MUST READ: Crossing the Line: What Lies Behind the Surge To Te Pāti Māori?


WHAT HAPPENS WHEN people who don’t usually participate in elections decide to vote? Things turn weird – that’s what happens. This is because the people who don’t vote are very different from the people who do. The motivations relied upon by the pundits to explain the behaviour of habitual voters are not the motivations of non-voters. That’s why, when these folk cross the line separating the passivity of non-voting from the world of active political citizenship the results can be startling.

It’s why political entrepreneurs like Dominic Cummings and Steve Bannon work so hard to reach and motivate the people perennially dismissed and abandoned by the smug political campaigners of the mainstream. The Cummings and the Bannons know these marginalised individuals: the people that shit happens to; the people who live in the shit; are extraordinarily combustible. Strike a match in the right place, at the right time, and – Kaboom! – the “deplorables” explode into action.

It is precisely the “otherness” of these non-participants that makes them so potent politically. An across-the-board expansion of the electorate: one in which exactly the same proportion of National, Labour, Act, Green and Te Pāti Māori voters simply stepped across the line separating non-voting from voting; would make no appreciable difference in either the opinion polls or the polling booths. Indeed, this is pretty much what happens when people step out of the “Don’t Know” category to express a clear preference. They tend to break the same way as those who have already disclosed their electoral choices. But non-voters: the sort of people who tell pollsters and phone canvassers to fuck-off;they are different.

Non-voters come in two flavours. There are those who never got into the habit of voting, and those who, for a whole host of reasons, got out of the habit.

The habit of voting, like the habit of going to school, is a reflection of a settled family environment. In such households, all manner of social and economic connections serve to keep their inhabitants tethered to the local community and its values. The absence of these connections produces individuals estranged and alienated from the community and its concerns. The impact of politics on their daily lives being neither perceived nor explained, they do not care about elections – or vote in them.

Those who have gotten out of the habit of voting usually have a sad story to tell. For some reason, the ties that bound them to their community have been severed. It may have been the result of family disintegration, substance abuse, criminal offending and incarceration. Alternatively, it could have been job loss, prolonged unemployment, indebtedness, homelessness and/or severe mental illness. Something happened to set these individuals on a downward spiral to economic privation and social isolation. What had been citizens with rights, become invisible un-persons with nothing. Politics was for winners – not losers like themselves.

Breaking into the world of these non-voters isn’t easy. Somehow, a political movement has to convince them that the vote they cast will produce a direct and positive impact on their lives. Non-voter politics tends to be grounded in the not unreasonable observation that participating in elections, voting, changes nothing. Their cynicism is encapsulated in pithy anarchic aphorisms: “Don’t vote, governments always win”, or, “If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal”.

The crucial thing to note about these aphorisms, however, is that they identify an enemy. “Governments.” “Them.” For non-voters, politics is what the people with power do to you. The idea that politics could be about what you do to “them” is dismissed as absurd.

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The critical insight of Cummings and Bannon was that it is possible to persuade these non-voters to use their votes as weapons. Deployed strategically, the right number of votes, cast in the right number of places, can make “governments” quail and cause “them” to weep. Sell non-voters that message and you will have given them a truly visceral reason to vote. Their unlooked-for participation can ruin the whole day of the Powers-That-Be – delivering a massive one-fingered salute to the whole, evil, vicious system that ruined their lives. By voting, they can say “Fuck You!” to the people in charge, and – lo – the people in charge will find themselves unexpectedly and irremediably fucked. As happened with Brexit. As happened with Trump.

So, where would the Kiwi equivalents of Dominic Cummings and Steve Bannon go looking for estranged and alienated non-voters? What part of the New Zealand population is most likely to have been uprooted from family and community? Which citizens are most likely to fall foul of the Police, MSD, Oranga Tamariki and Corrections? What sort of New Zealander is the most likely to end up in jail – and the least likely to vote? Who, if they used their votes as weapons, could strike a mortal blow against the status quo? The urban Māori underclass – that’s who!

And who has the best chance of reaching the urban Māori underclass? Te Pāti Māori .

