Hamilton West by-election: National says 'voters have sent a message to Labour' ahead of 2023 election after candidate wins

The Labour Party has conceded its loss in the Hamilton West by-election, partially pinning it on the low voter turnout, but opposition parties say it shows people want a change in government.

There were 14,392 votes counted last night in the by-election, which was won by National Party's Tama Potaka, despite the electorate having 49,000 registered voters.

The 31.4 percent turnout was just under 10 percent less than that for the Tauranga by-election held earlier this year.

It was the lowest in the last four by-elections since 2016.

Of the votes cast, 68 percent were done in advance, 795 were special votes, and 57 from overseas are yet to be counted.

Potaka won the Waikato seat with about 6600 votes, over 2000 more than Labour's candidate Georgie Dansey.

National Party leader Christopher Luxon said the preliminary result - in what was historically a bellwether seat - showed people wanted change.

"Voters have sent a message to Labour that the country is heading in the wrong direction, and they need a National Government to turn it around and get things done," Luxon said in a statement.

"Everyday Kiwis are concerned about an economy going backwards, not feeling safe in their own homes or businesses, or being able to access health services - not ideological pet projects like Three Waters, the TVNZ-RNZ merger or hate speech legislation," he said.

"New Zealanders will do better under National and today's win in Hamilton West is a great platform for National to build on through 2023 until the election."

Political commentator and former National Party staffer Brigette Morten said with polls so tight, the result showed both parties had everything to play for, and every vote would count next year.

"Without a doubt, nobody is going to be going into 2023 taking this result as a given that this will be reflected across the country.

Morten said one would expect a better showing from Labour given they took the seat in 2020 with 53 percent of votes cast.

"Which shows that they're going to still have to win every single vote going into next election. You'd assume some residual vote there but [there wasn't] - they sort of need to go out and have fresh policies and a fresh campaign to actually win the votes."

Labour Party president Jill Day said the campaign had been incredibly challenging, but the result should not be seen as an indication of what would happen at the general election next year.

"I think as we say by-elections are very tricky in turnout in themselves, it's been a hard start for everybody and I think it's just really important we focus on making sure we're communicating with electors."

Hamilton West by-election: National says 'voters have sent a message to Labour' ahead of 2023 election after candidate wins
Photo credit: Via RNZ

Dansey agreed with Day.

"The low voter turnout has been really unfortunate, but it means there's a lot of voters out there that haven't contributed.

"And as well as that, we came into this under really challenging circumstances and just what we've been able to build I think has been great."

A former Labour Party staffer and political commentator Lamia Imam said the result could not be taken as an indication for what would happen in the general elections.

"It's a blue seat that Labour took in 2020 when they were taking lots of blue seats. So in that context I wouldn't consider it a loss for Labour, I would just consider it going back to how it used to be."

Imam said Labour MP Gaurav Sharma's resignation - which triggered the by-election - may have tainted the party somewhat.

ACT's candidate James McDowall netted about 1400 votes, while the electorate's former MP, Gaurav Sharma, came fourth with about 1100 votes.

ACT leader David Seymour said the votes for McDowall showed just how strong the party was growing, given they had only 2.97 percent of the vote in the electorate in 2020.

"Our policies address New Zealanders' concerns, like the cost of living, crime and the growing concern around co-government," McDowall said in a statement.

"This result leaves us very hopeful for the future of New Zealand and that real change is coming in 2023," Seymour said.

Official results will be declared on 21 December.