Get ready. Photo: Getty
Get ready. Photo: Getty

PoliticsOctober 15, 2020

The popcorn seats: 21 electorates we’ll be glued to on Saturday night

Get ready. Photo: Getty
Get ready. Photo: Getty

The marginals, the bellwethers and the other places we’ll be gawking at come the close of polling in election 2020. By Alex Braae and Toby Manhire.


Currently held by Matt King for National, who won by a slim 1,389 votes over NZ First leader Winston Peters in 2017. Labour’s Willow-Jean Prime was a further 5,000-and-a-bit behind. Peters, of course, had snapped up the seat in a high-drama 2015 by-election. The party vote in 2017 was National 46%, Labour 30% and NZ First 13%.

We’re excited because Shane Jones is in the running, delivering NZ First a potential lifeline, or at least he was meant to be. A Reid poll for Newshub placed him a distant third on 15%, behind King on 46% and Prime on 31%. As Jones might put it, that’s a task too vertiginous even for him. 

Read more about the seat and its candidates here.

The popcorn electorates: a visual guide (clockwise from left: the general electorates, the Māori electorates, the Auckland electorates, the Wellington electorates and the Hamilton electorates)

Te Tai Tokerau

Kelvin Davis, Labour’s deputy leader, holds the most northern of the Māori seats with a 4,807 majority. 

The seat has since 1996 been held by MPs from NZ First, Labour, the Māori Party, and Mana, but it’s unlikely to change hands this time. But we’re excited to see whether Billy Te Kahika, who has built a large online following off the back of conspiracy theory peddling and who has billboards festooned across Northland, can translate that into votes. 

If he does have a groundswell, it’s hidden well enough not to have bothered the pollsters. 

Last week, just minutes after his Advance Party co-leader, Jami-Lee Ross, had announced on a TVNZ debate that Te Kahika was “on track to win” the seat, Māori TV released a poll putting him on 1%.

Read more about the seat and its candidates here.



Northcote is currently held by National’s Dan Bidois, who won the seat in the 2018 by-election with a 1,310 vote majority. At the 2017 general election, National’s party vote was 48.7%, compared to 34% for Labour.

We’re excited because Northcote is one of those suburban Auckland bellwether seats that could give a lot of clues about how the rest of the night will go in the country’s largest city. Generally, it leans slightly to the right, and if that changes National is in huge trouble. Labour’s Shanan Halbert closed the gap significantly in the by-election, though on a much lower turnout than normal. 

Read more about Northcote and its candidates here.


Tāmaki Makaurau

Currently held by Labour’s Peeni Henare, who secured a margin of 3,809 in 2017 ahead of the Māori Party’s Shane Taurima, with the Greens’ Marama Davidson just over 1,000 votes further back. Then, Labour took 60% of the party vote and the Māori Party 11%. 

We’re excited because there are three strong candidates, all impressive and experienced politicians, with Henare and Davidson joined by John Tamihere, now co-leader of the Māori Party. Unlike last time round, the Labour candidates in the Māori seats are on the list, and with Davidson also guaranteed to return to parliament should the Greens hit 5%, Tamihere supporters are making the case for a candidate vote and a three-MPs-for-the-price-of-one tactical vote. A poll by Curia for Māori TV suggested this could be the tightest of the Māori seats, with Henare on 44%, Tamihere on 36% and Davidson on 18%. If undecideds moved behind Tamihere, and enough of Davidson’s supporters decided they’d like to see the Māori Party get a parliamentary foothold, it’s not out of the question. 

Read more about the seat and its candidates here.


Auckland Central

Currently open, with Nikki Kaye, who won for National in 2017 with a slender 1,581 majority, having escaped the political swamp. The party vote in 2017? National 39%, Labour 38%, Greens 14%.

We’re excited because this has been probably the highest-drama contest of the 2020 election. Replete with candidate debates and plot twists, the race pits Labour’s Helen White, narrowly beaten in 2017, against Emma Mellow, the late call-up for National, and the high-profile sitting Green MP, Chlöe Swarbrick. The latest poll suggests a tightening race, with White on 35%, Mellow 30% and Swarbrick 26%. Will White’s pitch for an Auckland Central voice in the (likely) governing caucus prevail? Will left-ward voters swing behind Swarbrick to ensure the Greens survive even if they fall beneath the threshold? Will Mellow storm through the middle? 

