New breed of swing voter emerges in Auckland as housing splits polls battleground

Auckland has experienced large swings in its vote in the past, could the housing issue cause another shift?
CALLUM MCGILLIVRAY/STUFF

Auckland has experienced large swings in its vote in the past, could the housing issue cause another shift?

An "almighty battle" between renters and landlords could be behind wild moves in the polls, as a new class of swing voter emerges in Auckland.

Richard Shaw, Professor of Politics at Massey University, believes a significant chunk of people under 45 no longer hold "tribal loyalties" to a particular party.

Instead, they now likely represented the vast majority of those who "shop around" in the polls - causing some parties' share of the vote to alter radically.

For this group of swing voters, housing was likely a very big issue, Shaw said.

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Auckland - carrying some the country's worst and most-publicised housing and rental affordability issues - was also likely to have more swing voters than any other city, according to Political commentator Bryce Edwards.

Concerns behind housing affordability could be behind large swings in party support.
STUFF

Concerns behind housing affordability could be behind large swings in party support.

"If you look at some of the electorates like Auckland Central, that used to be entirely Red and returned Labour candidates time-after-time. And now Auckland Central is almost a Blue seat."

"Cities are more inclined to have swing voters, cities can change quite a lot."

47 per cent of respondents to a non-scientific Stuff poll of 769 people identified housing as an important issue that would determine their vote.

Massey University Politics Professor Richard Shaw says voters under the age of 45 are now the majority of swing voters.
STUFF

Massey University Politics Professor Richard Shaw says voters under the age of 45 are now the majority of swing voters.

Another 46 per cent said it was a very important issue that wouldn't change the party they voted for. Only eight per cent said housing wasn't a major issue.

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"The government has been able to argue that it is making headway, that the actions it's been taking do seem to be effective," Edwards added.

"I'm not sure that Labour's solutions are as convincing for a lot of people, or that they're seen as distinctly different from the government's solutions. 

For Shaw, achieving political success on the issue would probably depend on which parts of the population a party wanted to make housing affordable for, which could prove a delicate balancing act.

"So many of us have our wealth tied up in ownership of a house or two houses or more," Shaw said.

'AN ALMIGHTY BATTLE'

Economist Shamubeel Eaqub thinks the debate on housing, far from a tight-rope walking exercise, is turning into a Trump-style "almighty battle".

He believes votes could very well go in the direction of the "tribe", in this case renter or landlord, with whom greater numbers of people identified themselves.

"I think we're going to have this kind of Brexit/Trump politics where you have one group fighting the other and I think that's exactly what it looks like right now."

"And when you've got these two very polarised groups its difficult to build a consensus.

"It's much more likely you get this flip-flop from one extreme to the other," Equab added.

Both of the largest parties have been locked in a bidding war over housing affordability.

DESPERATE MOVES?

On Sunday, in a move Labour Leader Jacinda Ardern labelled as "desperate," but which potentially reflects the impact housing is having on the election, National leader Bill English proposed doubling the Home Start Grants from their current figure of $10,000 to $20,000 for couples hoping to buy an existing house, or from $20,000 to $30,000 for new-build homes.

Labour has proposed to build 100,000 affordable homes over 10 years, half of which will be built inside Auckland.

They promise to "substantially" increase the number of social houses by not requiring Housing New Zealand to return a dividend to the taxpayer and say they will ban "foreign speculators" by Christmas.

All of this is roughly consistent with historical trends for right-leaning parties to be associated with high-to-middle-income property owners and left-leaning ones with low-to-middle-income renters.

Dr Bryce Edwards lectures political science and is a political commentator.
SUPPLIED

Dr Bryce Edwards lectures political science and is a political commentator.

However, Shaw believes traditional party lines have already blurred as housing has become more unaffordable - especially in Auckland.

Traditional Labour voters could end up owning property as an investment and traditional National voters in Auckland, like wealthy urban professionals, could end up life-long renters.

"It's not difficult to imagine a situation in which a working family has a second property for income purposes and is what they consider their superannuation fund."

Economist Shamubeel Eaqub estimates 50 per cent of New Zealand's voting population owns property.
SUPPLIED

Economist Shamubeel Eaqub estimates 50 per cent of New Zealand's voting population owns property.

Eaqub estimates 50 per cent of New Zealand's voting population own their own home but this was changing in a way that cut across traditional demographic divides.

"Just because you're old doesn't mean you're rich anymore."

"Even for very rich people they can see that their children and grandchildren will not have the same opportunities and access to housing that they did."

"We know that the proportion of people that own homes has been falling over a long period of time and across all age groups, even though it's more intense amongst young people."

REACHING OUT TO THE RENTERS

This is part of the reason Edwards says this election has seen the "new unprecedented phenomena" of political parties like Labour, the Greens, and the Opportunities Party spending large amounts of time pitching messages to renters.

Labour has promised to extend 42-day eviction notices to 90 days, limit the frequency of rent increases to once-a-year, abolish "no-cause" tenancy terminations, ban letting fees, and introduce a Healthy Homes Bill. 

The Greens have proposed a default tenancy term of three years for fixed-term tenancy agreements. 

Edwards says TOP in particular is notable for its almost focus on renters, proposing ongoing tenancies which can only be ended by the tenant. 

And although not on show during its election campaign the National government has also tried to increase standards for renters while in government, launching a Tenancy Services investigation team last year to investigate abuses by landlords and working with the Greens to create Warm Up New Zealand, a scheme to subsidise the insulation of private rentals. 

"People have realised that, well, if you can't buy a house, well, what's the scenario for renting?

And people have realised that there are a lot of problems in the rental market," Edwards added.

 - Stuff

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