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The rise and rise of David Seymour’s ACT

Written By: - Date published: 7:28 am, December 20th, 2022 - 96 comments
Categories: act, david seymour, labour, national, polls - Tags:

I thought David Seymour was the  most interesting speaker at the Victoria University post-election conference at Parliament last year. Two things stood out for me in  his presentation following ACT’s election gains. He opened by offering lengthy and effusive praise to his researcher, then clearly stated his objective to supplant National as the leading party on the right. He’s on track for that, as current media attention shows.

I’ve had a long interest in political research dating back to the late 1980’s when New Zealand Labour started its relationship with Utting Market Research now continuing without John Utting as UMR so my ears pricked up when Seymour praised his researchers so effusively. I don’t know who they are but they do seem to know what they are doing.

What was interesting about the ACT campaign was that it surprised by putting  together a coalition of seemingly unrelated cohorts; the pro-gun lobby and those pro end-of-life choice being just two examples. These groups do not fit into any conventional political paradigm or spectrum, but they are characterised by varying levels of commitment to their cause and receptiveness to the idea of freedom of choice. This indicates that ACT’s research is leading to an organising strategy based on real cohorts not an advertising strategy based on constructed cohorts, which means it is likely to be effective in New Zealand’s advertising-constrained political communication environment.

The next cohort in ACT’s sights would appear to be discontented farmers. Seymour is a clever communicator who knows how to press the right buttons. If he makes real headway among farmers he achieves two things at once, bringing on board a significant cohort and at the same time severely weakening National.

And ACT is a genuine right-wing party. I don’t think Labour and the Left should rejoice too much at the travails of National. It was founded in the 1930s as an anti-Labour coalition of the corporate elite and the country, and could well splinter. But we should be careful what we might wish for.

I also think it would be good for Labour particularly to have a good look at its own cohorts, implied and explicit, to test how strong the connections still are in the 21st century. Also its communication strategy; talking too much about being focused on the middle ground  risks danger. By definition it lacks definition, which is not a good basis for commitment.

Re-posted from August 2021.

96 comments on “The rise and rise of David Seymour’s ACT ”

  1. Ad 1

    Agree, especially with your last paragraph.

    Seymour feels very much like an Anderton in his ability to bring disparate weirdo sets together into a whole, and doing the same job politically against National.

    • I Feel Love 1.1

      Until they confront him in real life, then he backs away from the more nuttiest of his supporters. He's an opportunist, nothing more, nothing less, no less successful, but hollow.

  2. UncookedSelachimorpha 2

    A post-National future…

    ACT – Right

    Labour – Centre Right

    Greens – Left


    • RobbieWgtn 2.1

      Act is only considered Right (actually pretty moderate centrist compared with eg USA & Oz) is because of the Overton Window: Labour & Nationals decades of Left social re-engineering compromises with their electoral partners under MMP instead of remaining true to a few principles….any principles

      "It's just a step to the left and a jump to the right…"

  3. Anker 3
    • Who would have thought that the dorky looking guy on DWTS would get so far.
    • having recently read Helen Kelly’s biography I think we need a working people’s party, like Labour originally was. Highly recommend the book
    • roblogic 3.1

      100% Anker, It is profoundly immoral that houses are still earning more than workers, and are taxed much less, in the second term of a supposedly "labour" government

      • Gosman 3.1.1

        What about the bright line test? Is that not taxing housing?

      • gsays 3.1.2

        That is a wonderful sentence rob.

      • Adrian 3.1.3

        The majority of houses are owned by workers. Are you suggesting that workers should not be allowed to own appreciating houses?

        • RedLogix

          Apparently you shall own nothing – and be happy wink

        • roblogic

          I am suggesting that prices should be stable so that the market does not continue its insane trajectory that exacerbates inequality.

          And also I find it disgusting that millions of Kiwis felt perfectly justified getting money for nothing and then charge others excessive rent. Then bitch and moan when the government tries to balance things in favour of the poverty stricken renters.


          • mikesh

            I am suggesting that prices should be stable so that the market does not continue its insane trajectory that exacerbates inequality.

            Obviously. But left to its own devices the market will fluctuate. The issues related to the housing market are more to do with how one goes about controlling those fluctuations.

