Tamati Coffey’s political future lies in the hands of rangatahi if Māori Television’s exclusive poll results hold come election day this September 23rd.
During the Election Aotearoa ’17 debate between Waiariki candidates Te Ururoa Flavell (Māori Party) and Coffey (Labour), the political newcomer conceded that Flavell was ahead, despite arguing that Labour's internal polling had the race closer than the Māori Television poll.
“I’m still behind and I give that to the minister,” says Coffey, “You would expect that I’d be behind considering [Flavell has] been there for 12 years. But actually, it’s a lot tighter than you’d expect and that’s what I’m hearing on the doorsteps.”
Flavell is the preferred candidate for 60.1% of the Waiariki electorate according to the poll, with Coffey garnering 39.9% support.
However, a generational divide appears to have opened up the race, with the majority of supporters between the ages of 18-34 years old supporting Coffey. Voters in the 35+ age-bracket favour Flavell, with support for the Māori Party candidate most pronounced among those aged 55+.
While younger voters are historically more likely to stay at home on election day, Coffey believes that Labour’s policies, particularly concerning free tertiary education, will provide the much-needed enthusiasm needed to bring home a win.
“We have to talk their language. We have to put out policies that actually resonate with young people,” says Coffey, “I’m 37 years old so I speak their language. So they listen when I say that we’re actually going to be giving away free tertiary education. That’s our aspiration for young people.
“Young people are scared away from tertiary education at this point in time because of that huge bill that they walk away with. Thirty thousand dollars is about on average what it costs you for a degree. Under Labour that’s not going to be the case.”
In response, Flavell appealed to rangatahi to focus on the ability of the Māori Party to deliver for Māori regardless of major party affiliation.
“The big thing is understanding the MMP environment,” says Flavell, “The MMP environment requires smaller parties to be a part of any bargaining decision about a final government. So yes, Labour, National but actually a party vote for one or the other, or actually any of the other parties, you’ll be right half the time.
“If our people voted strategically and gave their party vote to the Māori Party and put us under mana motuhake, able to negotiate either side, we actually could be in government all of the time. And that’s the issue that our people must come to grips with.”
In contrast, Coffey remained focused on the youth vote, even when faced with a question on how he would seek to win the votes of older constituents.
“If I’m honest, when I’ve been around the marae and I’ve been talking to our kuia and our kaumatua, what they’re saying to me is ‘We’re ok. We’re doing ok. Look after our young ones because at the moment they’re suffering from a lack of hope.”
Watch the full Election Aotearoa debate on maoritelevision.com.