There should be no doubt that the appeal of the Act party has been stronger amongst wealthy voters – yet there is evidence that such support has not always been as uneven as many political commentators make out. [Read more below]
As might be expected, Act’s strongest support in the class structure has come mainly from wealthy electorates (Vowles, 1998: p.33). In 1996 Act support was strongest in higher socioeconomic electorates such as Epsom (22% of the party vote), Tamaki (16%), and Wellington Central (35% of the electorate vote) (Fraser and Zangouropoulos, 1997: p.49).
That the party’s support was mostly concentrated amongst the rich was also indicated by the fact that overall Act performed well in one Christchurch and six Auckland seats which were listed in Statistics New Zealand’s Electoral Profile as being in the top ten richest electorates. McRobie’s electorate analysis also showed that Act’s support was weighted amongst the wealthy:
When occupation is examined, the success of Act’s unashamed appeal to professional and managerial groups can readily be seen. Electorates with the largest proportion of people in these groups strongly supported Act – at 9.7% (compared with 6.1% of the party vote overall) its support was almost twice that of any other quintile (McRobie, 1997: p.171).
In the 1999 general election the party’s support again tended towards the wealthy. While Act obtained a total of 7% of the party vote, it actually obtained 9% support from both farmers and those earning over $67,000 per year, and amongst manual workers it achieved only 3% support (Reid, 2001: p.266).
Although these figure suggest that Act is a rich person’s party, in 1999 it still picked up a surprisingly high amount of support from low income people. For example, despite the party’s hard-line election stance on beneficiaries, Act managed to receive a credible 4% support from ‘those on a benefit’ and 3% support from ‘those on two or more’ (Reid, 2001: p.266).
In fact Perry and Webster’s 1998 research indicated that Act’s support is not significantly varied throughout New Zealand’s social structure. For example while Act had the support of 4.3% of ‘unskilled manual’ workers, they only had the support of 3.8% of ‘professionals’ and 4.8% of farm owners (Perry and Webster, 1999: p.28).
The leadership of Act is clearly from higher socio-economic groups. The foundation members of the Association of Consumers and Taxpayers group included a large number of managers, consultants and economists.
Also, reflecting the party’s re-orientation towards the rural community in the late 1990s, in the 1999 general election campaign Act put ‘more farmers and primary producers on its list than National, Labour and the Alliance combined’ (NZPA, 1999p: p.A4). Following the party’s 1996 success with rural voters, in 1997 Act moved to reposition itself towards farmers – something that MP Owen Jennings had always pushed for. His argument was that farmers, being staunch individualists, should be natural Act supporters.
[This blog post will be updated and elaborated on with new data - any feedback and information is appreciated]