aug 89.1
1990 27-Oct 85.2
1993 6-Nov 85.2
1996 12-Oct 88.3
1999 27-Nov 84.8
2002 27-Jul 77
2005 17-Sep 80.9
2008 8-Nov 79.5
2011 26-Nov 74.2

[9] This figure is misleading because the electoral rolls in 1978 contained a large number of outdated and duplicate entries. If the 361,000 names deleted in 1979-80 are subtracted, the turnout was 79.9%