Southern Gothic Politics II: More Bluing of Otago-Southland

Last November, I wrote a piece on the underperformance of the New Zealand Left in the lower South Island: https://phuulishfellow.wordpress.com/2020/11/18/southern-gothic-politics-the-bluing-of-otago-southland/

Today, I thought I would take a closer look at subsections of the Otago-Southland region. Not electorates, but rather more generalised areas. Firstly, let’s take a look at Otago-Southland outside the two Dunedin seats (Dunedin and Taieri):

There is quite the interesting story here, I think. Waitaki District (Oamaru) and Urban Invercargill are on quite the long, slow genteel decline, so far as the relative Left vote goes. Had the Left’s relative performance in Invercargill city been as good in 2020 as it was during the Helen Clark years, Labour would have won the wider electorate. On the other hand, this sort of long-run erosion arguably speaks to demographic changes, and wider provincial decay, rather than policy or candidate. What, if anything, the Left can do about this is unclear, short of a massive programme of provincial development, of the sort that has been distinctly unfashionable among Auckland and Wellington decision-makers these past forty years.

By contrast, the brightest spots for the Left in the lower South Island were in the Lakes District and Central Otago, with Queenstown as the epicentre. Highly dependent on tourism, one would imagine Queenstown was uniquely affected by the Coronavirus… though as one can see from the graph, the Left surge really only brought it back to where it was fifteen years ago, during the Helen Clark years. On the other hand, the wealthy Lakes District area is a decent fit for places that internationally have been trending Left in recent times (Queenstown is a ski resort), so we shall have to see what happens in 2023.

And that leaves rural Southland. Whether in the Southland electorate, or in the Invercargill electorate, this part of the region was not favourable to the Left at all. And while it is tempting to write this off as nutty farmers voting ACT because Judith Collins was insufficiently crazy… Gore is not wealthy farmers. Gore is a rural service town, and a New Zealand byword for land of the hillbillies – in short, distinctly unfashionable, and the sort of place that in the USA would be very keen on Donald Trump. The Left underperforming so badly in Gore, while overperforming in Queenstown has a decidedly international vibe to it. Culture wars are not yet a thing in New Zealand, in the way that they are in the USA, UK, and Australia, but as a voting response to the Coronavirus, it is an interesting development.

(The very poor Left result in the rural part of the Invercargill electorate also played its role in costing Labour the seat. Alas, with urban Invercargill in long-run stagnation, the Invercargill electorate will keep taking in more and more of this very dark blue farmland every time the boundaries are adjusted. Short of a demographic miracle, the future of Invercargill Labour looks pretty bleak).

OK. So that’s the region outside Dunedin. Let’s flip to the Taieri electorate:

I believe I have mentioned that the Taieri Labour result was decent, but not great (and largely a matter of mistaken expectations). Here we can see that the Left dramatically recovered in the Western part of the electorate (Mosgiel and Green Island), while the Red Fortress of South Dunedin did not go anywhere, in relative terms. And neither did the rural Clutha… though seeing as the Left’s performance in the rural parts of the lower South Island was so poor generally, simply treading water may be considered an achievement.

(A lazy analysis might imagine that the Mosgiel and Green Island collapse of 2011 was a reflection of the previous MP, Clare Curran… but Clutha collapsed too, and in 2011, it did not have Curran as its MP. The exact cause of the collapse – and the subsequent recovery – is thus something of a mystery).

And now on to the Dunedin electorate, where MP David Clark made a fair few 2020 headlines by breaching lockdown regulations while being Minister of Health:

As one can see, Dunedin was not a cheery place for the Left in 2020 – and note that since the Left also includes the Greens, people were not simply protesting David Clark by voting Green rather than Red.

(A key difference between the Dunedin and Taieri electorates is that the former has Green voters).

In most cases, however, these 2020 results were merely taking the Left back to 2002-ish levels. With two exceptions – West Harbour, and (to an even greater degree) Waikouaiti. The thing both these areas have in common? They’re outside the city proper. The Dunedin electorate, as configured under current boundaries is the stereotypical urban vote-sink, but it is still not completely urban. There are residual bits of rural area too, and the 2014-2020 trend line in Waikouaiti looks pretty damned ugly, especially since the collapse predates Clark’s Coronavirus missteps. The rural lower South Island was not favourable to Labour in 2020, which as noted makes Taieri treading water look pretty good.

**

So yeah. Outside Dunedin’s western offshoots, and posh Lakes District areas, Otago-Southland seriously underperformed in 2020, so far as the Left vote goes. As noted previously, this was the first time in over thirty years that the southern region voted to the Right of the rest of New Zealand… which means that along with the previously-discussed case of West Coast-Tasman, it is now a problem child within a nationwide Labour landslide. I care about such things because, well, I was born on the Coast, and live in Dunedin, but it would be nice if the Aucklands and Wellingtons of this world recognised that the country extends south of the Waitaki River (or, dare I say it, Cook Strait).

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