Jacinda Ardern must win back the working-class

A lot has happened since June. For one, the NZ Labour Party has a charismatic new leader. The rise of Jacinda Ardern is causing a lot of excitement in the media. But there is good reason to be skeptical of what Bryce Edwards calls ‘Jacindarama’.

I would argue that the main challenge for Labour is to win back the working-class. Last year, I did some research into this for my MA thesis. I have summarised my findings on the University of Auckland Politics & IR blog Pacific Outlier. The following table illustrates my argument.

Working-class Middle-class
Labour National Labour National
1996 32% 29% 26% 37%
1999 47% 22% 32% 37%
2002 45% 16% 40% 23%
2005 47% 32% 42% 38%
2008 42% 38% 28% 50%
2011 39% 36% 20% 54%
2014 35% 38% 20% 52%

These numbers come from the NZ Election Study. I explain my methodology in the Pacific Outlier post, but basically the working-class are those voters in manual and low or semi-skilled non-manual employment. It includes both the traditional blue-collar workforce and those in routine white-collar employment. I estimated that, in 2014, the working-class made up nearly 40 percent of the vote.

But it was National, the party of businessmen and farmers, that won the working-class in 2014. A further 18 percent went to the Greens and NZ First (nine percent each). This is significant because until now, Labour has relied on strong working-class support to carry it to victory. The Labour share of the working-class vote has fallen from an average of 46 percent in 1999-2005 to 35 percent in 2014.

To put it another way, Labour must win back the working-class before it can win the country.

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