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New Zealand Politics 101

Feeling a bit lost when it comes to New Zealand politics? Debate intern and political enthusiast James Howe is here to walk you through the basics. Illustration by Hope McConnell.

On Saturday 23rd September, New Zealanders will head to the polls to vote, choosing the candidate and party we want to lead our country for the next three years. Given the influence the people we elect have on our lives, it is important to understand who, and what, we are voting for.

How it all works:

Every three years, Aotearoa holds a general election to form a new government.

In New Zealand, we vote using the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system. In the MMP system you have two votes. The first vote is for the party you prefer. This is the vote that largely decides the total number of seats each party will have of the 120 seats in Parliament. For example, if 30% of Kiwis vote for the Sausage Roll Party, it will get around 30% of all the seats in Parliament. But, in order to get any seats in Parliament a party must reach at least 5% of the party vote or win an electorate seat.

Your second vote is to choose a person to represent your local electorate. If a politician wins their electorate (the district they are standing in), they automatically get a seat in Parliament. But, under MMP, an MP who does not win their electorate may still get into Parliament based on the number of seats their party wins and their placing on the party list.

For a majority, a party needs to win half the seats plus one (61 seats), which can be made up of a single party or by coalition government. Currently, National is in coalition with the ACT Party, United Future and the Māori Party – which gives them a governing majority.

Voting in New Zealand is a simple process that takes very little time. Once you have enrolled online at, all you need to do is turn up to a voting station in your electorate on Election Day (September 23rd 2017), where you will be given a paper ballot on which to cast your votes.

So, what’s the current political situation?

A variety of issues have been identified as important in this election. Policies around Auckland’s housing crisis, immigration, transportation, mental health funding and education costs will all impact on voters’ decisions.

So, who will you vote for? Here’s a quick summary of the four top-polling parties and what they stand for:

National Party

2014 election result: 47.04%

Currently polling at: 41%*

National, the major centre-right party, is currently in its third term as NZ’s governing party. From the 2008 election to December 2016, National was led by Sir John Key. Following Key’s resignation, Deputy Leader and Minister of Finance, Bill English, was elected by the party to lead. Despite the change in leaders, National have continued to poll strongly, although English is much less popular than Key was in the Preferred Prime Minister polls. National cite the strength of the economy, the efforts in the Christchurch rebuild and the management of the global financial crisis as examples of its recent success.

National’s policies can be found at:

Labour Party

2014 election result: 25.13%

Currently polling at: 43%*

Labour is the other major party, representing a more centre-left approach. Since Helen Clark resigned in 2008, leaders have included Auckland mayor Phil Goff, David Cunliffe, David Shearer, Andrew Little and most recently, Jacinda Ardern. Labour has had a strong focus on the Auckland housing crisis and infrastructure issues such as transport, which it claims National has ignored. Even after the average house price in Auckland exceeded $1 million, National denied there was a crisis, which was a win for Labour, who stressed the National party was out of touch. When Andrew Little resigned in August, due in part to low polling, Jacinda Ardern stepped up as Labour leader, and her sudden popularity has been coined as ‘Jacindamania'.

Labour’s polices can be found at:

Green Party

2014 election result: 10.70%

Currently polling at: 5%*

The Green Party is a left-wing ‘third’ party that focuses heavily on environmental and social issues. It has a memorandum of understanding with Labour that means the two parties will work with together to get enough seats to form a coalition government. Metiria Turei, the co-leader of the Greens, recently revealed she had committed voter and benefit fraud when she was studying as a solo mother, and announced her resignation shortly after. This saw the Greens sink heavily in the polls with many people turning to Labour, but the Greens are still important to Labour's chances of forming a government.

Greens' policies can be found at:

NZ First Party

2014 election result: 8.66%

Currently polling at: 8%*

New Zealand First is the other major ‘third’ party, led by Winston Peters. Peters is well known for his longevity in NZ politics. He has introduced policies including the Gold Card for senior citizens, and has held many signature positions on issues such as immigration. Although Peters is a former National Party MP, he has sided with National’s rival Labour many times and has become known as the “kingmaker” due to his ability to

use NZ First’s seats to be able to select the next government. Peters is likely to be the kingmaker once again, and although politically he aligns more with National, he is equally as likely to side with Labour.

NZ First's policies can be found at:

Other parties that could be influential in forming a government include the ACT Party, Gareth Morgan’s The Opportunities Party (which could play a role similar to the Internet Party in 2014), and the Māori Party, which continues to have strong support from the Māori community and beyond.

Still not sure who to vote for? Check out the following handy tools:

*According to the 1 News Colmar Brunton Poll, August 26-30

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