Despite common impressions, the Alliance and Progressives have always had a core middle class element to them, and have obtained votes from throughout the class structure. [Read more below]
In its early years, the NewLabour Party (NLP) always claimed to represent the working class constituency that it claimed Labour had abandoned in the 1980s. Senior party members, such as Matt McCarten described the NLP as a ‘party of the poor’ (quoted in CPNZ, 1991b: p.27). The membership of the party reflected this claim, with McCarten claiming in 1991 that two thirds of party members were beneficiaries (ibid).
Certainly in the 1990 general election, the NLP attempted to position itself as a party for working class voters, and it partly succeeded in this task, performing well in predominantly working class seats like Mangere, Avon, Christchurch Central, Auckland Central, Westcoast, and Sydenham (Jesson, 1994: p.5). According to Vowles et al., ‘NewLabour had sought to undercut Labour’s traditional support among manual workers, unionists, and beneficiaries, and also to extend its own electoral appeal to a more diffuse constituency of environmentally concerned electors’ (Vowles et al., 1995: pp.25-26). Vowles and Aimer have also suggested, the NLP ‘constructed itself a more class-homogeneous constituency than any other party’, and their research provided evidence for ‘the claim that the traditional working class lies at the core of NewLabour’s electoral position’ (Vowles and Aimer, 1993: pp.161, 164).
When the Alliance was later formed, NZES survey research indicated that the new grouping failed to attain the same identification as a working class party:
In traditional terms, the Alliance appears to have been almost ‘class-neutral’, or perhaps more accurately ‘class-balanced’, in 1993, as a result of the convergence of NewLabour and the Greens within the wider Alliance grouping in 1991, and the consequent broadening of its constituency beyond any one of its component parties (Vowles et al., 1995: p.26).
In the 1993 election the party won its most votes in predominantly middle class and rural electorates rather than working class ones, helping the Alliance receive an impressive 18% of the vote (Jesson, 1994: p.5). According to Simon Sheppard, ‘its biggest gains were made not in the three main urban centres, but in the most deeply rural and safe National seats’ (Sheppard, 1994). Where the party did attract greater urban support, this came ‘through attracting higher, not lower, socio-economic groups; the post-war generations, comfortable with affluent lifestyles, liberal, environmentally concerned, etc.’ (ibid: p.8).
Richard Mulgan argued that the Alliance was therefore ‘unable to make good its claim better to represent Labour’s traditional supporters among unionists and manual workers and was almost indistinguishable from Labour in the class of voters it attracted’ (Mulgan, 1997a: p.274). Vowles et al. also argued that ‘the mobilisation of manual workers and unionists into the Alliance by NewLabour appears to have been only partially successfully. The Alliance may even have been losing ground to Labour by 1993. Its profile, while tilted very slightly more than Labour’s towards low income voters and beneficiaries, was still less well represented than Labour’s among the manual occupations and unionised households’ (Vowles et al., 1995: pp.25-26).
In 1996 the Alliance again did very well in middle class electorates – even gaining second place in Hauraki, Franklin, St Kilda and Waipa. The voting analysis by Vowles also showed that the Alliance ‘had a vote most evenly spread across the two main [socioeconomic and geographic] cleavages, although it was a little more concentrated in working-class areas’ (Vowles, 1998d: p.33). The Alliance’s own analysis of NZES data for 1996 also confirmed the evenly-spread nature of the party’s support base:
The 1996 Waikato study found that the typical Alliance voter in 1996 was difficult to distinguish demographically from the general electorate. Alliance support at the election was reasonably consistent across income groups, age ranges and locality. There was slightly less Alliance support among higher income earners and increased propensity to vote Alliance as one moved south, but these variations did not appear to be very great (Pagani, 1997: p.1).
The NZES data for 1999 also found that Alliance support was very diversified. Alliance staffer Tony Simpson summarised the findings: ‘Broadly speaking, this indicated that there is no clear and significant (statistically speaking) co-relation between any social indicator and Alliance supporters. Those on less than the average wage are as likely to vote for us as those on twice the average wage’ (Simpson, 2000: p.5).
Simpson also noted that the NZES data indicated that ‘the very poor do not vote for us in significantly greater numbers either. Statistically speaking the co-relations in respect of these factors are weak’ (ibid). Simpson also analysed the electorates that the party obtained the most votes in, commenting that ‘There is no apparent co-relation between the social characteristics of electorates and their tendency to give us a better than average list vote’ (Simpson, 2000: pp.5-6). He concluded that, ‘What this (and the Waikato study) indicate is that Labour and ourselves draw our voters from the same overall social groups, the only significant difference being that the poorest of all groups have a greater tendency to vote Labour than Alliance’ (ibid: p.6).
Perry and Webster’s 1998 survey also showed that support for the Alliance was relatively even across the whole social structure. While the survey gave the party 6.3% overall support, those in social groups who might not be expected to support the Alliance did in fact give the party reasonable support. For example, the Alliance had the support of 4.3% of ‘employers or managers 10+ employees’, 4.2% support of ‘employers or managers less than 10 employees’, and 4.8% support of farm owners (Perry and Webster, 1999: p.28).
Amongst those that represented the Alliance in Parliament (1993-2002), there was a strong business and professional background. Jim Anderton often claims to have more business experience than anybody else in Parliament, while other Alliance MPs also had a business or management background: ‘Grant Gillon’s background is in sales and he also ran a clothing retailer. Sandra Lee was involved in a business exporting grapes. Willie Jackson is a former unionist but also managed the Manukau Urban Maori authority for a spell’ (Bedford and Martin, 1999: p.15). Also in the Alliance caucus was a set of lawyers: Matt Robson, Laila Harré and Kevin Campbell, as well as two university lecturers: Phillida Bunkle and Liz Gordon.
[This blog post will be updated – any feedback or furhter information is appreciated]