Read more about the seat and its candidates here.



Currently held by nobody at all. Takanini did not exist before this election, having been created out of the Manurewa, Papakura and Hunua electorates, 

We’re excited because nobody really has much idea how this one will go. As Justin Latif reported earlier this year, it is both an economically and ethnically diverse seat, drawing on areas that strongly supported both Labour and National. In a closer election, it would probably be a classic swing seat. The leading candidates are Labour’s Neru Leavasa, a doctor and former local board member, and National’s Rima Nakhle, who runs an emergency housing business. It’s also a seat the minor parties are having a good crack at, including the Tea Party’s co-leader John Hong, and the New Conservatives’ deputy leader Elliot Ikilei. While the electorate result is harder to predict, it seems like a reasonable bet that it’s a more socially conservative seat, so there could be a big vote against the two referendums. 

Read more about Takanini and its candidates here.


Hamilton West

Currently held by Tim Macindoe of National, with a majority of 7,731. In the party vote, National won 47% to Labour’s 37%.  

We’re excited because this is as bellwether as they come: in 16 of the 17 elections since the electorate was created, the party vote has gone with the party that wins the most votes across the country, and in 15, the winning candidate has been from the party that has formed the government. It is in part explained by the demographics: Hamilton West on many census measures is a cross-section of New Zealand.

Macindoe’s challenger again is Labour’s Dr Gaurav Sharma. He needs a big swing to overhaul the four-term National MP, who will be banking on his record and name recognition helping him to outperform his party’s polling.

Read more about the seat and its candidates here



Waiariki is currently held by Labour’s Tāmati Coffey, who claimed a 1,719 vote upset win over former Māori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell in 2017. In the party vote, Labour won 59%, compared to 19.7% for the Māori Party. 

We’re excited because this is one of the more hotly contested Māori electorates this time around. The Māori Party will be represented by former Labour candidate Rawiri Waititi, who switched after Kīngi Tūheitia Paki made a speech backing the Māori Party in 2016. Waiariki is severely economically deprived, having the lowest median family income out of any Māori electorate. Also of note will be the performance of Vision NZ leader Hannah Tamaki, though so far polls have not been encouraging for her chances.   

Read more about Waiariki and its candidates here.


Te Tai Hauāuru

The sitting MP is Labour’s Adrian Rurawhe, who won by 1,039 votes in 2017 over the Māori Party’s Howie Tamati. 

We’re excited because that margin is tight, and the new challenger is the highly impressive co-leader of the Māori Party, Debbie Ngarewa-Packer. A Curia poll for Māori TV put Rurawhe well out in front, but the Ngarewa-Packer camp insists there’s a big undecided block that can be won over.  

Read more about the seat and its candidates here.


East Coast

East Coast will have a new MP, with National’s incumbent Anne Tolley retiring. She held a 4,807 majority in 2017. In the party vote, National won 44% compared to 36.6% for Labour. 

We’re excited because this is the seat for wāhine toa. Unusually for a general electorate, all three of the leading candidates are Māori women. Labour list MP Kiri Allan is running again after putting up a decent fight last time around. A controversial Labour internal poll put her five points in front of her main opponent, National’s Tania Tapsell, a popular Rotorua District councillor in her late 20s. Also running is Meredith Akuhata-Brown for the Greens, who is currently a Gisborne District councillor. The East Coast is the largest North Island electorate by geographic size, and of all the general electorates has the highest proportion of voters who identify as Māori. 

Read more about the East Coast and its candidates here.



Tukituki is currently held by National’s Lawrence Yule, who has a 2,813 majority. In the party vote, National won 49% in 2017, compared to 34% for Labour. 

