The Ohariu electorate has been very much in the news in recent days. There has been the usual amount of breathless hype and exaggeration from political commentators about what they think is going on. Most of it has been wildly inaccurate, ridiculously sensational, and so devoid of any factual basis that it could not even be described as “alternative” facts.
So, leaving aside as largely irrelevant the argument about whether the Greens and Labour have done a deal in the electorate (of course, it is a deal – to claim otherwise is as ignorant as it churlish, but describing it as “dirty” is simply puerile), and in the absence of much informed comment, here are some basic facts about Ohariu.
At the last election, just under 54% of Ohariu voters voted for either the UnitedFuture or National Party electorate candidates, with around 37% supporting the UnitedFuture candidate. About 42% supported either the Green or Labour candidates. On the party votes side, just over 51% of voters supported National and UnitedFuture, with about 38% backing Labour and the Greens.
The Greens and Labour are saying now that one of the reasons for having just one candidate between them this year is because their combined candidate vote from 2014 is greater than the UnitedFuture candidate’s support, which, were it to come to pass, would deliver them the seat. In so doing, they say, it would help them achieve their stated aim to “change the government”.
But here is where their argument starts to fall down – on two points of fact, at least. First, they make the heroic assumption that in that situation the 16% of voters who supported the National candidate will all continue to do so again. Yet, if only a third of those voters shifted their support to the UnitedFuture candidate, the Labour/Greens dream would be all over. Ohariu voters are very intelligent, and capable of working out very easily what is in their strategic best interests.
Moroever, in both the candidate and party votes in 2014, Ohariu voters showed a clear majority preference for supporting the current governing arrangement. This is not a “change the government” electorate, so appeals to vote for the Labour/Green candidate to “change the government” are likely to fall on deaf ears. If anything, they are more likely to drive voters to the National/UnitedFuture side, and, as the dominant candidate of that bloc, the UnitedFuture candidate is likely to be the beneficiary.
If, as is claimed, Ohariu is to be the electorate that determines the fate of the government, then, given National’s current dominance in the polls, the lines will be drawn even more clearly – namely, the way to keep the current government in office will be to re-elect the UnitedFuture candidate. In that scenario, a vote for any other candidate (including, perversely, the National candidate) will effectively be a vote to “change the government”, something Ohariu voters have shown no inclination towards.
There is another potential spin-off too. If Ohariu is to hold the key to the election outcome, then party votes for UnitedFuture in other electorates now become so much more relevant. Given UnitedFuture’s stated objective this election of stopping the extremists from running amok, voters anxious for reassurance on this score will be able to give party votes to UnitedFuture elsewhere in the country, confident they will not be wasted. The likelihood of UnitedFuture holding Ohariu and with it, the prospect of winning perhaps 2% to 3% of the party vote, and thus maybe 3-4 seats in its own right, emerges.
So whatever its status, the Labour/Green “arrangement” in Ohariu will be seen as a game-changer, although it is unlikely to be in the way those parties expected.