Friday, December 8, 2023

Labour to the Left of Me, National to the Right, Here I am: Stuck in the Middle With NO Idea – A Swing Voter’s Lament for This Election

It’s ok to be confused about who to vote for, says Kelly Bertrand – it’s a crazy world out there. Here she details how she’s figuring out who to vote for this election – and why it’s actually fine to be a fence sitter.


I’ve always known who I was going to vote for.

For all elections I’ve been old enough to contribute my two ticks it’s been a clear decision for me, one way or another. I’ve voted both towards the left and towards the right in my time, although ideologically I’ve veered one way more than the other. But, technically, like so many New Zealanders, I’m a swing voter who is able to be wooed.

Not so much with election bribes or flashy policies, but usually with a message, a vision, a view that aligns with my own. As a journalist I know the importance of a strong democracy, and as someone who follows politics with a semi-enthusiastic spirit (Jesus they’re making it hard to be interested at the moment though I must say) I enjoy being able to make reasonably informed decisions and opinions, and understand the nuance and reasoning behind the decisions our governments make. Voting, I believe, is a necessary privilege.

But this year I’ll admit it. I’m stumped. And I’m far from the only one.

I feel like there is no party for me. I look one way and shake my head, and then look the other way and roll my eyes. And then I look at Winston Peters and want to hurl (ah well, at least that’s one party eliminated).

I put my conundrum into a gals’ group chat (the natural place for all conundrums) and asked if anyone else was feeling the same.


“Genuinely have no fucking idea.”

“Nothing’s really vibing for me.”

Political apathy is strong in Aotearoa at the moment as we emerge from a pandemic inferno,  into a frying pan of economic uncertainty and we have officially run out of patience with our politicians on both sides of the Beehive.

But I don’t want apathy when it comes to exercising my democratic right for all the reasons above, but also because I want to be able to complain when everything goes to hell in a handbasket because you only get to do that if you vote. I just want to know where to put my damn vote that will assuage my conscience and do something ‘good’ – or at least prevent something ‘bad’.

I’ve done my research. I’ve looked at policies. I’ve trawled through speeches. I’ve watched debates. And then I did what everyone else does and completed my Vote Compass questionnaire, figuring that an independent measure of policies and facts could give me an unbridled, unbiased answer.

I shit you not, my dot was dead centre of the graph. DEAD CENTRE. And more crucially, it was alone in the middle. Labour to the left of me, National to the right, here I am. Stuck in the middle with NO ONE.

So, what’s different this year? Have I changed? Have the parties? Has New Zealand?

Well, yes, yes and yes.

As well as the VERY weird post-Covid space we’re currently in, the shape of New Zealand politics is different. We’re without the magnetism of previous figureheads such as Sir John Key and Dame Jacinda Ardern and yeah sure, we’re always told by the experts to vote on policy not personality, but some ‘rizz definitely contributes to the overall vibe.

We’re dealing with a unique set of circumstances as the world changes and so many of the big issues are so incredibly complicated and nuanced, and sometimes there isn’t one right answer.

And I’ve changed. Since the last election my circumstances have changed in just about every way they can change – single to engaged, living alone to living with my fiancé, a full-time job to owning a business. Like everyone else I’m three years older and three years wiser (maybe only two considering how much rosé I drank during lockdowns) and my world view has definitely morphed a little.

I like my politics like I like my home décor – unfussy, minimal and black and white. I want facts, I want certainties, I want contrast. But there’s never been a bigger grey area in politics than there is now (you have no idea how badly I wanted to make a 50 Shades joke in there but the mental images it conjured weren’t worth it).

But I like to stand for something. I want to throw my support behind someone, something, and do my bit as a good New Zealander. Fence sitting, especially in politics, isn’t a concept that sits well with me normally. But as I stare at my stubbornly centrist little dot, I realise I couldn’t throw myself off this fence even if I was Humpty Dumpty and I had a death wish.

As brought to my attention by my Capsule co-founder Emma, UK journalist Pandora Sykes actually has some interesting thoughts on fence-sitting in general, her argument being that she thinks we need more of us.

“We have to have the competence to sit on the fence a bit, I think,” she says. “What we’re seeing now is that it’s kind of gone out of fashion to be equivocal, and that is really dangerous… You know, people asked me to have conclusive views on things that I don’t have conclusive views on and I feel pushed to have a conclusive view. I don’t want to. I don’t have opinions on everything. I’m still learning about so many things. And if we come out and stay in opinion early on in that process, then we don’t bother to go away and do more learning.”

I really resonate with this because I see good in all (well, most) parties. I like learning about different policies and different approaches to tackling the same problem. I also see huge issues in all parties – whether that’s the policies they’re coming up with, or in some instances, the people who are coming up with the policies (see here for my previous, er, thoughts about my incumbent MP who, safe to say, I will NOT be voting for).

Maybe it’s because of my job, but I’ve always been very good at seeing all perspectives on the same issue, and it’s actually something I’m usually pretty proud of. My fiancé and I have different political opinions on a lot of things and for us it’s a non-issue – we both respect each other’s opinions and are able to see when the other person has made a good point.

And then there’s the glorious fact that, at the end of the day, we as New Zealanders are so incredibly privileged that, no matter what happens in our elections, we get to live here. Things can always be better but hell, take a look around the world. Things can be a shit tonne worse.

At the end of the day, I want what every political party in New Zealand says they want – for every Kiwi to have the same opportunities as the one next to them (OMG it’s just like Miss Congeniality… ‘world peace! ‘Harsher punishments for parole violators Stan!’ ) The issue is that they all go about that dream in such wildly different ways, I can’t figure out which one of them is right.

So, you’ve read all of this and like me you have no idea who to vote for come October 14. What am I going to do? I still don’t know who will be getting my ticks. But I also know that that is ok and that it’s probably going to come down to my gut on the day. The most important thing is that I and YOU – cast a vote.

The fence comes down on October 14. Wish me luck that I fall on the right – or left – side.

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