Was The ‘Team Of Five Million’ A Myth? – Victoria University of Wellington


A new book dissecting New Zealand’s 2020 general election concludes the “Team of Five Million” catchphrase may have helped mask existing social divisions but these divisions still very much influenced how we voted.

The book, A Team of Five Million? The 2020 ‘Covid-19’ New Zealand General Election, analyses voting behaviour that saw Labour secure an overwhelming majority, the first time any political party has done so in Aotearoa’s history of MMP elections.

“Despite Labour’s historic result, the same social divides seen in previous elections were also evident in 2020,” said co-editor Jack Vowles, a professor in politics at Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington.

“The socio-demographic foundations of party voting didn’t change all that much in 2020. Yes, we saw a nationwide swing to the Labour Party, which was rewarded for its management of COVID-19. But we also saw similar patterns to those of previous elections.

“Farmers, employers, and the self-employed resisted Labour more than others. The same resistance to voting Labour was also seen among those with high incomes and lots of assets,” said Professor Vowles.

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In the book’s concluding chapter, Professor Vowles and co-editors Professor Jennifer Curtin and Associate Professor Lara Greaves observe that poll results since the 2020 election have borne out the temporary nature of Labour’s surge.

“Post-election, polls started to go down for Labour from about April–May 2021, with a swing to the right from about August. By late 2022, National was routinely polling ahead of Labour and the gloss had gone off PM Jacinda Ardern’s role in evoking the ‘Team of Five Million’,” they write.

They identify three key factors behind the shifting poll results: the rise of inflation, leadership changes for both Labour and National, and the diminishing salience of COVID-19. However, they pinpoint inflation as likely to be “the dominant factor” behind Labour’s decline from its 2020 election high.

“Inflation, unemployment, and growth are regarded as the trinity of economic factors that influence public opinion and voting preferences. As inflation rose, we saw Labour’s poll ratings drop,” said Professor Vowles.

“In contrast, rising inflation likely helped National’s ratings. There’s a perception that parties of the right are better at managing the economy and they can therefore get a boost in the polls when the economy is flagging,” he said.

A Team of Five Million? The 2020 ‘Covid-19’ New Zealand General Election is published by ANU Press. It can be downloaded free at A Team of Five Million? (anu.edu.au) (https://press.anu.edu.au/publications/team-five-million). Hard copies cost A$70.

The book is co-edited by political scientists Professor Jack Vowles and Associate Professor Lara Greaves from Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington, and Professor Jennifer Curtin from the University of Auckland.



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