NZ Election 2020: The key battleground electorates to keep an eye on come October 17

The 2020 general election looks set to dish up some tightly contested battles when it comes to electorate voting.

While many electorates are immovable strongholds for one of the two major parties, there are others that'll make the election essential viewing come October 17.

Making things all the more interesting is the establishment of new electorates, the changing of existing electoral boundaries and the resignations of many well-established MPs.

From Wairarapa to Waiariki, here are the key battleground electorates to watch this election.


One of the largest electorates in the North Island by geography, Wairarapa is on track to be one of the most tightly contested seats in the country.

A National-held seat for the last five election cycles, Mike Butterick has now taken over from Alastair Scott and is up against New Zealand First MP and Defence Minister Ron Mark, the Greens' former Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown, and Labour's Kieran McAnulty.

National are in the driving seat going into election night, but Newshub's political reporter Jenna Lynch says Labour have crunched the numbers and believe McAnulty can cause an upset.

"They've done a bit of analysis - they reckon if they get a nationwide party vote of around 42 percent that seat might flip to them," she told Newshub's Kitchen Cabinet podcast.

"Ron Mark is not happy about National and Labour fighting over that seat - he wants that seat so bad.

"He told a debate [two weeks ago] that he doesn't want two ticks in Wairarapa - he just wants the electorate vote. We put that back to him and he reconsidered pretty quickly."

Auckland Central

The highest-profile seat in the country is even more interesting than normal following the retirement of National's former deputy leader Nikki Kaye, who successfully overcame current Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern twice to retain it in her 12-year stint as the area's MP.

Kaye's absence has opened Auckland Central right up - and it's now looking like a three-horse race between Labour's Helen White, National's Emma Mellow and the Green Party's Chlöe Swarbrick.

From left to right: Swarbrick, Mellow and White.
From left to right: Swarbrick, Mellow and White. Photo credit: RNZ

A Newshub Nation-Reid Research poll last month had White well in the lead on 42 percent, with Mellow on 26 and Swarbrick on 24. But the race is tightening up - a Q+A Colmar Brunton poll showing White's support dwindling and both the National and Green candidates' support building.

None of the three candidates are conceding defeat, and are campaigning hard to increase their voter base right up until election day. 

Christchurch Central

Going head-to-head in this electorate are Labour's Duncan Webb and National's Dale Stephens. Webb won the seat in 2017 - but Christchurch Central is predicted to be close.

It's an electorate that has changed hands more than any other in the region, with Labour winning it back off National last election following a run of nine years on the losing side.

Stephens is taking aim at the time it's taken to deliver infrastructure and construction projects in the city centre. He's also promising to invest more in mental health, the flailing Canterbury DHB and organisations like the Christchurch City Mission.

Meanwhile Webb points to his successes establishing the Canterbury Earthquakes Insurance Tribunal and Greater Christchurch Claims Resolution Service in his three years leading the electorate. He too points to the Canterbury DHB as an area of focus during the next term.

Banks Peninsula

Elsewhere in Christchurch, the resignation of beloved Labour candidate Ruth Dyson is one of a couple of factors throwing the Banks Peninsula seat wide open.

The other is a boundary change that has seen the former Port Hills electorate lose the traditionally red Bromley and encompass the National-supporting Banks Peninsula, making the outcome of this contest anyone's guess.

National's Christchurch City Councillor Catherine Chu and Labour's senior vice-president Tracey McLellan are facing off for the seat - but it's another three-horse race with Green Party MP and Minister of Conservation Eugenie Sage also contesting the electorate.

As a government minister, Sage has the greatest name recognition of the trio, but is campaigning predominantly for the party vote, with the Greens hovering just above the 5 percent threshold in the polls.

Hutt South

This electorate, just north of Wellington, is shaping up to be one of the most hotly contested of all come election day.

It's currently held by Chris Bishop, who in 2017 became the first National MP to win the seat since its inauguration in 1996 - with Labour's Trevor Mallard holding it for the seven terms before that.

Going up against Bishop is Labour's Ginny Andersen, who lost out to him three years ago by a small margin of just 1530 seats.

Chris Bishop and Ginny Andersen.
Chris Bishop and Ginny Andersen. Photo credit: Facebook

The major points of interest for the region are transport infrastructure and housing supply, with both vowing to make up ground in these areas if they're elected.

Te Tai Hauāuru

This Māori electorate has a strong contender for a seat that's been held by Labour's Adrian Rurawhe for the last six years, in the form of Māori Party co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer.

The seat - which encompasses the western half of the lower North Island - is seen as the Māori Party's best chance at getting back into Parliament after dropping out entirely in 2017.

Rurawhe and Ngarewa-Packer.
Rurawhe and Ngarewa-Packer. Photo credit: Facebook

Rurawhe's key messages this election are to create employment and training opportunities that lead to jobs for Māori, create opportunities in trade, business development and tourism, and remove health inequities for Māori. 

Meanwhile Ngarewa-Packer is vowing to raise incomes, create apprenticeships and jobs, restore waterways, uphold rangatira and kaitiaki rights, ban oil, gas and seabed mining and invest in clean technology.

East Coast

Labour's Kiri Allan is making a real go of overturning a seat that has been retiring National MP Anne Tolley's for the last five terms.

Allan is buoyed by a poll commissioned by her party of 831 residents, which shows her sitting on 40.5 percent, with National's Tania Tapsell just behind on 35 percent.

National's deputy leader Gerry Brownlee cast doubt on the poll last week, but if the result is legitimate it shows Labour have a genuine chance of turning a once-certain blue seat red.

Both Tapsell and Allan are young and seen as political stars of the future, though the latter has the advantage of three years in Parliament under her belt. It's certainly looking like it'll be a close race.


