Voter turnout in New Zealand elections is woeful but there are signs that a stronger showing by Labour could get more people out on polling day; there is a feeling that this time, it could be a tight contest.
The three Meet the Candidates sessions that I attended locally have all had good turnouts; earlier this week there was one held specifically for young people, at a Silverdale bar, arranged by young local board members Caitlin Watson and Tessa Berger.
Local teenagers tell me that there is a lot of interest being generated among new voters who are sharing thoughts and information about who they’d like to vote for via social media. Around half the brand new voters, aged 18, that I spoke to are going to vote now, whereas a few months ago they showed little interest.
A report by the Electoral Commission that analysed the 2014 general election noted that voter turnout has been in decline in most developed democracies over the last 30 years, but New Zealand’s has been particularly steep and persistent. At the 2011 election, turnout as a percentage of those eligible to enrol dropped to an all time low of 69.57 percent – the lowest recorded at a NZ general election since the adoption of universal suffrage in 1893. The 2014 result, 72.14 percent, is the second lowest.
In Rodney that percentage was higher – 81.21 percent last election – perhaps a reflection of this area’s older demographic.
However, the commission makes it clear that low participation is not only confined to 18–24-year-olds, with enrolment rates falling in all age groups up to the age of 39.
“The trend appears to show that enrolment and voting is a habit which needs to be formed young and, if it is not, non-engagement persists as one ages,” the report says.
For me, however the election cards fall after September 23, the best result would be a higher voter turnout that could help galvanise more people into getting into that voting habit.