        • SPC

          But do the majority of workers own houses? The numbers over 65 owning property misleads some. The total was 65% owning in 2018 and its still falling.


          • SPC

            18.8 % owning without a mortgage

            27.8% owning with a mortgage

            4.7 % owning no mortgage status

            32% not an owner and paying rent.

            3.4% not an owner and not paying rent

            6.6 % (family) trust without mortgage.

            5.3% (family) trust with a mortgage.

            1.4 (family) trust no mortgage status

        • roblogic

          IOW we have a tax regime that rewards capital accumulation and punishes work.

          This is backwards

    • Gosman 3.2

      Didn't NZ have a working people's party in Mana? Also in what way would this working people's party differ from The Greens? They seem to have very left wing policy ideals that I presume would fit with any from a working people's party.

      • DukeEll 3.2.1

        There are people who work with their hands and people who work for the government. the latter sincerely hope the twain never meet

      • weka 3.2.2

        Wrong cultural fit. Yes, the GP have the most progressive lw policies, including pro-worker ones, but politics is also about what people are attracted to and drawn to emotionally and culturally. Saving the planet isn't a big draw for working class people whose values are based in a different milieu.

      • Chris 3.2.3

        "What was interesting about the ACT campaign was that it surprised by putting together a coalition of seemingly unrelated cohorts; the pro-gun lobby and those pro end-of-life choice being just two examples. These groups do not fit into any conventional political paradigm or spectrum…"

        I would say these groups fit firmly within Act's libertarian bent, traditionally anyway, albeit now when it suits them.

    • One of the few good things about being in an opposition party is that you never have to follow through on your promises. Just snipe at the government from the sidelines.

      Leading the nation in a health crisis, making all the decisions and being accountable for them is an entirely different matter.

    • Anker 3.4

      Ha, ha, ha. I asked and Workers Now party has delivered! Fascinating reading one's own comment from 16 or so months ago.

      I will say, having listened to David Seymour on The Daily Blog's Working Group a few times, I have come to realize he is super smart (even if you don't agreee with him) and a very canny politician. He may be a prick, but he is not arrogant. And he has stood up for Democracy, so for that I salute him!

      He has also managed his team of newbys very well

      • Robert Guyton 3.4.1

        You "salute" Seymour?

        Colour me … Karitane Yellow!

      • Tony Veitch 3.4.2

        It's not 'Democracy' Seymour's standing up for, but 'individual' freedom – the right to do what ever you like, if you've the money, and no collective loyalty to the society that nurtured you.

        • Anker

          Tony why I say DS is standing up for democracy because.

          1. When Massey University cancelled SUFW and an overseas gender critical speaker, Seymour organised for the meeting to go ahead at parliment. The fact that a university cancelled SUFW is disgraceful and against free speech.

          2. DS was the only sitting member of parliament (that I remember) who tried to liaise with the parliamentary protesters and broker a deal.

          3. David S is calling for discussion about Hepuapua (which the govt kept hidden from Peters and NZders) and discussion on the Treaty with a referendum going forward. As Jim Bolger said recently, the PM needs to tell NZders what she means by co-governance and where she sees the country going with it. Not doing so it leading to anxiety and anger and creating division. I agree with Bolger on this. Just spit it out Jacinda. Is it Hepuapua? Is it the Rotorua Admin Bill (that Labour tried to sneak through by stealth). David S wants up to have that conversation and a referendum

  4. KJT 4

    Just like Dunne's party. Once the public get a good view of the real degree of fruitcakery ACT represent, they will go back to holding their voters meetings in a telephone box.

  5. coreyjhumm 5

    Act are really interesting in that in a lot of ways they are just the fourth labour and national govts.

    A lot of former lefty's are going to act over the guns issue but most importantly hate speech which has been handled appallingly badly by the minister and the pm in a coms sense.

    Act have a really really good mental health policy. Creating an entirely new department that dishes out the funding. I like it

    I wouldn't vote act but the way the left is handling the rise of act is ill thought out , trying to shut them down and calling them facsists is turning them into martyrs because it's wrong… They aren't they are just bog standard neoliberals with a libertarian streak.

