Taylor Rice: A new right? Why Act can maintain a strong presence despite National’s rise

The latest Taxpayers’ Union Curia Poll shows the Christopher Luxon honeymoon period in
full swing, but does this really mean the end for Act?

Historically, leadership changes cause an upward trend in poll numbers, and Luxon is no
exception after taking the National Party to 32.6 per cent, up 6.4 points since the last poll.

This positive reception for National’s new leader resulted in a dip in poll numbers for the Act Party, as Act’s previous rise in numbers have been largely associated with the frustrations voters have had with National in recent times.

However, Act is still extremely influential at 10.6 per cent, and the party will likely continue to maintain a strong presence despite National’s new leadership being generally well-received by centre-right voters.

The next few polls will determine if Act has solidified their separate appeal from National,
and whether Act remains an option to the National refugees who caused their polling numbers to surge.

Although some analysts were preparing for a dramatic drop in numbers for Act, they have
still retained a significant presence in the latest poll.

Act’s future will be determined by a variety of factors, such as how Luxon campaigns to
bring the dissatisfied National voters back. However, with Act still holding nearly one third
of National’s votes in the poll, there are reasons to believe that the party will retain solid
numbers going forward.

Act’s continued appeal to the centre-right should not come as a surprise. With National
having five fresh faces since Jacinda Ardern took power, it makes sense that National voters have lost faith in their usual party of choice.

On top of this, Act leader David Seymour has validated the concerns of many centre-right
voters, meaning his party will likely retain bigger numbers than they have had previously,
even when National was a stronger contender.

This in part is due to Seymour’s ability to tap into the core frustrations of centre-right voters.

This has been well timed, due to the level of dissatisfaction voters have with both main
political parties.

This frustration had been clearly expressed through the polls up until this point. The latest 1News Colmar Brunton poll published in November showed Labour down 2 per cent, and National up 2 per cent. Although National had climbed 2 per cent, the Act Party had maintained their 5 per cent increase from a previous poll in September.

This showed that Act had done a good job of creating its own separate appeal, and was at this time stronger than it has ever been.

Comparing this with National’s disastrous year in the polls, and a rocky few years of
leadership, it makes sense that some centre-right voters may be hesitant to jump back on the National train solely due to a fresh face.

On social media, Seymour has been distinguishing himself from other political figures. He
has been actively discussing key concerns that centre-right voters have with the current
Labour Government, including tweets about frustrations with the Covid-19 traffic light
system, regulations for farmers and problems with National and Labour’s “half-baked
housing deal”.

Seymour has also been using internet culture to his advantage, often creating viral videos and posts that engage in political humour. This is exposing his party to a whole generation of young people who are often overlooked by politicians when campaigning.

An example of this is Seymour’s “ata mārie” series on TikTok, where one video posted
earned over 300,000 views and 16,900 likes for wishing everyone a good morning “except Brian Tamaki and the gangs” in October this year.

A more recent example of Seymour’s social media use is his declaration that under Act, crate day would be a national holiday. This post earned over 12,000 likes and 109,000 views on TikTok, and over 100,000 views on Facebook.

Seymour’s social media presence is significant, as the way it is being utilised is unlike what any other MP is doing. It is also creating a separate appeal to younger centre-right voters who are more inclined to frequent these platforms.

Actions like this, along with the frustrations surrounding the two main political parties have resulted in National and Act having a similar polling relationship on the right to Labour and the Greens on the left.

The latest Taxpayers’ Union Curia Poll demonstrates this relationship, where Labour sits at
39.5 per cent and the Greens at 10.9 per cent. This is mirrored with National’s 32.6 per cent result and Act’s 10.6 per cent.

We will likely continue to see this split between National and Act into the next election, and Act’s influence may not disappear due to National’s reshuffle as some have predicted.

National’s leadership struggles and growing frustrations with the Labour Government have set up the perfect conditions for the Act Party to clearly distinguish itself as an alternative option on the centre-right in 2024.

Act’s use of social media and Seymour’s ability to vocalise the concerns of the centre-right
base have made the most of this opportunity to shine, and the poll numbers have been
displaying it. This is even considering Act’s recent 5.3 drop in points, as the party still
currently holds a very influential position.

These conditions mean it is likely that Act will maintain a strong presence into 2024, even if National has a solid leader. This is significant as it could mark a turning point for the
centre-right in New Zealand politics.

The next polls will determine if Act has truly set itself apart from National as a voting option, and whether the party will continue to drop or maintain their solid portion of the centre-right vote.

The Act ship has been set up with extraordinary conditions. However with new polls
beginning to test their voters’ loyalty, it is time to test the waters and see if it will set sail.

&bell;Taylor Rice is a scholar in political science and international relations who
graduated from Victoria University of Wellington in 2020.

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