Not that Te Pāti Māori  has its very own version of Cambridge Analytica to identify the angry and the alienated and bombard them with carefully crafted social media messages. TPM just doesn’t have those kinds of resources. What it does have, however, is its own place in the networks created to fight the Covid-19 pandemic. These networks led Māori service providers to places and people undetected and ignored by the state and its agencies. More importantly, they began the process of reconnection and tethering that allows political messages to be taken in, rather than simply thrown away.

And when these folk lifted up their heads, looking around through eyes brightened by unfamiliar feelings of pride and hope, TPM was there with the promise that, this time, this special time, voting could make a difference. Aotearoa was changing. Pakeha – especially young Pakeha – were changing. The racism was still there, of course, heightened, it would seem, by the prospect of Labour, the Greens and TPM having the numbers to keep the changes coming. But TPM also told them the country had moved on from 2005, from Don Brash and his “Iwi versus Kiwi” election billboards. An awful lot of old bigots can die in 17 years!

To the bigots still breathing, however, the Māori non-voters could deliver a very special gift – one that would ruin the racists’ whole day. In the spirit of the community that had discovered them in their time of need, and which they had rediscovered, Māori non-voters could step across the line that separates the un-person from the citizen. By casting a vote in the 2023 General Election, not only could they re-make themselves, they could re-make their country.



  1. I don’t think non voters are inaccessible but if maori was, I’d imagine it’s just easier to clap hands and appear spirited. Could also argue higher inaccessible or beyond wages or some dumb shit.

  2. Well good luck with all that. I’m looking at not voting next time because there’s no one worth voting for. I’m not prepared to go down and line up at some crappy polling booth for a gaggle of geese, a pack of wolves, a skulk of foxes, or a cutie bevy of larks, when I could be growing beans or weeds.

      • The people who DO vote get the government they deserve.
        It’s just the rest of us that don’t deserve it…

      • That statement would be true but for the fact that we are not a functional democracy. And we wont be until we renounce all of the colonial and neo liberal legislation and power structures. Our politicians know this but they will carry on arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic for international capital and their local placeholders. To try to do what we need to do to become a democracy is not good for your career longevity, and in extreme cases your life expectancy.

        • Yep. That old “get what you deserve” lark is dead.
          We’re not a democracy. We’re a globalist colony in collapse.

      • That’s the false dichotomy. For voting to make a difference there’d have to be a meaningful choice. Purely superficial differences aren’t meaningful. At least National doesn’t pretend to care.

      • Stop exaggerating BG we (Maori are and always will be at the tranny of the majority) Funny how the tide turns as soon as Maori get anything more than f… k all out come all the naysayers and its all gloomy and divisive divide and conquer shite.

        • what “tyranny”. Examples please of the here and now not some imagined past injustice. Ever since that useless, pseudo , tosser Robertson spat out this worn, tired ,redundant phrase and concept all the chipmunks (like Bomber) have picked it up out of the zeitgeist without knowing it’s real application. MMP makes this concept a non starter in NZ. Stop fucking whining about non existent shit!

          • Jeepers, Shona there is a lot to unpack there. The “tyranny of the majority” is well documented and refers to the fact that a democracy is only fair when everything else is equal. So an issue that might be very important to Maori but not so much to Pakeha will always lose, unless enough Pakeha support it, which usually will not happen. Shouldn’t have to explain, but now do you understand? (he said, optimistically)

    • I hear you Snow, I still have a vote that has to go somewhere but my conscience wont allow me to drop out.

      • Fantail. Well, thanks for bringing in consciences… I agree but, sometimes it’s the seemingly small unexpected things which can be stumbling blocks, and at this point in time, the spectacle of the Children’s Commissioner being axed, is mine. And I know that there are ok sort of people in Oranga Tamariki, who feel the same way. It’s so self-evident that the CC has been doing a much needed job, that I am sceptical about politicians who are dismissive of that particular office, and supporting them becomes a moral issue. But that’s just me.

        Our dark underbelly of family violence is a separate issue, and a biggie.

