Opinion: Anxiety and the election – voter volatility in pandemic/politics mix 


Associate Professor Grant Duncan


By Associate Professor Grant Duncan

Do the Massey/Stuff survey here

Since the first round of the Stuff/Massey pre-election survey (12–19 July), a lot has happened. National’s leader Todd Muller unexpectedly resigned and was promptly replaced by Judith Collins. A new outbreak of coronavirus appeared in South Auckland and the country went into level 2 and 3 restrictions. Controversy erupted over a failure to implement cabinet’s stated policy that all border-control staff are tested for COVID-19. And the election was postponed by four weeks until 17 October. We didn’t see any of that coming.

More than 70,000 people completed July’s first round of the survey. And, within a week of its closing, we fed back to readers some of the headline results. So, we’re checking in with you again for a second round. We want to know how things are going, from your point of view, and what kinds of changes you hope for as the country navigates its way through the pandemic, the recession, and into the next parliament.

The Stuff/Massey survey has had very high levels of participation, but it is not statistically representative of our population. Nonetheless, it does indicate how opinions vary across age, income, ethnicity, and so on.

For example, only about one percent of male and female respondents said they are “often scared” when walking around their neighbourhoods. And 11.3 percent of those who ticked male and 7.1 percent of those who ticked female rated policing as “poor”.

But, 26.3 percent of ACT Party supporters rated police effectiveness as poor, even though only two percent, in their case, said they feel “often scared” in their own neighbourhoods. ACT supporters benefit from the security provided by tax-funded policing, but many do not give the police credit for it.

Well, the ACT party is ideologically sceptical of anything that’s taxpayer-funded. Compared with the other parties in parliament, ACT supporters were the most likely to rate the government’s overall response to COVID-19 as “unsuccessful”: 29.5 percent compared with 9.9 percent for the whole sample. They were the most strongly in favour of abolishing the Māori seats: 68.2 percent compared with 36.6 percent overall. And 32.4 percent of them hoped that Trump wins in the US election, compared with 11 percent overall.

ACT supporters expressed higher levels of discontent and distrust than supporters of the other parties represented in parliament. The supporters of the tiny New Conservative party, however, were even grumpier.

This, and other such data from the survey, showed us that team of five million are not all paddling in the same direction. Party-political affiliations revealed much more highly polarized opinions than across ethnic and gender self-identification. As the impending election is accompanied by a major national crisis, these ideological divisions will be keenly felt.

Opinion polls since the beginning of the year have registered a great deal of volatility. In January, which seems like an age ago, National was ahead of Labour. The anxiety caused by the pandemic, and New Zealand’s relatively low infection and mortality rates, stimulated trust in and support for the government, boosting Labour’s polling over 50 percent.

As the social and economic strains of the lockdowns continue to prey upon New Zealanders’ minds, will that support and confidence be eroded? Looking beyond the election, what kinds of policy changes do Kiwis hope for as we navigate our way out of this pandemic?

Our world is being changed from the ground up by the devastating global effects of a virus. Our political landscape is changing along with it. You can tell us what you think about the current situation, and about the future.

Associate Professor Grant Duncan teaches political theory and New Zealand politics for Massey University, Auckland.

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