We’re excited because Tukituki is another one of those seats that sums up how totally Labour managed to lose the provinces over the last decade. In 2014, its party vote crashed as low as 22%. Labour’s candidate Anna Lorck is having a third crack in a row, having closed the gap on her last two runs. Former Hastings mayor Lawrence Yule is probably fighting for his political future, with a place in the 30s on National’s list. While the main population centre of the electorate is Hastings, it also includes the extremely wealthy suburb of Havelock North, and the extremely economically deprived suburb of Flaxmere.

Read more about Tukituki and its candidates here.



Whanganui is currently held by National’s Harete Hipango, who has a 1,706 majority. In the party vote, National won 44.7% in 2017, compared to 36.4% for Labour. 

We’re excited because this is one of those seats that will really test whether Labour can still make big gains outside the major centres. For the last three years, it has been a target for the party, with community lawyer Steph Lewis running once again. Hipango is also a highly regarded lawyer, is one of the highest-ranked Māori MPs in the National caucus, and has recently courted controversy over strident Facebook posts about abortion law reforms. The electorate also includes some of the smaller towns around South Taranaki, including Pātea, Manaia, Eltham and Hāwera.

Read more about Whanganui and its candidates here.


Palmerston North

Palmerston North is currently open, after Labour’s incumbent Iain Lees-Galloway resigned following an affair with a staffer. He held a 6,392 majority. In the party vote, Labour edged National by 41% to 40% in 2017. 

We’re excited because – well, to be honest, excitement might be overstating it. Let’s say it will be very interesting. Labour’s Tangi Utikere, the city’s current deputy mayor, seems certain to continue his party’s hold over the seat. The big question will be whether National can hold the line in the party vote, with their teenage candidate William Wood, but it really could be a wipeout. Also worth watching will be the performance of NZ First, which will be represented by MP Darroch Ball

Read more about Palmerston North and its candidates here.



Wairarapa is currently open, after National’s Alastair Scott retired. He had a majority of 2,872. In the party vote, National won 49% in 2017, compared to 32% for Labour. It was also a major electorate for NZ First, which won 10.3% of the party vote. 

We’re excited because this is one of those great three-way races that has an outside chance of significantly impacting the next parliament. Labour’s Kieran McAnulty has run twice before now, doing significantly better the second time around, and spent much of the last three years behaving like the incumbent local MP, especially given widespread perceptions of absenteeism around the actual MP Alastair Scott. National’s contender is farmer Mike Butterick, who if he makes it in will be likely to be a very robust advocate for the sector, even relative to the rest of the National caucus. The other really interesting candidate is NZ First MP Ron Mark, who is running hard in an attempt to win the seat and save his party from electoral oblivion.  

Read more about Wairarapa and its candidates here.



Ōtaki is currently open, with National’s incumbent Nathan Guy retiring. He held a 6,156 majority. In the party vote, National won 46% compared to 34% for Labour. It has also been a notable NZ First electorate, with the party winning 8.2% in 2017, and 9.9 in 2014. 

We’re excited because no matter which way this one goes, a new MP with significant potential will step into parliament. National’s Tim Costley is a veteran of the air force, who strangely enough used to be an aide to Prince William, while Labour’s Terisa Ngobi is a Levin local who – in her own words – comes from the “union hard” tradition. The other aspect of Ōtaki that makes it interesting is the diversity of experience across the electorate – it contains rural horticultural areas, battling towns like Levin and Foxton, commuter-heavy areas like Paraparaumu, and the retiree-dominated town of Waikanae. As of 2013, it had the highest median age of any electorate in the country. 

Read more about Ōtaki and its candidates here.



Currently held by Labour’s Greg O’Connor, with a 1,051 vote majority. In the party vote, Labour won 35%, compared to 45% for National in 2017. It is also a notable electorate for the Greens, who won 9.6% last time, and 15% in 2014. 

We’re excited because for four candidates, this race is basically win or go home. Former Police Association boss Greg O’Connor has taken himself off the Labour party list, so will only get back in as an electorate MP. National’s Brett Hudson is way down the party list, and on current polling is in real danger of missing out. NZ First’s Tracey Martin is also running, and while she’s a long shot, NZ First needs someone to win an electorate if they fall below 5% in the party vote. And Ōhāriu is also seen by The Opportunities Party as their best chance of sneaking an upset, with Jessica Hammond reprising her 2017 run. For the latter two, one point of interest could be less about whether they win, so much as whether they impact the wider race. 