    • good, then don’t just shut your whining when you don’t like the next govt, if you don’t vote(spoiling the ballot paper is legitimate) you lose all whinging rights snow

      • Gagarin. I don’t consider it rational for you to want to silence anybody unable to find a candidate worth voting for.

        • snow by not voting you silence yourself, spoil the ballot(course that involves getting out of your mums basement) but opting out is self harm…

  3. I might Party vote TPM myself if their numbers are looking good in 2023, I have recently voted Green and before that Mana and Alliance and New Labour, have not voted Labour since 1984, but have occasionally voted for a Labour electorate candidate when they have a chance.

    Iwi teams definitely reached out to the alienated and hard to find during COVID. I know some Pākehā who were vaccinated in Te Hiku outreaches and got $50 food vouchers to boot. Show don’t tell as the saying goes.

    Māori Wards on various Councils are going to up the political participation rate amongst Māori also. A number of young Māori in the Far North are not down and outers, they run small businesses and have a positive outlook–they will be voting consciously not on some revenge mission.

    The thing to remember is that the successor generations to boomers have a different view on things Māori, and there is a good number of Pākehā for whom fear is not a factor.

  4. Like it or not we have to elect people of ability and skill to govern the country.
    We cannot out of nowhere suddenly come up with a different economic model.
    New Zealand faces an economic catastrophe if we ignore the fundamental issues.

  5. -…the prospect of Labour, the Greens and TPM having the numbers to keep the changes coming. –

    What changes Chris? There haven’t been any meaningful changes.
    You see that is the problem voters now face. A Labour government with ABSOLUTE power and yet completely unwilling to make any changes.
    We need lifeboats, not a school orchestra playing “Nearer my God to Thee”…

  6. A Labour+Green grouping dependent on TPM to form a government will scare a lot of soft-Labour, middle of the road voters towards that nice safe Mr Luxon.

    • Ada. “ Nice safe Mr Luxon “ ? Not really, there’s there’s nothing nice or safe about him. Possibly Peters; TOP have an even more impressive new leader.

  7. don’t worry the iwiocracy will sell out as usual, class beats people every time, they’ll just be a bit cheaper to bribe

    • some will, some won’t gagarin, there are plenty of Iwi who are about the betterment of community, rather than the enrichment of a few.

      • I specifically referred to the privileged groups within maoridom the iwiocracy stand alone There are undoubtably many activists within maoridom who actually do have maori interests at heart…the iwiocracy are not amongst them

      • name them with examples please. Apart from the rapacious and avaricious Tainui and Ngai Tahu(who are corporate scum)

    • this is a euro-centric conservative meme with no basis in fact – pretty much like all conservative memes. just bitching and whining and poor me-ing.

  8. So if we want to protect New Zealand democracy (or what passes for democracy in New Zealand), we should vote for ACT?

  9. Does would / could mean that the labour party is going to lose the Maori votes? Surging away from L to TPM will change what exactly other then re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic?

    • lets say that TPM gains another seat at the expense of Labour, and gets over the 5% of the party vote, that means TPM gets 4 MPs, gaining 2, while Labour only loses 1. so a left wing voting block actually gains an extra seat. which would most likely block conservative christian nationalists from getting into parliament. and possibly NZF. so its not something Labour are too worried about, but will scare the right wing parties.

  10. This will scare the shit out of the middle. Looking increasingly like a National government next election better hope chrome dome remains inept and flimsy.

      • If the middle has truly collapsed, does that mean I need to start polishing my jack boots? While neither extreme offers much hope for a better future for New Zealand, I personally prefer order over chaos, and chaos looks to be where Labour & Co is heading.

      • Seeing America, our continuing middle is good. I thought the second or third Key victory was the knell of the NZ project. You pointed out the possibilities remained, and right enough, the tennis ball pocked back into the Left’s court. And we got to piss off Jace and Grant with the ideals of the cause they officially belonged to. E.g. their trying to off the children’s commissioner.

        Hate the buggers, m’self. But we have a free ticket to harass them.

  11. Doesn’t MMP by its very structure negate the power of the disaffected as it creates space for fringe parties such as TPM and ACT which absorb this segment of the electorate.