    Seymour is probably the most successful mp in nz he was mocked laughed at had little funding and multiplied his caucus by 10 and his only rising. He picks his battles and only a fool would seriously believe this young neoliberal dweeb is a bigot.

    How do we beat him? We debate him. Stop acting like he's some big scary new thing and expose him for what he is a neoliberal. An undiluted neoliberal. If the left can't crush Seymour in a debate we have issues

  6. McFlock 6

    "Cohorts" seems to be "market segmentation" by another name. The trouble with applying that to politics is that there's only so far one can go before one cohort alienates another – e.g. juco nats alienating their young nats with some social conservative votes.

    And, as KJT points out, rapid increases in MP numbers increases the chances of one or two of them failing to maintain a reasonable and approachable face. To give them credit, they've done well so far.

    • Stuart Munro 6.1

      Cohorts are, strictly speaking age classes, as both Sparta and Rome organised troop formations by age. Population biologists grabbed the term and used it properly, but marketers, no doubt due to the lack of Linnaean Latin, use it improperly.

      A cohort is a group of organisms of the same species that are born during the same year.

  7. Stephen D 7

    When we drill down into ACT’s caucus, what have we got.

    David Seymour, the most hypocritical parliamentarian. All for deregulation, except for the bunch of NIMBYs in his electorate.

    Brook van Velden, who seems quite reasonable.

    Crazy gun lady.

    Some farmer??

    And the rest?

    At some point they will come under scrutiny. Then it will be interesting to see how disciplined they are.

    • Janice 7.1

      You forgot about the Scottish man.

      • Gosman 7.1.1

        There is no Scottish man in the ACT party caucus. Did you mean Damien Smith? He's from Northern Ireland originally.

        • Shanreagh

          Oh dear.

          Mind you when I first heard Aubrey Begg, MP for Awarua during parliamentary broadcast sessions I thought he must be from the US, not having heard the Southland accent before.

    • Gosman 7.2

      They have been incredibly disciplined so far. Normally around this time is when any loose cannon in a caucus becomes known.

      Interesting you think Nicole Mckee is a "crazy gun lady". On what basis do you make that claim? Her views on gun reform are a World away from the NRA's free for all and she was a firearm safety trainer. She does not advocate firearms be used for personal protection and in fact has come out against having the Police armed all the time.

      • Bearded Git 7.2.1

        By disciplined you mean the the other ACT MPs have STFU. Hardly the basis for a successful party….one of Seymour's many failings is that he hasn't given other ACT MPs a higher profile.

        He is a nasty (remember Maori “thugs”) opportunistic very right wing AP.

    • Anker 7.3

      Karen Chour, (not sure I have spelt that correctly). Maori women who was in care growing up. Came from a very troubled background. Kelvin Davis had the audactiy to tell her she needed to stop seeing the world through a vanilla lens and cross the bridge in to Te Ao Maori (or something like that). F…g cheek Davis telling this women how she should think.

      Guy who stood for the Hamilton byelection. I thought he was reasonable articulate

  8. Patricia Bremner 8

    Like Bob Jones Jim Anderton and Winston Peters, they come, and on the loss of their Leader, they go. They are at most a disaffected 20%, who sway the vote mainly towards the right. David is clever and able to present a public image, but where are their policies? I don't mean slogans and sticking plasters for each perceived problem.

    They are all for "Freedom" Ok look where that got other countries, who yabbered about freedom while their lives were decimated by covid. So how is that freedom looking now? In Britain 100 deaths a day and over 30 000 catching covid… some freedom. Act’s lauded Mental health scheme would get swamped!!

    That is the difference between big talkers and do-ers, and don't mix up which is what!!

    • Gosman 8.1

      David Seymour, unlike the three other leaders you mention, is preparing the ground for when he steps down from Parliament. You can see this in how Brooke van Velden is being pushed forward more in relation to policy announcements etc.

      • Robert Guyton 8.1.1

        Seymour is stepping down?

        Peaked too soon.

        • Incognito

          Well, ACT should tell the NZ media. I looked at the media exposure of No. 2 in ACT, Brooke van Velden. Very crudely, using Google and searching on full name (“first name + surname”) only over the last month: Seymour outnumbers van Velden about 10 to 1 on NZH; even more so on RNZ; Seymour blows van Velden completely out of the water and into space on Stuff.

