In the 1996 general election the Act Party came in at 5th place with 6.2% of the party vote. The result was somewhat victorious in the context of the fact that Act ‘had been averaging only about 2.5 per cent in the polls in the first half of 1996' (Fraser and Zangouropoulos, 1998: p.55). However, the 6% vote was unimpressive in the context of Prebble stating that Act would get 15%. Analysis of Act’s election support shows some interesting issues about Act’s support base. [Read more below]
In 1996 Act was particularly successful in Auckland electorates such as Epsom, winning 22% of the party vote, and Tamaki where it won 22% (Fraser and Zangouropoulos, 1998: p.49). This success in Auckland occurred at the same time that the Alliance vote dropped significantly there. In a sense there may have been a connection – as noted by Simon Sheppard:
Analysis of Act’s election support showed up some interesting issues about Act’s support base. Survey research by Victoria University political scientists indicated that ‘84 per cent of ACT voters were men – the most skewed result between genders since the university's voter surveys began in 1972' (Bain, 1996: p.2). The feminisation of the party had therefore been of little success. Act’s electoral support also appeared to be overwhelmingly Pakeha – which was indicated by the fact that in the five Maori electorates, the party won very few votes.
The party’s support base was also obviously skewed towards higher socio-economic groups. That the party’s support was concentrated amongst the rich was indicated by the fact that the six Auckland seats in which Act scored well in – winning over 10% of the party vote – were electorates that were listed in Statistics New Zealand's Electoral Profile as being in the top 10 richest electorates. Act also polled well in Christchurch seat of Ilam, which is the seventh on the rich list (Bain, 1996: p.2).
One problem of party image therefore related to the question of who the party represented. Rather than simply being a ‘party of business’, it seems that Act had the support of only a particular section of the business community. By its very nature, Act’s economic policy has never had widespread appeal across the business community. Different fractions of capital would be advantaged and disadvantaged in different ways by Act’s policies and this was reflected in their support and membership. Gordon Campbell reported the business make-up of the party’s 1994 annual conference:
It seemed that much of the business community did not actually like Act’s anti-interventionist Hayekian economics. This is due to the often-misunderstood fact that most businesses actually requires large doses of government intervention in the economy in order to remain profitable. The productive sector of business therefore found little to support in the Act programme.