    Cummings et al success came in a FPP environment which has markedly different dynamics

  12. “they could re-make their country.”
    More to the point they could re-make OUR country. In to what precisely? Waititi thinks that democracy is a manifestation of “caucasity” (a bad thing apparently) so that’s a clue.

    From what I can see the actual prospect of a combined Labour/Greens/TMP will lead to people turning away from all of them in droves come election time. Good.

  13. Like Brattie, that whilst what you say is true Chris, I think enough poor Maori voters are thoroughly disenchanted with Labour that they are most likely just changing sides.

    When you think about it, Labour has been short sighted in putting the Maori vote first.

    Yes they will increase in population esp. younger ones coming forward but by going down this road towards self determination, Labour has started a tectonic shift that will see them be cast aside by Maori who will gain and increasingly want political power for themselves.

    What place will there be for white or Tau Iwi enablers in the new regime? Food for thought and one I have no doubt that Jacinda hasnt appreciated yet.

  14. The community didn’t reach out according to the need of the alienated, but according to its own feeling of threat. Otherwise it would have reached out much, much sooner.

    Maybe the fear of the ”far right” influence might wake up the left. Put down that latte and do your job.

  15. I think one of the issues with NZ voting in the last few years is the opposite – they are trying to activate or even bring in, fringe groups to vote for them.

    Labour and Greens have abandoned core voters (workers for Labour and Environmentalists for Greens) over the past decade and are now more interested in trying to bribe groups based on identity issues, rather than looking at the mainstream.

    This has enabled a horrible synergy of approach with National and ACTS neoliberal strategy, where all parties have formed an approach to devalue professional skills and workers (apart from to increase taxes) and lower wages, while incentivising people to be in NZ who are Gangs, criminals, low waged workers and their dependants, billionaires who don’t normally live here and their dependants and their staff, more beneficiaries such as pensioners, ACC, mental health, transitioning gender, etc)

    While this may pick up short term votes and make it confusing to core voters who it takes a while for it to register (NZ policies seem to all seem to have very similar policies and discourses), the aftermath of that strategy for decades now, is now plain for everyone to see with ram raids daily, prisons full of new NZ citizens and permanent residents who can’t now be deported or foreign residents spending large amounts of time in NZ prisons, meth imports out of control, terror and other public attacks in malls, churches, etc, child abuse and child and criminal courts full up with complex cases, hospital waiting lists full and getting fuller while they can’t retain and fail to train professional doctors and nurses….

    OZ inspire of all it’s natural disasters (and aborigine past) seems to be doing a lot better for it’s citizens and migrant workers than NZ’s strange, piece meal approaches that seem more enabling of poor behaviour and helping people who don’t live here and don’t need money aka the cost of living allowance and NZ pensions to foreign pensioners, than helping prosper those who are educated and law abiding living and working in NZ.

    • This is not a game.

      I was talking about what being left is.

      If the left is not left, but just another corporate team vying for market share it doesn’t matter a damn who wins.

      I’m left – not someone who is currently wearing the logo and buying the merchandise. (until I see something more image-enhancing.)

      Who knows maybe integrity could even be a vote-winner now, before the shit really hits and hardship wipes the shine off mere appearances.

    • WHAT HAPPENS WHEN people who don’t usually participate in elections decide to vote? Things turn weird – that’s what happens.

      Government really love fringe groups to bribe – but not sure it is helping those who actually have a cost of living crisis in NZ or even in a position to vote here!

      Dead people and French backpackers long gone, are receiving NZ cost of living payments.

  16. In Chch ECAN have just had 2 unelected Maori added to the board. They have full voting rights .This is racist to my mind .If they are so good why do they not stand like everyone else . If they had been there when Ngi Tahu wanted to put in a dairy farm to replace a forest located next to a river I wonder how they would have voted or would they have ruled themselves out with a conflict of interest.

  17. I must admit that was a little gem considering I’m a lot critical then most of Chris opinions so in this instance I would have to agree. I’m of the generation ‘wateva’ that got the shit beaten out of you and faced other obstacles to gruesome to mention. The witnessing as an adult other adults viciously assaulting other inmates constantly for 3 years doe’s something to your already damaged soul. Racism was constant but as a young person just surviving the beatings was more important.