          • Robert Guyton

            van Who?

            • Incognito

              Well, tell Gossie that. He seems to think that Seymour has ‘retirement’ plans and is grooming van Who to take over. Gossie completely ignores the fact that Seymour is having a blast & a ball (on DWTS). And he made his outlandish comments in August; always good for a laugh though, our Gossie.

      • Seymore's recent traction is because the Leaders? the right have put up are not up to the job, and his experience has him appear more effective. He makes Luxon look staid.

        I still think David is an opportunist who has taken over the NZ First next generation. Most of the thinking appears rather binary, and has a narrow focus. Simplistic solutions are like his Charter Schools … good for some. He pretends to be harmless, so is like Key, deceptively dangerous. imo

        He is probably at peak powers, as National pull themselves from the brink.

        It behoves the Government to present stability and most of all hope. ( Muldoon’s famous “light at the end of the tunnel” )

      • SPC 8.1.3

        As spokesperson for health, housing, trade and foreign affairs she can/should be in the media a lot.

        Iran and free speech.


  9. Michael 9

    People support Labour because it has done a good job fighting Covid. Not a perfect job, and it can't afford to admit its mistakes in hostile political environment, but a lot better than the political Right, which would have vaccinated the rich and powerful, then let 'er rip. Apart from that (not downplaying the scale of Labour's achievement), it's results seem threadbare. It hasn't built nearly enough social and community housing to take the pressure off low-income earners. Mental health remains as cruel and dysfunctional as ever. Welfare and ACC, ditto. Yes, there were increases in main benefit rates: immediately clawed back by cuts to supplementaries; any increase was switftly gobbled up by landlords and power companies (unintentional?). In short: this govt has a problem getting things done.

  10. Stuart Munro 10

    The challenge that lies before ACT is to use its current numbers to 'nut out' (a job for which they seem singularly well-equipped) a broad coherent set of policies and positions…

    Sounds tough, but:

    …that is more rational and coherent than National's. A walk in the park really, until one sees who they have to do the job – rofl.

  11. Gosman 11

    What fruitcakery does ACT represent? Is it the take on free speech or the housing policy or perhaps the mental health policy you are meaning.

    • vto 11.1

      It represents the fruitcakery which think that society's policies should be based around individualism rather than socialism.

      Humans are nothing but social. We come together to do anything and everything. Absolutely everything.

      Humans achieve nothing individually, absolutely nothing

      Individuals end up dying, dead.

      Yet there is an entire political party set up around basing everything on the individual – go figure.

      • Gosman 11.1.1

        Are you claiming anything that does not support a collective and statist approach to solving societal issues is "fruitcakery"? That means a large number of people are most likely supportive of such ideas.

    • Robert Guyton 11.2

      Less fruit-cake, more soufflé, I reckon.

  12. barry 12

    I am always surprised that the government hasn't removed zoning from the Epsom-based grammar schools and put on buses from South Auckland. That is what Epsom people voted for when they voted ACT.

  13. Muttonbird 13

    ACT are probably currently polling around 20 or 30% higher that their normal base rate. If that is called success, so be it, but they're only being talked about as contenders because National appears to have papered over the cracks for now.

    What you called real cohorts I called fringe nutters and their are more of them now post-pandemic where a few health and safety rules flushed these idiots from under their rocks.

    They're furious precisely because Labour has moved on bold, socially-conscious change. Proper leftie change, so I don't understand why the criticism Labour is too focussed on the middle?

    • bwaghorn 13.1

      "They're furious precisely because Labour has moved on bold, socially-conscious change

      Are you sure, I couldn't get my kid into the local Dr's yesterday said id be ok with just seeing a nurse. they wouldn't even let me book a spot later in the week.

      This is the shit that's getting people grumpy.

      • Adrian 13.1.1

        The nurse you may have seen may well have been a Nurse Practioner, highly trained and only a year or so short of a GP in an academic sense. Her/his job is a sought of super triarger, if anything required further hospital or other assessment that result would have been no different to seeing a doctor, and they are fully trained to dispense medications. You are being elitist by disparaging nurses. Good fucking luck without them.

