Election 2017: The biggest winners, the biggest losers

Expectations and pundits defied. And dogs. Lots of dogs.
Steven Joyce working the phone last night (Hamish Coleman-Ross)

WINNER: National campaign manager Steven Joyce
The public always complains about negative campaigning but politicians do it because the public keeps buying it. While it won’t win any awards from economists, the tide turned for National when campaign manager Steven Joyce started pushing his $11.7 billion fiscal hole argument and unleashed its “Let’s tax this” clip. It wasn’t nice, and the details were what Mr Joyce might call “pretty truthful.” But it worked – helped by Labour, which played into his hands with its too-vague tax working group pitch. He was also successful with strategies to win back NZ First voters, already softened up by leaks about Winston Peters' superannuation overpayments [UPDATE: with NZ First ultimately allying with Labour, the super leak no longer looks like such a masterstroke. ]

WINNER: Bill English
In 2002, Bill English led National to the worst defeat in its history, securing just 21% of the vote (it’s such an unbelievably terrible effort that I always have to link to the result for younger readers to believe it).

Last night, he finally got redemption.

What’s changed? In truth, not much about English. Despite a few carefully-paced “relatable” moments on social media in 2017, and a slightly better haircut, Bill was Bill. But this time, he had nine years as finance minister behind him, and a John Key afterglow.

ABOVE: English's victory pose was more Homer Simpson than JFK, but sometimes relatability beats charisma (photo: Rob Hosking).

WINNER: The pollsters
Despite the final-week polls being so close to the result in 2014, many remained dubious about polls this time around in the wake of Trump's election, the Brexit shot, and the polling companies' enduring fondness for landlines. But in fact, Colmar-Brunton and Reid Research were almost bang-on (and should get even closer to the actual result on specials).

WINNER: Winston Peters
Our first MMP election, back in 1996, saw Winston Peters as kingmaker, negotiating the first of three coalition deals.

Plus ça change plus c'est la même chose.

WINNER: Jacinda Ardern
The Labour leader looked dark as the TV cameras filmed her climbing into a van to travel to her party’s election night gathering. But a good Jacinda mobbing as she entered the Aotea Centre lifted her spirits. As it should have. Climbing from 23% in the polls six weeks ago (and 27% of the vote in 2017) to 35.8% last night is no mean feat. And, although she was a bit wet behind the ears with policy and strategy, and at times nervous during the debates, Ardern was a fearsomely good speaker on the campaign trail. It’s easy to see her making a potent bid for prime minister in 2020.

Jacinda Ardern at Aotea Centre last night (photo: Hamish Coleman-Ross).

WINNER: James Shaw
By accident or design, the Greens and their solo leader followed advice in NBR almost to the letter, and came back from oblivion.

WINNER: #DogsAtPollingStations
With a ban on political stories, a certain Auckland journalist suspected it was a fertile opportunity to emulate the #DogsAtPollingStations trend from the recent UK election.

He borrowed his neighbour's dog, encouraged it to behave badly around a voting sign then alerted our state broadcaster and other media.

The rest was history.

LOSER: The rules around election day advertising and media
It was actually quite refreshing to have a politics-free day yesterday (at least until 7pm). But the ban on political advertising or news coverage was also wildly inconsistent.

More than 1.2 million people cast a ballot during the two weeks of early voting, with their minds polluted by billboards and Hooton op-eds.

By contrast, fewer than one million voted yesterday (2.17 million voted in total, according to the count so far; 384,000 specials are yet to be tallied).

Our advertising and editorial rules need to get out of the 1980s.

Yet another election where ACT returns a single MP and almost zero success in nudging National from the centre, bar a handful of tiny charter schools. What is the point?

LOSER: The Maori Party
How many terms is too many to be in coalition with National? Turns out, three.

LOSER: Richard Prosser
Demoted to an unelectable position on NZ First's list for clearly stating a policy from his party's website (that it wants to buy back power companies). When you work for a leader who delights in talking in riddles and keeping the electorate guessing, that is plainly unacceptable. What the hell was he thinking?

LOSER: Northland
Imagine having Winston as your MP when he’s in such a juicy position to extract pork from the next government. Instead, the locals opted for National's candidate. (An interesting sub-plot will be whether Winston harbours any resentment against National for running such a hard campaign in Northland.)

With the Greens vote nearly halved over 2014, no one below seven on its list will make Parliament (though there is a rough chance of one more on specials).

LOSERS: Some of the Greens’ most effective MPs and promising newcomers
As it increasingly looked as though the power-jacket wearing Metiria Turei was fibbing – or at least avoiding questions – about the level of support she received from her well-to-do mother-in-law during her time of benefit fraud, the Greens tanked from 15% to below 5% in the polls. Despite James Shaw’s rescue effort, the party’s share of the vote still fell from 11% to 6%. That means Golriz Ghahraman, Mojo Mathers, Barry Coates, Jack McDonald, John Hart, Denise Roche and (cough) Hayley Holt won’t be part of the next Parliament.

A person with a big head, plus Gareth Morgan (photo: Chris Keall)

LOSER: Gareth Morgan
Some were open to Gareth Morgan’s policy-heavy, whiteboarding approach. Supporters as disparate as ACTophile Vincent Heeringa and greenie Lance Wiggs posted tweets late Friday indicating they were voting for TOP.  [UPDATE! In fact, Wiggs voted for National's Nikki Kaye for his electorate vote and the Greens for his list vote. Read his blue-green rationale here.]

But overall Mr Morgan proved to have a tin ear for politics. Egged on by his media adviser, Sean Plunket, he was often mired in petty, personality-driven disputes on social media. And, by the way Gareth, blaming the voters for being stupid is the first step to losing. Just ask Hillary "deplorables" Clinton.

LOSER: Peter Dunne
Steven Joyce said it would have been "operationally helpful" for the UnitedFuture leader to have announced his decision to throw in the towel earlier. That was being diplomatic.

LOSER: Public and media understanding of MMP
It's still not there. Last night, as in 2014, there continued to be lots of focus on National vs Labour fights in electorates like Christchurch Central and Auckland Central. With the primacy of the list vote, the result of an electorate vote does not matter a jot unless there's a third-party upset.

And many commentators still talked as if winning the largest share of the vote (short of a majority) inferred some sort of special negotiation rights on National. It just doesn't. It could well be Winstons Peters, with relatively few bottom lines, finds it easier to get into bed with National than Labour and the relatively spikey Greens. But that will be a personal and political decision. There is no rule or convention or law requiring him to talk to National first or give it any preference in any way for having the most votes.

Oh, and by the way: there's no time limit, either. Enjoy.

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