Let's Do This Now! New Zealand is poised to repeat the circumstances that produced the shock British election result of 2015. Those with a retentive political memory will recall how both the pollsters and the pundits were predicting an extremely close election which could very easily see the Labour Leader of the Opposition, Ed Miliband, moving in to Number 10 Downing Street as Britain’s next prime minister. Didn’t happen.
IF, ON ELECTION NIGHT 2017, you end up staring at the numbers in horrified disbelief. If National proves the people at Reid Research are the best pollsters in the business. If the Jacinda Train runs out of puff several percentage-points short of being able to form a government. If the Greens: the dear, earnest, tree-hugging Greens; fall below the 5 percent MMP threshold. If, after all these calamities, you’re casting about in your anger and your grief for an explanation, then reclaim from the back of your mind this crucial piece of information from Elections New Zealand.
As at 15 September, just over a week out from Election Day, “nearly 20,000 fewer young people under 30 [have] registered compared with 2014”.
Got that? Notwithstanding the fact that the leadership of the Labour Party has passed to a young woman of 37. Notwithstanding the fact that Labour is promising to enact a suite of policies aimed directly at addressing the problems besetting young New Zealanders. Notwithstanding the fact that the most future-focused of all New Zealand political parties, the Greens, are at serious risk of being ushered out of Parliament altogether. Notwithstanding all of these things, fewer citizens under 30 have registered than three years ago!
New Zealand is poised to repeat the circumstances that produced the shock British election result of 2015. Those with a retentive political memory will recall how both the pollsters and the pundits were predicting an extremely close election which could very easily see the Labour Leader of the Opposition, Ed Miliband, moving in to Number 10 Downing Street as Britain’s next prime minister.
As polling stations across the British Isles closed their doors, and the counting began, the BBC released an exit poll indicating a comfortable win for the British Conservative Party. Pundits and Opposition politicians alike were dumbfounded. When all the polls were predicting a close race – and some a Labour win – how could the BBC’s exit poll possibly be true?
The Tories knew the answer. They had cottoned-on to what was happening weeks before. All those young Britons who’d happily told the pollsters that they supported Ed Miliband and Labour were by no means as committed to making their way to a polling-booth and actually voting for them. Older voters, on the other hand, were borderline obsessive when it came to exercising the franchise. And guess what? Around three-quarters of them were Tories.
Two years later, back here in New Zealand, the chances of something very similar unfolding are distressingly high. Just consider these additional stats from Elections New Zealand:
“So far, 97 percent of people over 70 have enrolled to vote, but as the age drops, so does the percentage. Only 75 percent of people between the ages of 25 and 29 enrolled to vote and that proportion dropped to 67 percent for 18 to 24-year-olds.”
Combine that data with the latest Colmar Brunton poll’s finding that 67 percent of voters aged between 18 and 34 told the pollster that they were intending to vote for the Labour Party. 1New’s political editor, Corin Dann, has described this as a “youthquake” – and if 18 to 34-year-olds voted in anything like the same numbers as the over-60s, then he’d be right, and Labour/Green would cruise to a stunning election victory.
But, will they? In 2014 around 200,000 young New Zealanders declined to cast a vote. If that degree of abstention is repeated in 2017, then the same gasps of disbelief that greeted the BBC’s exit poll in 2015 will likely be heard here as the Early Voting figures are released on the evening of 23 September. Youthquakes are not born of young voters’ stated intentions, they only occur when young people get themselves to a polling station, step into a booth, fill out a ballot-paper, and drop it into a ballot-box. Jacinda will not become prime minister by millennials liking her on Facebook. To effect a change of government, it is absolutely necessary that young New Zealanders vote.
Among all this doom and gloom there is, however, some good news.
When the Tory British Prime Minister, Teresa May, called a snap election earlier this year, the pundits and pollsters were determined not to be caught napping a second time. If younger citizens, in spite of declaring their support for a political party, don’t actually make it to the polling booths, reasoned the pollsters, then we must adjust our raw results to take account of the high level of youth abstention.
Accordingly, the overwhelming majority of polls released prior to the June British election showed the Conservatives increasing their parliamentary majority. Many of the British pundits went further – predicting a massive collapse in Labour support across the country.
Young British voters had learned from the experience of 2015. They understood that if Jeremy Corbyn’s “For the Many, Not the Few” manifesto promises were ever to be honoured, then they would have to get out and vote for them. Which is exactly what they did – in numbers far surpassing the youth turnout of 2015. Support for the Labour Party surged. Teresa May lost her parliamentary majority.
The moral of the story is pretty bloody clear: VOTE!
You can enrol, and vote, at your nearest Advance Voting polling station (check out their locations at www.elections.org.nz ) right up until 22 September. It is NOT possible to enrol on Election Day itself (Saturday, 23 September) so – VOTE EARLY.
And once you’ve enrolled and voted, make sure everyone you know, who’s 18 and over, and wants to change the government, GOES OUT AND DOES THE SAME.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Saturday, 16 September 2017.