Understanding New Zealand’s Election Using American Political Metaphors (1/2)

Jon Bell
3 min readOct 13, 2023

Tomorrow is election day in New Zealand. Labour (NZ’s version of Democrats) have been in power for the last two terms (six years) and now the polls show that National (NZ’s version of Republicans) will win. That’s the summary, but there’s a bunch of interesting stories just under the surface.

Jacinda Ardern burned out and quit

You might have heard of Jacinda Ardern, the charismatic, young, and well-spoken Prime Minister (which is like being president) that led New Zealand through the pandemic. You can think of her as similar to Barack Obama. Young, progressive, popular, and despised by her political rivals. Earlier this year, she cited burnout and stepped down from her role, handing the reigns to someone named Chris Hipkins. We’ll get to him in a minute.

2020 was a record-breaking election

Jacinda Arden didn’t just win in 2020, her government got higher numbers than anyone else in modern NZ history. Her party’s approval was off the charts, meaning she won over 50% of the vote, which meant she didn’t need to partner with other parties. Let’s talk about that next.

Introducing MMP, the opposite of winner-take-all

In America, one party wins and the other side loses. It’s often referred to as “first past the post” because it’s a winner-take-all system. But that’s not how MMP works. In MMP, you make coalitions across parties in order to get 50% of the vote and take power.

How things currently stand

NZ has these major parties that are polling at these numbers the day before the election:

National (Republicans): 36%
Labour (Democrats): 27%
Green party (Like American’s Green Party; AOC would be here): 13%
ACT (Far right, like Pat Buchannan or Trump): 10%
New Zealand First (Also far right, like Pat Buchannan or Trump): 6%
Te Pāti Māori (blend of left and right, but partner with Labour): 3%

If you combine the parties on the left and the parties on the right, you get these numbers:

Left: Labour + Green + Te Pāti Māori = 43%
Right: National + ACT + New Zealand First = 52%

So the right is going to win, right? Yes and no. They will get the most votes, but it’s gonna get spicy. It turns out these parties hate each other.

Meet Christopher Luxon

Luxon leads the National party, and will be the new prime minister. Think of him like George W Bush. He has no political experience, he used to be a businessman, and he’s promising to cut government waste and give everyone tax cuts. Analysts have looked into his plan and found that rich people will get most of the benefit of his tax cuts while he slashes social programs to pay for them. You might recognise this as “trickle down economics,” and it’s Luxon’s big plan for the country.

Luxon will be partnering with Rand Pauls and Trumps, lol

Because he’s polling down at 43%, he’ll need to cobble together support from the anti-immigrant, anti-Māori, anti-social programs, anti-woke, pro-tax cut minor parties. I don’t need to give them too much explanation; if you know about the alt-right or Trump, they’ll need no introduction. Think Rand Paul, Trump, Buchanan, David Duke, or Matt Gaetz.

Luxon, unsurprisingly, isn’t thrilled about this. He’d prefer his party win enough seats to not have to partner with crazy people, but that’s not in the cards. So he’s putting on a brave face, while his partners are saying they’re going to extract a lot of concessions from him.

Who is Chris Hipkins, the Labour leader?

Chris Hipkins had the unfortunate role of trying to lead the party after Jacinda Arden. He doesn’t have the communication skills that she does, and he’s Prime Minister during a time when kiwis are feeling deeply pessimistic about the country’s direction. This is a classic “change election” and there seems to be very little Hipkins can do to keep his party in power.

But wait! Labour is surging!

It would be very surprising to see the left win this election. And yet, we are seeing a last-minute surge by Labour. Probably too little too late, but it makes for a more interesting election day result.

My predictions for tomorrow

I’m going to guess that New Zealand First, Labour, and the Greens do better than expected. I’m going to guess that ACT and National do worse. So here are my final guesses:

National: 45
Labour: 36
Greens: 18
ACT: 12
New Zealand First: 9

Part two coming soon!