THE FINDINGS of the latest Roy Morgan Poll are nothing less than a political bombshell. It is not only that the poll shows both National and Labour falling to roughly 30 percent of the declared respondents’ Party Vote. It’s not even that Act is now boasting 15 percent of the Party Vote – a share that would entitle them to 6 or 7 seats at the Cabinet Table. No, the explosive nature of these results lies in the fact that Te Pāti Māori (TPM) stands at 7 percent of the declared Party Vote. If that is the result on Election Day, then TPM could be looking at nine MPs. Moreover, Labour and the Greens would need the support of those nine MPs to form a government.
It may be objected that for several months now a plethora of polls have confirmed TPM’s status as “kingmaker” in the 2023 General Election. And, since the National Party has ruled out any kind of deal with TPM, the only King it will be able to crown is Labour. While correct, what this “So what else is new?” response fails to adequately register is TPM’s significant rise in the declared Party Vote. Add TPM’s 7 percent to the Greens’ 9.5 percent and between them the parties of the Far Left are currently representing one out of every six voters.
What’s even more significant, is where TPM’s 7 percent of the Party Vote is coming from. Labour’s own pollsters, Talbot-Mills, are reported to have detected a pronounced up-tick in the number of Māori aged between 18 and 35 who are indicating their intention to vote in this year’s election. This is not a demographic in which New Zealand psephologists (people who study elections) generally place much stock. Historically-speaking, roughly two-thirds of 18-35-year-old Māori have declined to participate in the electoral process.
That amounts to tens-of-thousands of uncast votes – tens-of-thousands of votes which, if consolidated into a bloc, could reconfigure the electoral landscape dramatically. It is precisely this sort of reconfiguration which the Roy Morgan Poll has now made visible to the public. Young Māori are waking up politically and they are telling the pollsters that the overwhelming majority of the votes they intend to cast will go to Te Pāti Māori.
Why? What is it that has, to employ Shane Jones’ rather condescending phraseology, got the nephews off the couch? To those who understand that for every extreme political action there is an equal and opposite extreme political reaction, the answer is plain. It is the Act Party’s policies in relation to te Tiriti o Waitangi, co-governance and affirmative action.
Act’s leader, David Seymour has amassed an impressive number of former National Party voters by refusing to equivocate on the politics of race. Where National has been mealy-mouthed on race – frightened, no doubt, that too much frankness will drive away urban liberals – Act has been all-too-clear. Given sufficient parliamentary clout, it will first re-define, and then re-write, the Treaty of Waitangi. Act will then confirm the revised text by majority vote in a binding referendum.
This raw political meat has proved particularly appetising to those right-wing voters who are strongly of the view that all this “Māori stuff” has gone too far, and that National is doing far too little to roll it back.
That there are votes – lots of votes – in the politics of race has been clear ever since 2005, when Don Brash’s in/famous “Orewa Speech” saw National’s poll numbers go up by a whopping 17 percentage points. Seymour’s attitude in 2023 appears to be: “If you don’t want these voters Mr Luxon, then we’ll gladly take them off your hands!”
Did Seymour think at all about how Māori would react to what would amount to a unilateral Pakeha re-writing of te Tiriti, followed by a tyrannical Pakeha majority’s gratuitous ratification of Act’s new and improved version of New Zealand’s founding document? Does he, even now, have any idea of the fury such a course of action would unleash? Is he really so sure that young Māori New Zealanders, whose expectations of a decolonised and indigenised Aotearoa have never been higher, will just sit on the couch and watch him set their treaty – and their hopes – on fire?
Roy Morgan’s pollsters suggest otherwise. They’re telling us that an electoral taniwha is rising.
This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 7 July 2023.