No professional polls have been done so far – or if they have no-one is telling – however all the on-line polls give it to Te Hamua – most by a convincing margin. He has enormous public profile through his hosting of several popular Maori Television programmes such as Homai Te Pakipaki. But can he turn high public recognition into votes on 29 June?
I spent seven hours on Saturday going door to door in central Gisborne visiting homes where the electoral roll said there were voters enrolled on the Maori roll and eligible to vote. So with the election just two weeks away what were the impressions on the ground?
At least half the families were out on Saturday morning which is not surprising with school netball and rugby games on as well as weekend shopping. But of the people I spoke to who were enrolled and intending to vote the majority were in support of Te Hamua and many enthusiastically so. One of my fellow doorknockers was greeted with a spontaneous hug when he announced he was from Mana. Similar impressions have been gained from canvassing in other parts of Gisborne, Napier/Hastings and Wellington.
So while most pundits are picking the seat as Labour’s to lose, on the ground the feeling is very different. If I was a betting man I’d put money on Te Hamua to win.
Other impressions from this door-knocking in a low-income area with many state houses and high unemployment are stark.
Of those homes where someone was in I found at least 30% of the names on the electoral roll had out-of-date addresses. Where the current occupants knew of those who’d rented the home before about a third had shifted to other homes in Gisborne a third to other NZ centres and a third to Australia.
This is vastly different to what one would find in a middle or high-income area-income area where housing stability is much better.
We shouldn’t be surprised by any of this. Families in low-income areas have much less stable employment – they are the first laid off and the last to be rehired in a recession – and they don’t have the housing stability which comes from home ownership or guaranteed tenure. Their family lives are typically much more stressed and fragmented and government policy is set to increase the tension from 1 July. The nastiest National minister since Ruth Richardson – Paula Bennett – is seeing to that.
In the midst of all these stresses and strains, as soon as a low voter turnout is reported commentators “tut-tut” and cite “voter apathy” as the reason for the seeming lack of political engagement. For example the Maori Party’s Na Raihania on yesterday’s Marae Investigates gave the “apathy” answer to explain why Maori were not engaging with the opportunity to swap from the general roll to the Maori roll.
But when I engaged people in conversation about the by-election it became very clear that the apparent lack of interest of so many was not apathy but disillusionment. People were interested in the politics which shape their lives but had no hope that anything significant would be changed it they voted.
This disillusionment is growing throughout the world where people have repeatedly voted for one thing but have always been delivered the same harsh, family-unfriendly policies. Whether it’s Labour or National the 1% get richer while most of the 99% struggle.
Mana aims to bring hope back to politics for struggling families and I hope Gisborne’s Mana-door-knock-hugger will have his excitement rewarded on the 29 June.