What NZ First voters really want and four other blinding insights from the Policy data

The election campaign saw more 120,000 visits to Policy, our tool for comparing parties’ positions, leaving behind an incredible trove of user data. So what can it tell us about the big coalition questions? The Policy team get out their calculators.

With the special votes in, the phone is back on the hook.

National has lost two seats. Labour and the Greens have gained one each. With New Zealand First, the left block could govern with 63 seats or the right block with 65. Winston truly can go both ways.

But which way will he go? Will it be like 1996? Or 2005? Who does he hate more? Will he prefer ministries or the intransigence of cross-benches?

These last two weeks we’ve looked everywhere from the pages of history to psychoanalysis in the desperate hope of answering these questions. But little has actually been said about what the voters themselves want. There’s a dearth of polling and a surplus of speculation. Until now.

For while the mandarins counted votes, and Paddy Gower fizzed, the Policy data machine whirred away, sifting through six weeks of data on the policy preferences of our users, to discern order from numerical chaos.

And the results may shock you.

Or they may not.

Our data, of course, isn’t perfect. Our users for the large part are readers of The Spinoff – a fine demographic, certainly, but perhaps not the most representative. And when we speak of “NZ First voters”, “Labour voters” et cetera, we are referring to Policy users who favourited mostly NZ First policies, or Labour policies et cetera. This is only a proxy for actual voting behaviour.

And as we all know too well, the outcome of negotiations will be decided by the decisions of a few people in a room. One person in particular. And it’s not even clear Winston himself knows what’s going on in his own mind, whereupon all science is in vain.

But what this data can tell us is what might happen if it wasn’t Winston, Bill and Jacinda making the calls but those who voted for them. What do the voters want?

So caveats aside, the results are important. Strap in.

NZ First voters, like Winston, seem willing to go both ways

On a topic-by-topic basis, NZ First voters look like they prefer a National, rather than Labour, led coalition. The graph below shows comparatively how much NZ First voters liked Labour or National policies (as a median percent of their preferred policies). And on nearly every topic, National leads Labour by margins from small to significant.

Median percent Labour/National policies featured within NZ First voters’ selected policies, by topic

But the picture changes when we put the Greens in the mix, as MMP requires. We calculated NZ First voters’ second most preferred party — that is, the party whose policies NZ First voters liked the most after NZ First.

National pips Labour by a hair with 22.6% of NZ First voters’ liking National second, compared to 21.3% preferring Labour. But the Greens were hardly far behind; 19.2% of NZ First voters putting them second. (The rest of NZ First voters in our sample had minor parties as second preferences, or various combinations of  equally placed second preferences, which were not significant for the purposes of this comparison.)

So among the NZ First voters, nearly twice as many people would seem to prefer a left rather than right coalition.

Looking at which policies in particular NZ First voters liked most is another way of understanding their left/right preferences. And by this measure, things are very tight indeed. Of the top ten most popular policies among NZ First voters, other than policies from NZ First itself, five are from the right and five from the left, as the table below shows.

On the whole, there are clearly two camps among NZ First voters, but it seems the left is the larger.

The Teal Deal is dead, at least according to Green voters

Plenty has been said about a National-Green coalition, though the Greens have consistently held out against the pressure. The Policy data suggests this reluctance is not without reason.

The party that Green voters like most after the Greens is old mate Labour. 48.5% of Green voters liked Labour policies the most after Greens policies. And by a lot: just 9% had NZ First as their second preference, and 8.4% had National. (The rest of Green voters in our sample had minor parties as second preferences, or various combinations of  equally placed second preferences, which were not significant for the purposes of this comparison.)

On an issue by issue basis too, Greens voters’ clearly prefer Labour over National, as the graph below shows, but more National policies slipped in than you might have thought. As with NZ First — and all parties, really — there’s factions among the Greens, but the Labour likers are clearly dominant.

Median percent Labour/National policies featured within Green voters’ selected policies, by topic

This all shows that the Greens’ reluctance to seriously consider coalition talks with National have a sound basis, at least so far as their voters’ preferences go.

A right coalition agenda could look like this

If the priorities of a right block coalition were determined by National and NZ First voters, there’d be a focus on tax, water use and foreign ownership. These are areas in which the previous government was loathe to take action, but it seems their constituents want something to be done.

The top five policies common to both NZ First and National voters were:

  1. Reduce tax on income up to $52,000 (National policy)
  2. Restrict land ownership by non-residents (NZ First policy)
  3. Require commercial use of water to be sustainable (NZ First policy)

And a left coalition agenda could look like this

If the priorities of a left block coalition were determined by Labour, Green and NZ First voters, there’d be a focus on rental housing, water use and foreign ownership.

The top three policies common to Labour, Green and NZ First voters were:

  1. Charge for the large-scale commercial use of water (Lab)
  2. Introduce enforceable quality standards for rental housing (Lab)
  3. Restrict land ownership by non-residents (NZF)

The easiest concessions for NZ First are…

While we can’t know what party Winston will go with, we have a better idea of what policy concessions he might ask for. The most popular NZ First policies among National and Labour voters give one indication of what the easiest concessions could be for Winston’s potential coalition partners.

What’s most surprising are the commonalities. As the list below shows, six of the top ten NZ First policies among Labour and National voters were the same. Each of these is a real prospect regardless of which way Winston goes.

As for Labour and National voters’ unique NZ First favourites, Labour voters’ were mainly education related, whereas the National voters preferred some of New Zealand First’s tax policies. Labour voters liked writing off student loans for time spent in New Zealand and introducing a universal student allowance, for instance, while National voters liked NZ First’s policy of providing tax incentives for R&D.

The Spinoff is made possible by the generous support of the following organisations.
Please help us by supporting them.