Auckland’s Electoral to the Right – and Comparisons with U.S. Cities

As noted in the previous post, the Auckland metropolitan area, like New Zealand as a whole, experienced a significant electoral shift to the right in the 2023 election. This swing is glaringly evident in the party-list vote (see the previous post for an explanation of this term). In 2020, the Labour list triumphed in 19 of Auckland’s 20 electorates; in 2023, its count was reduced to five, with the center-right Nationalist Party winning the other 15. Even in its strongholds, Labour’s vote percentage dropped substantially. The separate vote for electorate-based MPs in 2023, however, exhibited much more diversity, as is generally the case. Although Labour still took only five Auckland seats in that contest, the Green Party took another, that of Auckland Central. As the libertarian-leaning ACT Party won two Auckland seats in the electorate-based vote, the National Party’s overall take was 12, but that was twice as many as it took in 2020.

By far the largest city in New Zealand, Auckland is noted as well for its ethnic diversity. It reportedly has the “the fourth largest foreign-born population in the world, with 39% of its residents born overseas” (see the table below).  By the current standards of the United States, it is remarkable for such a large and ethnically diverse city to support a conservative political party. In the U.S., candidates from the left-leaning Democratic Party almost always come out ahead in both urban cores and inner suburbs, with support for conservative candidates mounting only as one moves into the outer-suburban and exurban belts. Although strongest in northeastern and Pacific-coast cities, this pattern is evident to some degree across the country. It can be seen, for example, in Houston, Texas (see below), which is one of the country’s most ethnically diverse large cities.This electoral disparity between New Zealand and the United States is to some extent a reflection of the different characteristics of the two country’s major political parties. It is also linked to the different political environments created by a mixed-proportional parliamentary system of government (New Zealand), which encourages minor parties, as opposed to a “winner take all” system (the United States), which encourages a two-party duopoly.

In the United States, the Republican Party has veered in a populist-nationalist direction since 2016, which has reduced its support in affluent suburbs while increasing it among non-metropolitan and working-class voters. In New Zealand, the populist-nationalist political space has long been occupied by the marginally successful New Zealand First Party. Although situated on the right on social and cultural issues, New Zealand First leans far enough to the left on economic matters for it to have joined a minority coalition government with the Labour Party in 2017. New Zealand’s National Party, with a platform based on “free enterprise, reduction of taxes, and limited state regulation,” is more similar to the American Republican Party before the Trump revolution of 2016 than it is to the Republican Party today. In some respects, the National Party has a more centrist orientation than the Republicans Party has had since the Eisenhour era of the 1950s. Because of such moderation, New Zealand’s ACT Party has staked its ground further to the socio-economic right, highlighting its firm commitment to “classical-liberal and small (or limited) government principles coupled with what the party considers as a high regard for individual freedom and personal responsibility.” All things considered, the relatively centrist orientation of the National Party allowed it to take advantage of the current discontent with the policies of the out-going Labour government, and thus score a decisive victory.

As the various electorates of Auckland saw markedly different electoral results in 2023, it would be useful to see how well the returns correlate with demographic and socio-economic indicators. Let us begin with population density, which was a factor in the national vote (see the previous GeoCurrrents post). In Auckland, however, the role of population density is relatively modest – much less than what one would expect in the United States. As can be seen in the two paired maps posted below, the higher-density areas of the Auckland region generally showed a higher level of support for the Labour and Green parties than did lower-density areas, but the linkage is relatively small. A few relatively high-density areas, moreover, strongly supported the National Party.

Much closer correlations are found for economic class, which is evident in the paired maps posted below. The household income level map on the left is admirably detailed, but it has neither a key nor a textual explanation in its accompanying article; one can, however, deduce that the blue dots indicate high-income levels and the red dots low-income levels. By comparing the two maps, we can see that affluent areas tended to supported candidates in the National Party, whereas the richest ones were more supportive of the libertarian-leaning ACT Party. In contrast, the poorest areas, located in southeastern Auckland, overwhelmingly supported the Labour Party. Such a pattern is reminiscent of that found in the United States decades ago. In an American city like San Francisco, however, the correlation between economic class and voting behavior in national elections has almost entirely collapsed (see the maps below).

In Auckland, some local deviation is found in such class-based voting behavior. The most left-leaning electorate, “green” Auckland Central, includes some notably wealthy areas, although it also has some relatively poor ones. This is not surprising, however, as people who vote for green parties across the world tend to be highly educated and relatively affluent. More surprising is the switch from the Labour Party to the National Party in several relatively poor parts of western Auckland, as well as in some of the more economically mixed areas of north Auckland.

Such patterns deserve further scrutiny, which is difficult to accomplish for someone with limited time, no assistance, no personal knowledge of the city. Fortunately, however, Newshub has published a fascinating and detailed map of neighborhood stereotypes in Auckland that might prove useful in this regard. The next GeoCurrents post will therefore see whether such a “judgmental” view of the city can shed any light on its recent electoral shift.

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