Tough assignment to take National's heartland seats

DR ALAN SIMPSON
Last updated 10:30 25/08/2014

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OPINION: The local electorates for the purposes of this article include the following 10: Hamilton East, Hamilton West, Waikato, Taranaki-King Country, Taupo, Coromandel, Bay of Plenty, Rotorua, Tauranga, and Hauraki-Waikato.

After the 2011 election, the area from south of the Bombays to Taupo became a sea of blue with the exception of the one red flag in Hauraki-Waikato, won by Nanaia Mahuta for Labour.

Most of the electorates are solidly "blue", with National candidates enjoying substantial majorities.

A couple of them had majorities of more than 17,000 votes.

The lowest majority was in Hamilton West but a still healthy lead of 4418 votes for Tim Macindoe.

Mahuta had a good majority of 5935.

The story of the party vote - the key vote under MMP - was pretty much along the same lines.

With the exception of Hauraki-Waikato, National took between 60 per cent (Taranaki-King Country) to 47 per cent (Hamilton West) of the party vote.

The average across all 10 electorates was 49.5 per cent, compared with 47 per cent nationwide.

In the party vote, Labour won between 13.6 per cent (Bay of Plenty) to 29 per cent (Hamilton West), with an average of 21.8 per cent compared with 27 per cent of the party vote across the country.

In Hauraki-Waikato, Labour was well above the national average with 45 per cent of the party vote, while National came in well below with 8.1 per cent.

The Greens accounted for 8.9 per cent of the party vote across the 10 electorates in the region, compared with 11 per cent nationwide, and NZ First accounted for 10.5 per cent of the party vote in the region compared with 7 per cent across the country.

In 2011, National clearly and decisively won both the candidate vote and the party vote regionally, with a higher level of support than nationally.

Regional support for Labour - candidate and party - was lower than nationwide. This is National Party heartland and has been for successive elections.

Previously, the Hamilton electorates swung between the major parties, and elsewhere in the region Labour won in Taupo and Rotorua in 2005 before the electorates reverted to National.

Winston Peters won Tauranga in 2002 but lost to National's Bob Clarkson in 2005. Coromandel changed to National in 2005, and in 2002 Hamilton East changed to National, with Hamilton West changing to National in 2008.

Taking past electoral behaviour as a guide, we should expect to see the same outcome in September. So what might change such an outcome?

There are a couple of party candidate changes - with Tony Ryall in Bay of Plenty resigning and Todd Muller getting the nod, and in Taranaki-King Country Shane Ardern is calling it quits with Barbara Kuriger taking his place on the ballot paper. Both these candidates should be elected.

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In the other electorates the incumbents are standing for another term and can expect to be returned. In Hamilton West Labour has hopes of bringing a change in representation with Sue Moroney standing again.

But there is little to indicate a change.

In Hamilton East, Labour has selected a new candidate, Clifford Allen, to challenge David Bennett.

The electoral commission made some adjustments to the Hamilton West electorate by moving some of the population from the western rural side to Taranaki-King Country, while adding population from the Hamilton East and Waikato electorates at Horsham Downs.

These changes are not likely to affect the outcome of the vote.

Waikato has gained some population from the southern end of Hunua, while minor adjustments were made to Tauranga, Rotorua, and Bay of Plenty.

None of these changes are likely to affect the outcomes.

In Hauraki-Waikato there are two candidates, the incumbent, Mahuta and Mana's Angeline Greensill which will make for an interesting battle.

It is doubtful Mana's support will overcome Labour's efforts.

Of course it is not too late for something unexpected to arise to confound any predictions, but there is little evidence of serious disquiet about the candidates and parties in the region which would lead to major changes.

The national polls are showing a good deal of consistency in party support across the country which is a good base on which to predict outcomes.

This is National Party heartland and Labour has not been able to shake this reality for many elections, and it looks like this will be affirmed this election.

Support for NZ First was stronger in the region than the rest of the country in 2011, while support for the Greens was lower in the region.

The other minor parties did not feature to any extent anywhere in the region.

Dr Alan Simpson is a senior lecturer in political science at Waikato University.

- Waikato Times

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