        Every country in the world is short of senior medical staff because only a small proportion of the population have the IQ to manage the complexity of medical training, and that group now has a multitude of other options to purse careers in that do not have such onerous working conditions such as night shifts and the potential loss of whole careers because of small yet crucial mistakes.

        • bwaghorn

          You might want to reread what I said ,then retract and apologize me old mate.

          I said I was OK with seeing a nurse,

          Even thoug about 5 years ago I went in to Dr in the am and only got a nurse, got sent home with light antibiotics, by 6 o'clock was spitting up rusty water so went to the hospital, immediately admitted with pneumonia!

        • RedLogix

          Agreed. Especially your last para.yes

          Much of the conventional medical paradigm is under severe pressure from many different fronts. Personally whenever I visit my GP these days I come away feeling more sorry for him than myself.

          • Adrian

            Sincere apologies BW, should have read it better, I'm so used to reading uninformed complaints about the medical fraternity I over reacted. My wife trains nurses for a Uni and works shifts in an ICU to stay current and gleaned from her experiences I know most of what is stated about various things is complete bullshit. Even English born, speaking and trained nurses need extensive re-orienting to "fit in " to our systems. Dont even mention the problems with English as a 2nd or 3rd language nurses, mostly very, very well qualified medically, but care requires clear and precise communication to avoid what could be serious consequences.
            Sorry about the Pneumonia its not much fun is it. There are a lot more NPs about these days so I think the skills have upgraded at lot at surgeries.

            Again, mea culpa.

            And to RedL, I know what you mean ,i always leave my GP more worried about her state of health than my own.

      • Anker 13.1.2

        Feel for you and your child Bwagon.

        The state of our health system (staffing wise) terrifies me. I am very angry about it

        • bwaghorn

          Turned our a minor issue, but a trip to a Dr I'd better than worrying.

          From what I'm hearing the abuse those in the front line recieve is terrible, I assure you that didn't happen on this case.

  14. ianmac 14

    Question Time.

    Luxon: Predictable. Inflexible. Scripted.

    Seymour: Sharp. Flexible. Specific. Relevant.

    Hate to say it but Seymour gets 9/10. Luxon 4/10

    • RedLogix 14.1

      The reason for this difference is that ACT have an internally consistent set of principles and policies, which means they can apply them effectively to any situation. Seymour is working this playbook well.

      By contrast I really do not get any sense of what National believe in. This lack of ideas is I think, a legacy of John Key's passionless pragmatism. It was popular with the electorate for a time, but has left National philosophically unmoored, unable to clearly articulate fresh or relevant policy.

      Luxon may well have brought a necessary discipline to his Party, but he has not been the person they needed to solve this larger problem.

      • yes Especially your last sentence.

      • Tony Veitch 14.1.2

        National aspire to govern from one cliche to the next – and will be easy meat for a 'so-called' principled party like Act.

        A vote for Natz in '23 is a vote for all of Act's wacky policies!

        • Bearded Git

          Agreed Tony V, but as somebody said above Seymour may well demand Finance as a price for coalition if the vote is say 36/12. That is a really scary thought.

    • Rodel 14.2

      I'm happy if Seymour overtakes Luxon but if Luxon gets worried all he has to do is not have the triennial cuppa tea, instruct the Epsom aristocracy to vote National again whereupon the Act leader and his mediocre band will dissipate back into oblivion from whence they came.

  15. millsy 15

    ACT want an across the board reduction in wages and living standards. That is the first reason why they need to be stopped.

    If they had their way, most workers would be stuck on the same wage in real term for most of their careers.

  16. Incognito 16

    Seymour is the Mr Hyde of NZ politics and leading another NZ political party on the power of persuasion of personality politics. ACT’s policy portfolio is much stronger and more mature than National’s and this is entirely intentional. Since it is likely that National will have more MPs regardless after the next General Election, they have no reason to rock the waka with seaman Seymour doing the steering.

  17. Ed1 17

    There is a tendency to see any party as being totally represented by the leader, but for larger and older parties there are expectations built on the past. Most of the comments above are based on left / right differences, but other factors can impact on impressions.