Read more about Ōhāriu and its candidates here


Hutt South

Currently held by Chris Bishop for National, with a 1,530 vote majority. In the party vote, National won 41%, compared to 40% for Labour in 2017.

We’re excited because Bishop fought tooth and nail to claim what had previously been a fairly safe seat for Labour’s Trevor Mallard, before the went list-only and left it open in 2017. Over this term Bishop has been highly visible, both on the local and national stages, particularly around transport. The question for his defence will be whether that momentum will translate against what is likely to be a huge swing to Labour around the Wellington region. Labour’s candidate Ginny Anderson is a sitting MP, but dropped significantly down the list between 2017 and 2020. 

Read more about Hutt South and its candidates here.



Currently held by Nick Smith for National, with a 4,283 vote majority. In the party vote, National gained 39%, compared to 41.6% for Labour.

We’re excited because the circumstances of this particular electorate were so odd last time around. The Greens mounted an enormous campaign for Matt Lawrey to win the seat, because of a large bequest that had to be spent by the party in the area. He didn’t, but did win 9,746, which would have easily put Labour’s Rachel Boyack over the top had a chunk of them gone her way. This time around, Boyack is having another crack, and will have the wind in her sails from Labour polling much more strongly in the party vote. Smith, by contrast, is swimming hard against the tide, running on his long local record under the awe-inspiring slogan “A Good MP”.

Read more about Nelson and its candidates here


West Coast-Tasman

West Coast-Tasman is currently held by Labour’s Damien O’Connor, with a 5,593 vote majority. In the 2017 party vote, National won 40% compared to 37% for Labour. 

We’re excited because of what could happen on the margins of this particular seat. O’Connor seems all but assured of holding it against National’s Maureen Pugh, even if the latter is her party’s spokesperson for West Coast issues. But there’s a streak of disaffection through the electorate which could manifest in interesting ways, particularly for parties like Advance NZ, the Outdoors Party, and the New Conservatives. Put it like this – in 2017, the Ban 1080 party won a shade under 1% of the party vote, compared to their nationwide average of 0.1%. 

Read more about West Coast-Tasman and its candidates here.


Banks Peninsula

The Canterbury seat, a reshaped version of Port Hills, is currently open, with Labour’s Ruth Dyson, who won in 2017 by 7,916 votes, not standing again. 

We’re excited because the boundary changes could, just maybe, bring National candidate Catherine Chu into play. Chu, a local councillor and member of the Canterbury District Health Board, will be hoping for a vote split on the left, with Labour Party stalwart Tracey McLellan joined on the ballot by the Greens’ Eugenie Sage, who is campaigning for the party vote, but has built name recognition as conservation minister in the term just completed. 

Read more about the seat and its candidates here.



The Taieri electorate is currently open, after Dunedin South was vacated by retiring Labour MP Clare Curran. Boundary changes have significantly altered the character of the seat, bringing in much more of Clutha and South Otago into what was previously a Labour stronghold. 

We’re excited because this is one of the few seats where National could snatch a win against the tide. Their candidate is 30-year-old Liam Kernaghan, a highly regarded former parliamentary staffer who hails from the area. Labour is being represented by Ingrid Leary, a former lawyer and broadcaster. It could also be an interesting one to watch for the Greens and NZ First – they’re being represented by renewable energy businessman Scott Willis and sitting MP and farmer Mark Patterson respectively. Fun trivia about Taieri – last time an electorate with this name existed, neither National nor the Labour Party even existed. 

Read more about Taieri and its candidates here.

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Mad Chapman, Editor
Aotearoa continues to adapt to a new reality and The Spinoff is right there, sorting fact from fiction to bring you the latest updates and biggest stories. Help us continue this coverage, and so much more, by supporting The Spinoff Members.Madeleine Chapman, EditorJoin Members

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