As with other new and minor New Zealand political parties, NZ First lacks a distinct socio-economic support base amongst voters. [Read more below]
Partly because of New Zealand First’s ambiguous political identity, political commentators have had problems identifying just where support for it has come from (See: Vowles et al., 1998e: pp.209-210).
Voting surveys indicate that New Zealand First’s support-base is relatively dispersed, especially in terms of class, and not dissimilar to most other parties (Vowles et al, 1995: p.26). The final Herald-DigiPoll survey of the 2002 election showed that support for the party was very evenly spread across all income groups (Collins, 2002).
There is some reason to believe that the party has, at times, received the support of a significant number of low-income workers and beneficiaries. Prior to its launch, one survey showed the party to be favoured by 45% of those earning under $15,000 (Small, 1993a: p.14). Likewise, according to McRobie, at the 1996 general election New Zealand First performed best in those electorates with both ‘the largest number of voters whose incomes were below $15,000 per annum’ and ‘in receipt of benefits other than New Zealand Superannuation’ (McRobie, 1997: pp.171, 172).
In terms of occupation, New Zealand First won its most votes in electorates with high numbers of ‘skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled workers’ than in electorates with high numbers in ‘rural occupations’ (ibid). The survey research of Vowles et al. at the 1993 election also found that the ‘party appealed more than might have been expected to manual workers’ – 36% (Vowles et al., 1995: pp.21, 26).
In Perry and Webster’s 1998 survey research, New Zealand First’s socio-economic support was relatively evenly spread across society. Notable exceptions to its overall support of 3.1% were high support from the category of ‘employers or managers less than 10 employees’ (4.2%), farm owners (4.8%), and those who had never had a job (5.9%) (Perry and Webster, 1999: p.28).
The social composition of New Zealand First’s parliamentary representatives is, like Act, in business. Richard Harman pointed out in 1999 that the party had ‘a relatively high percentage of MPs with a business background’ (Harman, 1999: p.23). However, New Zealand First does not appear to have a great number of financial or well-known backers. The most prominent patron to date has been Bob Jones, who allegedly contributed to New Zealand First’s campaign funds in its early years (Scherer, 1994b). Most commentators suggest the party is backed by small businesspeople (See: Trotter, 1997j).