    I suggest looking at the political compass – see https://www.politicalcompass.org/nz2020

    That introduces an authoritarian / libertarian dimension. The results are based on questions that have remained much the same of quite a few years. Your view of the labels may differ slightly – look at the results and assess whether you think the 0-0 position is in the correct place. Then look at the position of the different parties – is Labour really closer to National than to the Green Party on a left / right basis? Is ACT further to the right than National? I suspect for most people, if you shift the center, the relative positions of parties may be reasonable close to your opinions. I suspect there could be another dimension – where does concern / preparedness to act on Climate change influence different policy positions of parties?

    Now look at the graphs for earlier years going back to 2017, 2014, 2011 and 2008. Are the changes in relative positions what you would expect? ACT has shown the biggest movement – in 2014 and 2017 they were further authoritarian and further right than National – Rodney Hide then Don Brash trying to be more National than National?

    Then in 2020 there is a radical change – perhaps not evident to many as they only look at left / right differences, and ACT is anything moved further right, but on both axes moved to what David Farrar has given as his personal position on the Political Compass Test – a large change – and whether influenced by Farrar or not, it has meant that the ''definitely not a political party" NZ Taxpayer Union appears to support both National and ACT; and also to have taken over from National as commissioning polls from Curia.

    The Libertarian position explains the sympathy with gun owners, perhaps less so the ''pro-life choice'' protestors (although they may not have felt they had anywhere else to go) and the willingness of Seymour to be seen to talk (albeit briefly) with "Freedom" protestors, and the possible support from farmers for ACT.

    There was talk of ACT seeking to take votes from the Greens from the libertarian perspective, but I suspect perceived differences on support for environment and global warming issues have limited movement in support from Greens to ACT.

    Does Labour need the Green Party to take a more aggresive approach to libertarian issues?

  18. SPC 18

    The National Party strategy is to have two options as coalition partners to play them off against the other ACT and MP 2008-2017. Peters is suggesting ACT or NZF this time around.

    This will allow Luxon to diminish Seymour, and this is what Peters is offering NZF as a vehicle to realise – and why Luxon will not exclude NZF from consideration.

    Irritants, like an ungrateful upstart from Epsom Alice in Wonderland and the black flag nationalist (aka NZF) repellant.

  19. swordfish 19


    … then clearly stated his objective to supplant National as the leading party on the right. He’s on track for that, as current media attention shows.


    (National) could well splinter

    Both of these predictions seem very unlikely to me.

    It's the kind of wild speculation that went on when Labour fell to its nadir in the polls during discrete periods of the Key Government … the nonsense that the Greens would rapidly supersede Labour as the major party of the Left & that Labour was in great danger of splitting. Never, of course, happened.

    Moreover, that speculation occurred when polling suggested there was very little prospect of Labour or the Left Bloc winning the following election against the Key Govt.

    In stark contrast, each of the last 6 polls put National ahead of Labour … as well as the Right Bloc ahead of the Left.

    And, perhaps more importantly for the issue at hand, they place National support anywhere from 25-31 percentage points ahead of ACT.

    The next cohort in ACT’s sights would appear to be discontented farmers … If (Seymour) makes real headway among farmers he achieves two things at once, bringing on board a significant cohort and at the same time severely weakening National.

    Bear in mind, ACT always did well among farmers in certain regions (esp rural booths in the Rural & Provincial Upper North Island seats) during its earlier heyday from 1996-2002. And they did so without coming anywhere near to displacing the Nats as the lead party of the Right.

    • swordfish 19.1


      Of course, a key problem with the post is that it's a year & a half out of date … when it was first posted in August 2021, Collins was still leader & the Nats were polling in the 20s, their poll ratings frequently little more than twice as high as ACT's (occasionally even less).

      The public mood has changed significantly since then.

    • Bearded Git 19.2

      Sword……when you add the MP to Lab/Gr things look a lot closer.

      An election is a year away and Labour are now promising to concentrate on the economy and ditch some unpopular policies

      The MP will never go with ACT after Seymour's "thugs" attack.

      Jacinda will rip Luxon apart in the election debates. The Green vote is solid

      It's all to play for

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