Digging through the data: National's urban success story

National Party leader Bill English with deputy leader Paula Bennett at National's campaign launch.
National Party leader Bill English with deputy leader Paula Bennett at National's campaign launch. Photo credit: Lloyd Burr/Newshub.

Preliminary results from the election delivered the National Party 46 percent of the party vote and 58 seats. The results left National three seats short of forming a Government alone.

National could lose a seat or two once the special votes come through, but it's still an impressive result for a third-term Government hoping to win a fourth.

Newshub has looked at data sourced by Kiwi International Digital Systems (KIDS Graphics) Ltd. These are our main takeaways.

1. What widening urban-rural divide?

National is popular in rural areas - there is no denying that - but did Labour's water tax plans turn rural communities a deeper shade of blue?

The short answer is no and the longer answer is also no.

National grew the party vote in 14 electorates. All but one of them are in Auckland.

Just one rural electorate saw an increase in National Party vote. That's Hunua, which is mostly rural on the outskirts of Auckland. It was National's best-performing electorate.

Rural electorates like Rodney, Clutha-Southland, Waikato and Taranaki-King Country still returned a high National Party vote percentage, but all of them saw a decline in votes for National compared to 2014.

2. Did roads pay off?

Hunua's Andrew Bayly was a popular candidate, and sits in the electorate with the highest National party vote in the country, at 64 percent.

He says National's investment in physical and social infrastructure helped grow the vote in the electorate.

He worked with Papakura candidate Judith Collins to advocate for a new highway running alongside the Southern Motorway and for increased capacity on the southern rail line. He said the new road and trains will benefit the people of Hunua who commute into Auckland for work.

For Ms Collins and Mr Bayly, the promised infrastructure appeared to pay off. Both candidates increased in popularity and grew the party vote. 

Ms Collins grew the party vote in Papakura by 2.1 percent, a significant achievement when the party saw an average loss of 1.3 percent. Mr Bayly made a slim party vote gain of 0.3 percent.

3. National makes gains in Auckland suburbs 

Almost all of National's growth came from Auckland. Hamilton West is the only electorate outside Auckland in which National's vote grew.

The party vote increased the most dramatically in the urban Auckland electorate of New Lynn, where candidate Paulo Garcia stood for National but was ranked too low on the list to make it into Parliament.

New Lynn is still safe Labour territory, but the gain of 4.4 percent bucked National's slipping trend in other electorates.

Mr Garcia puts National's increased popularity in New Lynn down to a "changing demographic".

"New Lynn residents have become more aligned with National Party values such as openness and diversity and hard work," he told Newshub.

"A lot of migrants come to live in New Lynn and a lot of people who have work in central Auckland, so that's what's driving the change," he said.

Mr Garcia said the electorate is made up of a lot of young middle-class families "working one or two jobs and trying their best to bring their family forward."

Mr Garcia spoke out against abortion in the lead-up to the election and said raising children is harder for same-sex couples. It's possible his more conservative stance resonated with some voters who didn't like Labour leader Jacinda Ardern saying she'd support moving abortion out of the Crimes Act.

Other Auckland suburbs with increased National Party votes are East Coast Bays, Pakuranga, Botany, Upper Harbour, Papakura, Hamilton West, Mt Roskill, Te Atatū, Maungakiekie, Kelston, Manuaku East and Māngere.

4. National lost party votes but held onto electorates

National won the same number of electorate seats this time around (41 to Labour's 29), but the party lost two seats compared to 2014. That comes down to the party vote.

You can see the split party and local candidate vote in action in Amy Adams' electorate of Selwyn, Christchurch.

Ms Adams was National's most popular electorate candidate, but the people of Selwyn changed their party vote to Labour in droves. Labour's vote doubled, going from 12.9 percent in 2014 to 25.5 percent according to preliminary results (which, yes, could change once the recount takes place and the specials roll in).

As we saw right across the board, Labour's success mostly came off the back of the minor parties. In this case, it was the Greens. The Green Party lost more than half its vote in Selwyn, dropping to 5.1 percent. 

National's party vote dropped from 63.5 percent to 60 percent. Despite the drop, it remains one of National's top electorates for party vote.

It looks like some people in the electorate split the vote so they could back Ms Adams as a candidate while backing Labour with the big tick. She was ten points more popular as a candidate than National was as a party. 

5. Biggest losses linked to local issues 

Most of National's biggest losses came from the South Island.

Frustration over the Christchurch rebuild is almost palpable in the party vote. National lost more than double their average loss in party votes in the Canterbury electorates of Christchurch Central, Port Hills, Waimakariki, Ilam, Kaikōura and Selwyn.

Controversy over Todd Barclay's conduct as an MP could be behind a 3.2 point Clutha-Southland drop - although National still remained the party of choice for 60 percent of voters in the region.

Other electorates that saw above-average drops in the National Party vote include Nelson, Whangarei and Wellington Central.