    As a teenager growing up in Otara with large Polynesian populations was tough and the social inequities were on show for all to see in the 1980s. Poverty amongst the different ethnicities and unrest were evident as a young Maori I felt even more marginalized as the Non-Maori groups were positioning their cultural influence on our fractured community.

    Its seems at the time that all the brown people lived in Otara which was a shithole back then and is still with the crime rate being terrible, I personally witnessing from afar the hacking of a Tongan man by a Samoan man with a machete. Bullying and being attacked by PI gangs became a theme in the 80s and I witnessing this disdain for Maori culture with negative sentiments by IMO a large sector of the PI communities in Otara, remembering that most Maori don’t speak their indigenous language but this isn’t the case in the PI community, ‘this point is important’ IMO because it highlights a form of racial dominance or maybe it could also be that adopting pakeha values and beliefs (including the unacceptable ones) so as to be accepted in a country that was hell bent with the dawn raids on ethnically cleansing them.

    The crimes I have perpetrated on my community is unacceptable and as an older person I have realized my failings and try harder to be a better person which is sometimes a struggle. I am also a victim of crime a symbiosis relationship being a perpetrator and victim simultaneously sounds weird but has logic when gleaned closer. I can go on a rant that the system sucks and shit about our society but I can also be grateful that this social safety net adopted into our social structures literally saved my life on numerous occasions.

    As a person I assume depicted in your article as the non-voter for along time I’ve integrated into society not all rosy but enough to be confident about NZ society as a whole is worth being optimistic about and I’ll be voting 2023 but it wont be for these perps TMP.

    • Thankyou for that Stephen a very moving piece.
      Hope things are going ok for you now.
      Good luck for the future.

    • Hetzer He’s entitled to stick his tongue out, it’s part of his culture. When it’s done in front of Parliament buildings it does take on another dimension, and can be intimidating to persons not of his culture, and it may be intended to be, and intimidation isn’t necessarily the best way to go.

      If the Greens decided to hug a few trees as part of their culture, that would not be intimidating, and nor would a group of Southlanders doing the Highland Fling.

  18. Most Maori would prefer to be paid more, have decent housing and health care, cheaper power and water and utilities, better access to faster justice outcomes, more safety – all of which seem to be failing in NZ with the so called identity approach, compared to citizens living standards in OZ.

    Whanau Ora has been going since 2010 with 134 million budget for 4 years at that time. It does not seem to have helped Maori health outcomes in the decade plus it has been operating in….now we have another initiative for a separate health authority.

    Maori voices do not necessarily agree with the current agenda being pushed through as being good for Maori

    Elizabeth Rata: The Decolonisation of Education in New Zealand

    We have seen with housing reforms that was supposed to help the poor and Maori, it has done the opposite, put kids in transitional housing and helped developer profits instead.

    Likewise student fees were also introduced ‘to help the poor and Maori’ in the 1980’s, and has done the opposite. The only one maternity provider was supposed to help woman, but done the opposite and pretty much destroyed public obstetrics in NZ. Tomorrow’s schools and other reforms were supposed to help our education and children but instead made NZ fall in international student ratings with side effects like increased drownings for NZ kids, who no longer have access to free swimming, much of the year through school swimming pools.

    Poor reforms effect everyone, they seem to alway be billed as necessary to help Maori, the poor and marginalised groups, but instead do the opposite again and again.

    This is probably why the Maori party has only ever got around 30% of the Maori party vote – Mana actually got a higher percentage of party votes. A more separatist view for Maori does not seem to be popular for the majority of Maori voters.

  19. I think we’ll need to wait for the next TV 1 & 3 polls, along with Talbot-Mills, before accepting this putative ‘surge’ for TPM. And if there has been a boost – a big IF – then any suggestion it comes courtesy of the mobilisation of non-voters is purely speculative.

  20. If I knew a bit more about the Maori Party folk I’d think about moving over to them for the same reason the Greens expressed their dissatisfaction with James — muddied is beat by force.

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