15 Feb 2023

Minor parties: Will they have a major impact?

From The Detail, 5:00 am on 15 February 2023

Labour's sweeping win at the last election gave it the ability to govern alone, but under MMP parties normally have to share power. At this year's election, the minor parties look set to regain their relevance. Newsroom political editor Jo Moir and RNZ deputy political editor Craig McCulloch join The Detail to size them up. 

A composite image containing four separate photos of the leaders of four separate minor parties, all taken while the leaders are answering questions from media: from left going clockwise, David Seymour from ACT, Marama Davidson and James Shaw from the Greens, Winston Peters from New Zealand First, and Debbie Ngarewa-Packer and Rawiri Waititi from Te Paati Māori.

Minor parties could hold the balance of power at this year's general election. Photo: Samuel Rillstone, Angus Dreaver

ACT Party

Currently polling: 10 percent

Back in 2020, ACT went from a one-man band to a caucus of 10.

RNZ's Craig McCulloch says commentators had thought ACT would have a rocky road with nine fresh MPs "not necessarily knowing what they're doing".

"I don't think many would have predicted that actually coming out the other end of this term it would be the ACT Party that's emerging pretty much unscathed."

McCulloch says most of the credit for that has to go to leader David Seymour.

"He's fairly experienced now, he's been around for quite some time in parliament, he's a canny strategist, he knows how to deliver a soundbite, he knows how to navigate the news cycle, he knows how to capitalise on National's woes just as much as Labour's and set himself up basically as the surrogate opposition leader."

Newsroom's Jo Moir says ACT's support is holding up, even with Christopher Luxon taking over from the unpopular Judith Collins as National's leader.

"There's a whole bunch of centre-right voters out there who are looking at David Seymour and looking at ACT and going, 'actually, that's for us, not the National Party'."

Green Party

Currently polling: 7-8 percent

McCulloch says the Greens' vote has actually increased while it's supported Labour-led governments. 

In 2017, the party got 6.3 percent of the vote and in 2020 they hit 7.9 percent - bucking the trend of minor parties being swallowed by their larger partner.

"That's nothing to be sniffed at, but you might have thought the Greens would have benefitted some from Labour's gradual slump over this term.

"When you consider that Labour has dropped about 12 points in the polls, those voters haven't gone to the Greens, they've gone back to National."

However, McCulloch says the Greens have consolidated their support base - and they should be confident about sticking above the five percent threshold.

Moir says the departure of Jacinda Ardern also gives the Greens an opportunity to refocus on their core issues, like climate change.

"[Ardern] occupied that space as much as the Greens, she had that 'nuclear free moment' and people will argue that you're possibly not going to see so much of that under Chris Hipkins - that's a very easy area for the Greens to completely claim back without having Jacinda Ardern also in that space."

Te Pāti Māori

Currently polling: 2-3 percent

Moir says Te Pāti Māori hasn't so much been in the thick of the big national issues: "I feel as if they're picking issues that might be seen as a little bit niche, but they are progressive for Māori."

She points to the controversy over parliament's dress codes, which the party successfully engineered a change.

"It is a big deal about what they consider to be part of their culture and what they feel is acceptable. It was a debate really about oppression and colonisation."

McCulloch says it's rare for opposition parties to get those sort of victories in parliament.

"That alone is a fairly symbolic gain for them."

Rawiri Waititi looks set to hold his Waiariki seat and depending on who Labour puts up in Te Tai Hauāuru, Debbie Ngarewa-Packer could have a good chance there.

On current polling, Te Pāti Māori could hold the balance of power.

McCulloch says it's difficult to see them going with National and ACT, and while they seem somewhat reluctant to go with Labour and the Greens, he suspects that's positioning ahead of any possible negotiations.

Anyone else?

Moir and McCulloch agree you can't write off NZ First.

"The settings are right for an outsider party, for a protest vote party - that said, they haven't managed to cross that five percent threshold in the polls yet," McCulloch says.

Moir says Winston Peters is looking energised and the party is gearing up to fight another election campaign, getting donations and meeting with influential people and business leaders.

NZ First is hovering about 2 percent.

McCulloch says while TOP has started turning up in the polls, they are nowhere near the five percent threshold.

"Without an electorate, at this stage, I would say they are basically a non-entity."

TOP registered between 1 and 1.5 percent in the most recent 1News and Newshub polls.


Hear more about how things are shaping up for the minor parties in the full podcast episode.

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