How Labour voters got the blues

Amid the rubble of its 2011 election-night defeat, Labour's loss of the party vote in Dunedin South stood out as a singular "disaster". The seat, traditionally regarded as "safe Labour", swung to National. Mark Price takes a closer look where the votes went.

National gives the credit to its candidate and its campaigning. Labour blames a low turnout and national trends.

For weeks to come, the question of why the Dunedin South party vote turned from red to blue will be central to each party's after-match analysis.

They will study the electorate, polling place by polling place - trying to decipher from the bare numbers the motivation of voters.

And, each polling place has its own story to tell.

Here, for instance, is the one from a small polling place in the "blue-collar" heart of South Dunedin.

In 2008, 334 people voted at the St Patrick's Parish Centre in Macandrew Rd, and 190 of them gave their vote to Labour.

That was a comfortable 118 votes ahead of National.

Helen Clark was prime minister then, John Key was the new boy on the block and Clare Curran was, as she is now, the Labour member of Parliament for Dunedin South.

This time, 72 fewer people voted.

Labour's total vote was now 118.

That was 72 fewer than at the last election.

National [67] gained five votes, the Greens [34] gained 14 and New Zealand First [30] gained eight, while Act [two] lost nine.

In the end, Labour held sway at St Patrick's.

The polling-place stories beyond South Dunedin showed stronger forces at work, pushing Labour into second and even third place.

Bryce<br /> EdwardsUniversity of Otago political scientist Dr Bryce Edwards says one of the points made by this year's election results was that Dunedin South and South Dunedin are not the same thing.

The electorate stretches from the affluent harbourside villages of Otago Peninsula, across the poorer areas of South Dunedin and off into the rural heartland of Middlemarch.

Dr Edwards noted Labour had focused its attention on South Dunedin and that allowed National to "hoover" up votes in the more affluent parts of the electorate such as Mosgiel, Abbotsford and Fairfield.

And, like many other electorates, Labour had missed the vote of what former Dunedin political commentator Chris Trotter defined as "Waitakere Man".

Trotter, after the last election, described a voter who had a trade certificate rather than a degree, worked hard to pay the mortgage and had no time for intellectuals, "politically-correct bull****" or welfare beneficiaries.

While the final numbers for individual polling stations won't be confirmed until next week, it is believed they will not change markedly from the preliminary party vote results already available.

The following summaries are compiled from the 59 Dunedin South polling places at this election and the 64 polling places at the 2008 elections.


Abbotsford changed colour - from red to a bluey-green - with something of a landslide of votes from the Labour camp into the National and Green camps.

Labour secured the votes of 378 Abbotsford voters - a drop of 206 from the 2008 election.

National gained 125 votes, to 393, and the Greens 37, to 90.

Act New Zealand was down 20, to six.

The turnout was down 154, to 982.

National: by a nose.

Edwards: This suburb is becoming more conservative. It is an area of increasing affluence, and it now rates as three out of 10 on the University of Otago Index of Deprivation scale - a relatively wealthy suburb.


Interest in the election appeared to slip at Andersons Bay - the number of votes cast down by 112, to 1318.

National took the suburb from Labour - its vote up 34, to 560, while Labour's was down 181 to 428.

The Greens collected an extra 69 votes, taking them to 223, but of the 36 Act voters at the last election, all but seven disappeared.

The biggest percentage jump was for the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party, which went from no votes in the last election to two this time.

National: by a head.

Edwards: It should be no surprise that this suburb shifted from red to blue. It rates as two out of 10 on the deprivation scale, making it a wealthy suburb.


Brighton almost changed allegiance.

However, even though Labour got 40 votes fewer than the last election and National gained six, Labour, with 169 votes, remained 12 ahead of National, on 157.

The biggest gain was made by the Greens, up 34, to 79, while the New Zealand First vote was up 13 to 33.

Labour: by a short nose.

Edwards: The most interesting change in Brighton was the significant increase in Green voters. There are increasing number of middle-income and lifestyle residents - the type of voters that the Green Party is increasingly focused on. Brighton is five out of 10 on the deprivation scale - an averagely wealthy suburb.