It is easy to get NZ First wrong.
The media mostly do.
That is because NZ First is the party of small town New Zealand; particularly small North Island towns.
It is often thought of as the political wing of Grey Power; but there is more to it than that.
It has high Maori support and it thrives well away from the big cities where people work as farmers or fishers or truck drivers or mechanics or fencing contractors.
This graph shows the vote, polling p[lace by polling place, in the party’s third most successful electorate, Coromandel.
While the Labour votes rise when National falls and vice versa; the NZ First vote is more complex, sometimes rising with Labour, sometimes not.
But what distinguishes the NZ First vote is that by and large, it comes from the smaller towns in the electorate.
The top 10 NZ First polling booths (as a percentage of votes cast) were in:
In comparison Labour’s top booths were in larger(albeit still small) towns: Thames, Waihi, Te Aroha and Paeroa.
It is this subtle demographic distinction which defines NZ First.
It is the party of the very small town. That explains its conservatism and the distance its supporters feel from the predominantly urban image of both National and Labour.
In many ways, its support echoes that of Donald Trump in the United States — people who feel alienated from the political and media elites in the cities.
It was easy to see last night on Winston Peters Facebook page after he launched an attack on Newshub’s Paddy Gower.
Peters said whatever Patrick Gower and the Newshub producers were on, “they should get off it.”
“Their TV news broadcasts the last two nights have been fiction, and grossly misleading. I will not be explaining what parts are fictional. Some of it is barefaced lies.
“This news broadcaster is claiming sources that don’t exist, and is merely toying with viewers and presenting make-believe instead of facts.
“None of it will have any bearing on New Zealand First in the coming talks around the establishment of the next government.”
His Facebook page was deluged with supportive comments which also included advice to go with Labour.
Troy Russell: “News hub have a habit of putting words in people’s mouths which was also evident a lot with the National party doing the same thing .2 ticks from me For NZF.”
Andrea Lynch: ”National should definitely be held accountable for the dirty politics they played in this election!!”
Anita Cumming: “ I know it’s up to you and both parties. I believe it’s best to go with labour as Nationals time is up.”
But inside NZ First, it is not so clear-cut.
NZ First insiders are closely studying various statistics from election night and are now awaiting the Special Votes which are to be declared on October 7.
They believe that the final results will show National has not performed as well as it seemed to have done on election night.
Even so, the net effect of the loss of one or two seats by National to the Greens would have little impact on the overall balance of the house under the various Government formation possibilities.
Even if National lost two seats to the Greens the best the anti-Government coalition (Labour, Greens, NZ First) could do would be 63 seats over National and ACT’s 58 — a majority of five.
On the other hand, if NZ First went with National and ACT that group would have 65 seats over the Opposition’s 54 seats; a majority of 11.
Looking at all these statistics, it is easy to see why Peters wants to take his time and why he is saying so little.
The arguments for going, either way, are powerful.
His close friends say that leaving a legacy is important to him but as much as he might want concrete “trophies” like the Whangarei Port or to stop Labour’swater tax; his biggest legacy might be the continuation of the party he created, NZ First, after he has retired.
That means he has to be able to position the party so that it does not become tainted by its association with an unpopular Government.
It means he needs to be able to show that a third party can play a sustainable role in New Zealand politics.
The history of the Alliance, United Future, ACT and now the Maori party shows that is no easy challenge.