Tukituki, just south of the East Coast electorate, presents another likely toss-up between National and Labour.

National's Lawrence Yule - an MP who served as Mayor of Hastings for 16 years - will back himself to retain the seat, as he's well-known in the region and comes off the back off a win there in 2017.

Lawrence Yule and Anna Lorck.
Lawrence Yule and Anna Lorck. Photo credit: Facebook

But standing in his way is Labour's Anna Lorck. She was less than 3000 votes off the pace last election, where she'd gained a few-thousand votes on her 2014 showing. Lorck also increased Labour's party votes in the last election by double digits.

Roading is the hot-button issue for the electorate, with residents demanding safety improvements to State Highway 5 between Napier and Taupō. Health service upgrades are also a major talking point.


It's not just about Te Tai Hauāuru - Waiariki also presents a chance for the Māori Party to get back into Parliament.

The Māori electorate - covering an area that includes the Bay of Plenty, Rotorua and Taupō - is currently held by Labour MP and former children's TV personality Tamati Coffey.

Hannah Tamaki, Tamati Coffey and Rawiri Waititi.
Hannah Tamaki, Tamati Coffey and Rawiri Waititi. Photo credit: Facebook / Getty

A Māori Television Curia Market Research election poll released on Sunday shows Rawiri Waititi, the successor to former Māori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell, could yet make up enough ground to make the electorate his own.

He's polling on 26 percent, way ahead of Vision NZ's Hannah Tamaki on 2 percent. Coffey is on 38 percent, but a significant 24 percent of residents were still undecided about who they'd vote for.

Coffey says during his first term as Waiariki MP he's secured investment in iwi and community-led projects that create jobs and provided housing and free lunches in schools, while Waititi is campaigning with a focus on overhauling Oranga Tamariki and climate change.

Palmerston North

Neither Labour nor National have a seasoned campaigner to contest the Palmerston North electorate, giving a couple of the minor parties a sniff at sneaking the seat for themselves.

Cabinet Minister Iain Lees-Galloway would've been a shoe-in had a sex scandal not prompted his sudden resignation in July, with Labour choosing deputy mayor Tangi Utikere as his replacement.

Running against Utikere is 18-year-old National candidate William Wood, who drew unwanted attention earlier this year when a photo of him posing as Hitler aged 14 resurfaced online.

The lesser-known candidates put up by the major parties give New Zealand First's Darroch Ball and Green candidate Teanau Tuiono a genuine chance of becoming the region's MP.


Labour's Greg O'Connor won the seat for this affluent Wellington electorate last time out, after Jacindamania coincided with United Future's Peter Dunne opting out a fortnight before the election.

O'Connor is no longer on the Labour Party list, so if he fails to win the electorate vote he will not be in Parliament following the election.

He's defending the seat against National MP Brett Hudson, who is enjoying a first proper run at winning the electorate after ceding it to Dunne until the last minute in 2017.

From left to right: Brett Hudson, Tracey Martin and Greg O'Connor.
From left to right: Brett Hudson, Tracey Martin and Greg O'Connor. Photo credit: Parliament

And there's another major contender to worry about - New Zealand First's Tracey Martin, the current Minister for Internal Affairs, Seniors and Children.

She has shifted from the National stronghold seat of Rodney to boost her party's hopes of earning at least one seat in Parliament this election, as the party polls well below the 5 percent threshold required to get in without winning an electorate.


Another boundary change and the resignation of a trusted Cabinet Minister present a chance for National to claw back control of this electorate, which was once a Labour stronghold.

Labour's Clare Curran is retiring from politics at the election following a high-profile scandal involving her failure to disclose private meetings during her tenure as Minister for Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media.

Clare Curran's resignation opens the seat right up.
Clare Curran's resignation opens the seat right up. Photo credit: Newshub.

This, coupled with the joining of the old Dunedin South electorate with rural, traditionally blue voters further south, means the seat is well and truly up for grabs.

National will hope Simon Bridges' former advisor Liam Kernaghan is up for the task, while Labour have pinned their hopes on former lawyer and journalist Ingrid Leary, who moved there from Auckland in 2019. New Zealand First are backing MP Mark Patterson.


Nelson, perched at the top of the South Island, looks on the face of it like it should be a sure-fire blue seat - after all, National's Dr Nick Smith has held the electorate since 1996.

But while his 2017 result was ultimately a win, it would've been a major cause for concern - his personal popularity took a 4283-vote hammering compared to 2014, and National lost the party vote.

Dr Nick Smith, Dr Aaron Stallard and Rachel Boyack.
Dr Nick Smith, Dr Aaron Stallard and Rachel Boyack. Photo credit: Facebook

Rachel Boyack, who wrestled the party vote back in Labour's favour last time out, is a genuine threat to Dr Smith's 24-year reign. An Anglican Diocese staffer, she would become the electorate's first ever female MP if elected.

Unfortunately for her, her hopes may take a hit thanks to the Greens insistence on targeting the seat for geologist Dr Aaron Stallard - although he's now targeting the party vote instead in efforts not to split the left vote.


Another contest that was close last time was Whanganui, on the east coast of the lower North Island.

Labour's Steph Lewis, a former lawyer, will do her best to overthrow National MP Harete Hipango, who pipped her to the seat by a margin of less than 2000 votes in 2017.

An experienced ex-lawyer herself, Hipango's name recognition has been boosted as National's spokesperson for Crown-Māori relations and Māori tourism - and by a Facebook post attacking Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern over recent abortion law changes.

A National seat since 2005, Lewis is doubling-down on her 2017 strategy to flip the seat by focusing on housing, employment, education and health outcomes. Meanwhile Hipango is promising to boost the local economy if re-elected.