New Zealand is divided into seventy-one electorates. Sixty-four electorates are ‘general’ electorates, while the other seven are Māori electorates. The seven Māori electorates overlap with general electorates.
Like in any system of single-member electorates, some of these seats are “marginal”, and others are “safe”. However, the importance of individual electorates is reduced by New Zealand’s proportional electoral system.
The number of list seats that a party wins is dependant on the number of electorate seats. For a party that has definitely passed the threshold to qualify for seats, winning one more electorate will result in the party winning one less list seat. While the result may matter to the individual candidates, the particular result in an electorate does not change the overall number of seats for that party in the Parliament.
Individual electorates become far more important to parties that are in danger of not winning 5% of the party vote. List seats are allocated to parties that either win 5% of the party vote, or win one electorate seat.
There are four electorates that will be decisive in determining if a party will qualify for seats in Parliament.
ACT candidate David Seymour will need to win Epsom if the party is to remain in Parliament. If National wins the seat, the party will win one fewer list seat. If ACT wins, there will be a chance of more ACT list MPs who will help National maintain its hold on power, although current polling suggests that is unlikely.
John Banks, who won Epsom in 2011, resigned from the seat earlier in 2014 after he was convicted for filing a false electoral return during the 2010 Auckland mayoral election.
Epsom is a natural National seat, with most voters giving their party vote to National. ACT has relied on National voters making a tactical decision to vote ACT to produce a stronger outcome for the centre-right. After the ending of Banks’ political career, and yet another change in ACT leadership, it remains to be seen whether enough National voters will be willing to vote for David Seymour.
In Epsom in 2011, some Labour voters, and a majority of Green voters, cast a tactical vote for National candidate Paul Goldsmith in an attempt to knock out ACT. It is yet to be seen whether more centre-left voters will hold their nose and vote National to eliminate ACT.
United Future MP Peter Dunne has held an electorate in the Ōhariu area, north of Wellington, since 1984.
Dunne left the National Party in 1994. Dunne has been re-elected as a United/United Future candidate on six occasions since then, and on only one occasion did the party pass the 5% threshold. If Dunne does not win his electorate, the party will be eliminated from Parliament.
In 2011, Dunne held on to his electorate by 3.7% over the Labour candidate, Charles Chauvel (who was elected as a list MP). The recent redistribution almost eliminated Dunne’s margin, which was cut to 0.3%.
In 2011, a majority of National party voters cast an electorate vote for Dunne – with a very small party vote for United Future, Dunne relies on the support of National voters to keep his seat in Parliament.
Te Tai Tokerau is held by Mana Party leader Hone Harawira.
Hone Harawira first won Te Tai Tokerau in 2005. He held the seat for two terms as a Māori Party MP, before splitting off to form Mana in 2011.
Harawira holds Te Tai Tokerau by a 6.2% margin against Labour.
With a small vote, the Mana Party relies on Te Tai Tokerau for the party to remain in Parliament.
Polling has previously suggested that, on its own, the Mana Party was unlikely to qualify for more than one seat in Parliament, so Harawira was unlikely to pull in any list MPs. However, the formation of an alliance with the Internet Party has changed things.
The combined Internet/Mana alliance is polling in the range where the party will win a number of list seats if Harawira wins in Te Tai Tokerau, but will not win any seats if he doesn’t. This makes the electorate quite critical.
The Conservative Party has never won a seat in the Parliament, but in 2011 the party won 2.65% of the party vote – more than the Māori Party, Mana Party, ACT or United Future.
The party’s strategy at this election has focused on party leader Colin Craig winning an electorate seat, which would then bring a number of other list MPs into Parliament, and make it safer for conservative voters to give the party their vote.
Craig ran in Rodney in 2011, but this time is running in East Coast Bays, which is held by Foreign Minister Murray McCully.
Unlike United Future and ACT, the Conservative Party asked the National Party to withdraw its candidate entirely, to give a free run for Craig in East Coast Bays. The Prime Minister, John Key, announced that the National Party would not withdraw its candidate in East Coast Bays, which will make it very hard for Craig to win.
Māori Party electorates
The Māori Party holds three electorates, so no individual electorates will decide if the party maintains representation.
At the last three elections, the Māori Party won more electorate seats than it was entitled to hold due to its national party vote – this means that the party will not win any list seats, and its number of seats will be determined by exactly how many electorates it wins.
The electorate of Tāmaki Makaurau, which covers the Auckland urban area, is a marginal seat, held by a 5.3% margin. With former co-leader Pita Sharples retiring, the seat could be in danger.
The Māori Party held the electorate of Te Tai Tonga from 2008 to 2011, and the seat is now held by Labour by 8.8%. The seat is not likely to change this year, but would be the Māori Party’s best chance of increasing their numbers.
Labour marginal seats
The electorate of Port Hills is held by a Labour MP, but the redistribution turned the seat into a marginal National seat. Labour MP Ruth Dyson will need to gain votes to hold her seat.
National marginal seats
The National Party won a large number of Labour seats in 2008, but most of these seats are now held by large margins, with a small number of seats held by slim margins.
These seats include Christchurch Central and Waimakariri in the Christchurch area, Auckland Central and Maungakiekie in the Auckland area, and Napier, Hamilton West, Ōtaki and New Plymouth elsewhere on the North Island.