Who are Donald Trump's supporters in NZ and what do we know about them?

Who are Donald Trump's supporters in NZ and what do we know about them?
Photo credit: Getty

By Grant Duncan for The Conversation

The US presidential election may still be extremely close, but one thing is clear: those pundits and pollsters who predicted Trump was in no position to win will be going back to the drawing board.

In any case, "Trumpism" is unlikely to disappear even after he's gone -- including in New Zealand.

Hardcore Trump supporters in the US may make up as few as 12 percent of America's registered voters. But polls have consistently underestimated Trump's numbers compared with actual election results.

The Real Clear Politics pre-election poll average had Joe Biden up by 7.2 points nationally, but as of November 5 he led by only 2.1 points. Perhaps there really is a "hidden Trump vote".

Meanwhile in New Zealand, with Jacinda Ardern in charge of the country's most diverse cabinet ever, the prospect of a Trump-like leader might seem remote. However, in online surveys conducted by Stuff.co.nz and Massey University in 2017 and 2020, we found a significant minority in support of Trump.

Kiwis for Trump

In mid-2017, 13 percent of respondents said they would have voted for Trump had they been able to, compared to a scientifically sampled poll in mid-2016 that found 9 percent support for Trump.

How to explain the difference? Trump's victory in November 2016 may have boosted that support slightly. The Stuff/Massey survey is reader-initiated and non-representative, and may have over-represented disaffected conservatives. Or people may be more willing to indicate support for Trump online than by phone.

Nonetheless, there was a measurable level of support for Trump in New Zealand.

In the mid-2020 survey, we asked respondents if they hoped Trump would win or lose in the November election. This time, 11 percent said they hoped he would win (after weighting for gender due to the sample having a male bias of 61.2 percent).

The Stuff/Massey survey sample also had a conservative bias, as 36.8 percent said they supported National -- above where the party was polling at the time, and well above its election night result of 26.8 percent.

But let's say roughly one in ten New Zealanders is a Trump supporter. Under New Zealand's electoral system, that's well above the threshold of 5 percent for a party to win parliamentary seats.

Of the 55,147 who answered the question in the mid-2020 survey, 6,833 said they hoped Trump would win. So, who are these Kiwi Trumpers? And what do they really think?

Even demographic spread

They are evenly spread across age-groups, but slightly higher (15.4 percent) in the 18-24 range. This may reflect a known phenomenon in which populist leaders boost young people's satisfaction with democracy -- or, to put it another way, help to reverse the trend towards political disengagement in democracies.

Kiwi men are more than twice as likely to support Trump than women -- a much wider gender gap than was found in the US after the 2016 election.

Kiwi Trumpers are distributed evenly across lower and middle income brackets, and support declines only slightly in the upper-income brackets.

Perhaps surprisingly, 15.6 percent of Pasifika respondents and 20 percent of those who ticked the "gender-diverse" box hoped Trump would win -- above the overall 11 percent result.

A whopping 92 percent of the Kiwi Trumpers said we should leave statues of figures from our colonial past where they are, compared to the 49.8 percent of those who hoped Trump would lose.

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND - OCTOBER 20: National Party Leader Judith Collins speaks to media while Gerry Brownlee looks on during a press conference at Parliament on October 20, 2020 in Wellington, New Zealand. Labour's Jacinda Ardern claimed a second term as prime minister after claiming a majority in the 2020 New Zealand General Election on Saturday 17 October, claiming 64 seats. Despite securing the historic win and ability for Labour to govern alone, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is holding talks with potential coalition partners ahead of forming her new government. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)
Photo credit: Getty

National is the preferred party

Very few Kiwi Trumpers identified with arch-populist Winston Peters, however. Only 4.9 percent of them said he is the party leader they felt closest to, perhaps because of his coalition with Labour after the 2017 election. They were more attached to National's Judith Collins (46.6 percent) and ACT Party leader David Seymour (30.2 percent).

Only 20 percent of National supporters overall said they hoped Trump would win. But this sub-group of National supporters made up 56 percent of the entire cohort of Kiwi Trumpers. A further 23 percent of Kiwi Trumpers supported ACT. So, the National Party is the preferred party of the Kiwi Trumper.

The far-right New Conservative Party's supporters were only 1.2 percent of our sample, and that party won only 1.5 percent of the vote at the October election. But a clear majority of them (69 percent) supported Trump.

In general, Kiwi Trumpers see society as more discontented, and politicians as less trustworthy, than the average New Zealander.

Some 47.5 percent of the Trump supporters endorsed conspiracy theories about the COVID-19 virus. For them, it was either "an invention of shadowy forces that want to control us" (11 percent) or "a biological weapon created by one of the world's superpowers" (35.5 percent).

Only 7.7 percent of Trump opponents ticked either of those statements. And, overall, 85.8 percent of the sample agreed that the virus came from a natural source.

Moreover, only 11.7 percent of Trump supporters agreed the New Zealand government was taking the right approach to dealing with the economic impact of COVID-19, while 62 percent of Trump opponents agreed.

And 84 percent of the Kiwi Trumpers preferred the government take a "cautious and sceptical" approach to climate change, compared with 23.8 percent of opponents.

Could a Trump emerge in NZ?

Unsurprisingly, 54.6 percent of Kiwi Trumpers were in favour of New Zealand developing a closer alignment with the USA, compared with only 6.2 percent of Trump opponents. The vast majority (80.9 percent) of survey respondents preferred that New Zealand aim for greater independence from both the USA and China.

National's Judith Collins made favourable comments about Trump during a pre-election debate, perhaps aware of support for him within her base.

Suppose, then, that the National Party chose as leader a Trump-like conservative "non-politician" -- someone who divided rather than united, and who put economic liberty ahead of health and human lives.

Bearing in mind that this inference is based on a non-scientific survey, he or she could energise perhaps an existing base of one-fifth of National's supporters, while winning over others from parties further to the right.

Traditional conservatives and centre-right liberals within National would be aghast. But, desperate to change the government, they may have nowhere else to turn.

Then again, it could all end badly. Those voters who switched from National to Labour in 2020 may not want to switch back. And in New Zealand politics, the winning party is the one that wins those centrist voters.

Grant Duncan is an Associate Professor at Massey University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article here.

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