The racist elephant in the room

This is the third post in a series looking at Māori and Pasifika voters and the Labour Party (part one and part two). 

There’s something ironically bigoted about the idea that Māori and Pasifika are more socially conservative. It’s a broad-brush slander that stinks of sneering white liberals and plausible-deniability. It’s the racist elephant in the room – will South Auckland support an openly gay leader?

Thankfully, I haven’t heard the question asked much in this Labour leadership contest. Although that may be because the public doesn’t care about Labour anymore.

Why do so many people claim Māori and Pasifika are more conservative? Is there any truth to the claim? The data is uneven. In 2008, the New Zealand Electoral Study (NZES- New Zealand’s most comprehensive political survey) asked respondents their views on the statement “Homosexual relationships are always wrong”.

 Response Pākehā Asian Māori Pasifika
Strongly agree 10.37 19.8 12.24 18.07
Agree 9.78 20.79 7.46 20.48
Neutral 24.74 15.84 18.16 22.89
Disagree 20.15 19.8 23.14 15.66
Strongly disagree 32.32 19.8 34.23 20.48
Don’t know 2.64 3.96 4.78 2.41
Total: Agree and strongly agree 20.15% 40.59% 19.7% 38.55%

As the table demonstrates, Māori respondents were less opposed to same sex relationships than other groups. Pasifika voters were more concerned than Māori and Pākehā. But when it comes to views on marriage equality, 2008 is a long time ago. We need more recent data.

Research New Zealand surveyed views on marriage equality in 2011, but somehow failed to notice that Māori and Pasifika are different communities with different views. Their survey asked “should same sex couples also be allowed to marry?” In this case, the ‘Māori/Pacific’ respondents were more supportive of same sex marriage than other ethnic groups.

Screenshot 2014-11-01 12.39.36

The data suggests Māori are less bothered by same sex marriage than the rest of the country, and therefore probably less likely to care about a gay leader. Thus, no problem for Labour.

The data is less clear with Pasifika voters. While some in Pasifika communities may not care for same-sex marriage, neither survey revealed the importance of same sex marriage to Māori or Pasifika voters.

Certainly, some Māori and Pasifika voters oppose same sex marriage, but do they oppose it enough to change their vote? The last election suggests not. Louisa Wall and Labour led a very high profile campaign for marriage equality, and Labour’s party vote increased in many electorates held by Polynesian MPs.

The simple fact is that Māori and Pasifika voters, like any other voters, are concerned with a number of issues, many of which matter more than the leader’s sexuality. People can have strong views on an issue, but not value that issue enough for it to affect their vote.

The campaign against asset sales is a good example. The majority of New Zealanders opposed asset sales, but didn’t care about it as much as Labour had hoped. The same goes for surveillance.

But let’s flip the question. Instead of asking ‘why are Māori and Pasifika so conservative?’, we should ask ‘why do we care so much about their conservatism?‘. Why is a brown person’s conservatism more of an issue than anyone else’s?

I think part of the reason is good old fashioned prejudice. The whole ‘brown people are bigots’ idea is built on a solid foundation of racism and classism. The notion that non-white people are less socially developed has a long and very ugly history. Similarly, the idea that poorer people’s views are uncultivated has helped neutralise and exclude them from power. Throw in some confirmation bias, and you have a cluster of excuses for thinking ‘brown people are bigots’.

The fallacy at the root of prejudice. Courtesy of

The fallacy at the root of prejudice. Courtesy of

So will South Auckland support an openly gay Labour leader? I have no idea. I’m not from the community. The more interesting question is: why aren’t we looking at the homophobia in our own community?

NOTE: I did not actually ask any Pasifika people whether they would vote for Robertson. Typical white guy.


One thought on “The racist elephant in the room

  1. In the Labour context it matters what Maori and Pasifika people think because they are very important constituencies for Labour. That’s a real pragmatic concern, not racism to me.

    To me the racist angles are a) they all think alike and b) they naturally belong with Labour and their support can be taken for granted as long as they are not outrageously insulted by having their values challenged c) their economic needs and aspirations don’t count as long as acknowledge their cultural values. We agonise over the mythical center/middle voter (always implicitly white) and leave the brown people as an afterthought.

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