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The election is on October 14. Image: Archi Banal
The election is on October 14. Image: Archi Banal

PoliticsJuly 6, 2023

With 100 days to go, this is the lay of the election land 

The election is on October 14. Image: Archi Banal
The election is on October 14. Image: Archi Banal

What to expect, and when to expect it.

Sound the bells. There are 100 days to go until election day 2023, and in accordance with the laws of arbitrary round numbers, let us cast a curious eye across the contest and calendar ahead, as we hurtle towards what renowned football grouch Sir Alex Ferguson once called “squeaky bum time”.

The pollscape

It is compulsory to say that MMP elections are always close; 2020 is just the exception that proves the rule. But this one is gearing up to be really close. 

The latest poll to land is this week’s June survey from Roy Morgan. Run from Australia and regarded with a certain amount of scepticism, its most eye-catching numbers were Act on 15% and te Pāti Māori on 7%. The big picture, however, is as clear as it is familiar: a wafer-thin contest, with in effect nothing between Labour on 30.5% and National on 30%. And, more importantly, the likely left and right blocs hang in the balance, with Labour-Green-TPM on 47% and National-Act 45%. 

Here are how the polls look across the board. 

If we map the average number above onto election day, making the assumption that te Pāti Māori wins at least one electorate seat but no other sub-5% party does (and that there’s no overhang) the parliamentary seats would fall as follows: National 44, Labour 44, Act 16, Greens 11, TPM 5. To repeat: it’s close. Its tighter than Simply Red money. In fact it’s a dead heat

Since National ruled out working with te Pāti Māori, there is no obvious “balance of power” party, with the possible exception of TOP, whose fortunes rest on leader Raf Manji pulling off an upset in Ilam. New Zealand First has broken from tradition and ruled out working with Labour, but National has not yet confirmed whether they’ll entertain a relationship with the Houdiniesque party led by Winston Peters. 

As for what we know about the likely blocs, here’s how support is tracking. 

How to fund it

Money will not buy you an election, but it sure helps the task of campaigning – not just in terms of advertising budget, but to pay for travel and accommodation, to bankroll polling and focus groups, and to hire campaign staff and advisers.

National had a bumper year in 2022, with former deputy PM Paula Bennett leading the fundraising charge. 

The above is the quantum of all party donations for 2022, large and small. As for 2023, we know just the large components so far, because parties are obliged only to report receipt of more $20,000 from a single donor as they come in. Here’s how that looks so far:

The likes of Labour, the Greens and TPM will stress that they get smaller sums from a panoply of contributors at the grassroots, numbers that are not reflected in the tallies above. But they’re not the only ones. Act, for example, charged supporters $50 a head to attend its recent rally at Sky City in Auckland, and filled the 650-odd-seat theatre. A tiny flyer seeking more contributions was Blu-Tacked to the back of every seat. 

Registered parties are also in line for funds from the public purse by way of a broadcasting allocation for advertising on radio, television and online. 

The key issues

The Ipsos Issues Monitor is a helpful gauge of the policy areas the public are most exercised by.

The latest edition, published four weeks ago, saw law and order leap up to second on the list, with 40% of respondents naming it as one of their three main issues of concern. The cost of living remained top, however, on 63%. 

'Most important issues facing New Zealand'. Ipsos, June 2021, total sample 1,000

Encouragingly for National, they’re judged the best equipped to deal with the top three issues, having overtaken Labour on housing since the previous survey.

Key dates ahead

Labour, National and Act have all held their election year conference (aka congress, aka rally) party events. The Greens’ is this weekend in Auckland. They’ll all hold campaign launches, too, with most expected in September. New Zealand First, however, is binding the two together, with a convention on the weekend of July 22, culminating in a campaign launch on the Sunday.

National is now into week six of its Get NZ Back on Track election year tour. Te Pāti Māori launched its national tour of Māori electorates, Te Ara Kōrero, last week.

The party lists, from which 48 of the 120 seats in parliament are filled, are being drafted as we speak. The Greens were ahead of the pack, releasing their list in May. Act’s list is expected on July 16, with Labour towards the end of the month. National and te Pāti Māori are likely to reveal theirs in August. 

The deadline for submitting lists to the Electoral Commission is midday on September 14, with electorate candidates required 24 hours later.

Party fundraising drives are in full flow.

Policy announcements are already coming thick and fast. While many of the big manifesto reveals will be saved for the campaign proper, we can expect the crucial tax policy from both of the major parties earlier. (Act and the Greens have already released theirs.) The latest from Chris Hipkin is that “we will set out our tax policy … before the campaign period begins”.

National finance spokesperson Nicola Willis has promised her party “will be releasing our fully costed and fully funded tax plan well ahead of Prefu”. That gives them a month; Prefu – the Pre-Election Economic and Fiscal Update, in which Treasury sets out the latest state of the economy – is scheduled for publication on Tuesday September 12.

The shape of an election campaign has changed over the last decade as advance voting became not just commonplace, but predominant. A change in 2010 meant that a statutory declaration was no longer required to vote early, and it has shot up since, to the extent that almost two million people cast their vote before polling day in 2020. That may have been boosted by Covid-related concerns, but it is not expected to drop this time around. 

For campaign strategists, it means that instead of a crescendo in the final week, almost all manifesto pledges will be unveiled before advance voting begins on Monday October 2. That said, the campaign energy will continue into the last fortnight – research suggests that a disproportionate number of the critical undecided cohort vote close to or on election day.

The official pre-election period begins three months out from the big day, on July 14. From this point, political advertising is regulated and there are limits on how much can be spent, while governments are expected to limit many of the more “political” activities. Parliament adjourns on August 31, and all going to plan will not sit again until after the election, with the formal dissolution of parliament on September 8. A couple of days later, on September 10, the governor general officially directs the Electoral Commission to hold an election. This is Writ Day.

After the votes are counted on the evening of October 14, negotiations are likely to get under way, though if it’s especially tight, we may need to wait for special votes to be counted. The official results – though not necessarily the shape of the next government – will be declared on November 3.

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