Voters in regions of the country where healthcare is under severe strain are almost as concerned about that issue as the cost of living, Vote Compass data shows.

More than 170,000 Kiwis have already taken part in the online tool and latest analysis of the numbers shows South Island regions in particular have ranked healthcare as a much higher priority than other parts of the country. In some cases voters are even flagging it up higher than broader economic concerns.

Where do you sit? Find out here at: 1News.co.nz/VoteCompass

Southland mayor Rob Scott isn’t surprised at all to hear his region’s voters have put healthcare so high on their election wishlist, particularly after the region lost primary care services in recent years. The loss of the Lumsden Maternity Centre, which shut in 2018, was a key blow.

“You look at the likes of someone in Te Anau, who has to travel for two, two-and-a-half hours to get to Invercargill. If Invercargill’s full – which happens relatively often now – there’s then another three-hour trip to Dunedin.

“I heard someone the other day referring to a long travel time of 20 minutes in Auckland. I had to laugh.”

He says it’s difficult for a region like theirs – with a population of 30,000 to a landmass the size of Belgium – to get national attention, especially at election time.

“A lot of people say we often don’t get heard. I think the Labour party almost don’t bother with us because (our region) is so blue, and the National party feel safe. So it’s hard to compete in that environment.

“But what all the political parties need to reflect on, is how much we contribute to ‘NZ inc’ down here.”

Nadine Taylor is the mayor of Marlborough, another region on the smaller end of the population scale with around 50,000 people, and another that’s ranking healthcare as a key election issue.

Many patients in Blenheim have to travel two-hours one way to Nelson for healthcare, a lot of which comes out of Nelson hospital.

“So if you’re on dialysis for instance and you need that three times a week, you have to drive to Nelson three times a week. Those people are often not that healthy, and so there’s arranging transport to get to Nelson. So there’s that provision of localised services, and people really recognise that.

“That’s what they want. The provision of strong services in their own backyard.”

Waiting 6-8 weeks for GP appointments

In Marlborough the cost of living still came up as the most dominant election issue through Vote Compass, with 21% of people in the region listing it as one of the most important.

But that only narrowly beat healthcare, which 20% of people raised, more so than the broader economy on 17%.

Taylor said the healthcare concern boils down to service provision, and access to GPs.

“We have some fantastic GPs, but in terms of availability when people go to make appointments, they’re talking six, eight weeks out for appointments.

“They’re often cancelled at late notice because your GP is ill. There’s no coverage, and there’s no depth.”

She said the recovery efforts from last year’s major storms is also a key issue for her constituents, and she’s concerned it could be lost in the broader election debate.

“I think there is always that concern and that is how do you get that cut-through. There are the national issues but there are the big issues locally which will make such a difference as to how the population lives. The population in the Sounds, the population in wider Marlborough, that has to pay for it.

“You do sometimes worry about getting lost in the crowded space of need.”

Healthcare is also, perhaps unsurprisingly, a more important election issue for older voters.

University of Auckland political scientist Jennifer Lees-Marshment said raising the concerns of all voters, no matter where they are in the country, is important.

“Parties need to pay close attention to voters in specific regions being worried about healthcare, and not just focus on Auckland.

“We have seen some policies get attention – such as free dental treatment for young adults from Labour and a new medical school at Otago from National – but whether this goes far enough to address voter concerns is questionable.”

She said Vote Compass is throwing up data and information that could also be “an opportunity for party strategists to pick up votes by focusing more on healthcare in the campaign, to demonstrate they understand people’s top concerns across all of New Zealand”.

What is Vote Compass?

By using Vote Compass, New Zealanders can find out which political parties they are with on the key issues facing the country

You can choose to agree or disagree with 30 statements about issues like health, education, the environment, and tax. Vote Compass will then analyse your answers with the policies of different parties and show you how similar they are to your own views.

Developed by a team of social and statistical scientists from Vox Pop Labs, Vote Compass is a civic engagement application offered in New Zealand exclusively by 1News/ TVNZ. The findings are based on 41,545 respondents who participated in Vote Compass from September 10, 2023 to September 13, 2023 and who answered the open-text question: “What issue is most important to you in this election?” Multiple mentions were possible and responses were aggregated into categories using natural language processing techniques.

Unlike online opinion polls, respondents to Vote Compass are not pre-selected. Similar to opinion polls, however, the data are a non-random sample from the population and have been weighted in order to approximate a representative sample. Vote Compass data have been weighted by gender, age, education, income, region, Māori ancestry, and partisanship to ensure the sample’s composition reflects that of the actual population of New Zealand according to census data and other population estimates.


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