Election lessons on winning Pasifika vote

5:33 pm on 10 January 2015


The Labour and National parties say the message from the 2014 election is they need to better understand the changing Pasifika population to win their votes in future.

Political parties court the Pasifika vote at the Mangere markets during the 2014 election campaign.

Political parties court the Pasifika vote at the Mangere markets during the 2014 election campaign. Photo: RNZ / Karen Mangnall

Despite big Labour majorities in the top three Pasifika electorates, voting age participation in Mangere, Manukau East and Manurewa was down and among the lowest for all general electorates.

Labour MP for Kelston Carmel Sepuloni said it had been a problem for the past three elections and needed to be "seriously addressed" for 2017.

She said young, educated Pasifika who were born in New Zealand were the key to reversing that falling turnout and to the future of the Pasifika vote.

National Party list MP Alfred Ngaro said the challenge for all parties was to recognise Pasifika voters were no longer migrants.

Most are now "Kiwis of Pacific descent" who are younger, more educated and looking to do things differently from their parents.

"There is no more traditional vote. The vote has shifted and changed and if we're not cognisant of that, then I think we're gonna miss the mark," said Mr Ngaro.

Alfred Ngaro believes younger, Pasifika New Zealanders will be attracted to National's message that individuals can aspire to more for themselves and that cultural obligations to church and family need to change.

But Carmel Sepuloni said collective cultural values were not being abandoned in the push for higher education and better jobs.

"We're encouraged to do that for wider family and community. But if the principle of collectivism dilutes the longer we are here, will there still be that alignment to the Labour Party? I'm not sure."

Belief governments do not care about Pasifika people

Auckland University of Technology researcher, Leon Lusitini, said post-election surveys since 1996 showed Pasifika people did not think politics or voting made any difference to their daily lives.

Alongside a deep loyalty to Labour and former leaders like David Lange and Helen Clark, there was an equally deep belief that governments - whether National or Labour - did not care about Pasifika people.

"That kind of cynical attitude about Government does affect turnout. If people think that Government is run by a few big interests looking out for themselves then they're probably not likely to turn out at all."

Political commentator Efeso Collins said National's aspirational pitch was the right one but would not change allegiances on its own.

Nor would it inspire young Pasifika to vote unless they were among the 4 or 5 percent who came out of the education system with a degree.

"The cynicism remains," he said, because with 28 percent of Pacific children living in poverty "too few see that aspiration come to reality."

Efeso Collins said young Pasifika would vote if they saw the right political leaders and the main parties needed to be more open to Pasifika participation and in the way they selected candidates.

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