I don’t know what I’m more excited about - new election results to pore over, or my first follow-up post! In 2016 I looked at voter turnout in the New Zealand local body elections. Now three years later, almost to the day, let’s have a look again and see how things have turned out this year. Is it Democracy In Action or Democracy Inaction?

David Friggens

Three years ago I looked at voter turnout in the 2016 local body elections in New Zealand. There was a lot of concern about the low voter turnout, though overall the turnout was slightly higher than 2013. This was driven by the “metro” councils, which countered the decline in the “provincial” and “rural” councils.

Fellow kiwis will likely have heard similar rumblings about dropping voter turnout again, so let’s see what actually happened. Luckily I was reminded from my previous post that Local Government NZ collates all the data, which saved me the nightmare of visiting every individual council’s website. You can go to their page to see some Excel column charts, or you can stay here for a repeat of the dumbbell plots.

Update 14 October: The final “preliminary” results have changed almost all of the numbers; some by over 10%! This changes things to look a lot less dire (though it’s still pretty dismal compared with national election turnouts). I’ve updated all graphs and commentary.

High-level summaries

After a big drop in voter turnout between 2010 and 2013 and a small increase in 2016, there was a small decrease in 2019. In 2016, an increase in metro areas combined with decreases in provincial and rural areas; however in 2019 it was metro areas that decreased and we saw increases in provincial and rural areas.

Whilst it’s positive to see that rural and provincial districts have good turnout relative to the metro areas, they only make up a third of the population. To put this in perspective, let’s turn these percentages into people.

Individual councils

We can look at individual councils for a finer breakdown. Here are dumbells for the last three elections grouped by metro, provincial and rural, then ordered by the 2019 turnout.

As expected there is a lot of variation, with big jumps both up and down over 2016. Most areas record a drop though, with the largest increases generally being in small districts. Only two metro areas had (very small) increases: Christchurch and [Lower] Hutt. The biggest metro drops were in Auckland and Wellington — two of the three biggest areas.

The final picture is more promising than election weekend results suggested, with increases in a number of metro councils. Nelson retains its title as the most consistent constituency. Overall, more councils saw greater turnout in 2019 than 2016.


Turnout data by area type and by council, sourced from LGNZ on 14 October 2019. The 2016 numbers may differ from my previous post as I never updated the preliminary figures when final ones were announced.

2018 population data for council areas sourced from Stats NZ.


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