Monday, September 19, 2005

Picking the bones

Everyone else is picking over the election results, talking about voter shares, long-term trends, who won and who lost. DPF has an excellent post on the possible effects of special votes, which I'd recommend to anyone wondering which way things might go. He also crunches the numbers on Maori and female MPs, where we've had an increase in both. MMP really does seem to have resulted in better representation, though National is still well behind Labour in terms of "looking like New Zealand".

Frogblog looks at the impact on the minor parties, calling it a "third-party bloodbath". I've prepared the following graph so you can see just how tight the squeeze is:


It also neatly illustrates Span's point about how Labour's vote share has held despite everything National could fling at it.

Frog also comments on the left-right split. Again, here's a graphical representation. The left has basically held steady, with only a slight loss since 1999; most of the right's gains have come from eating the center.


(Note that the above counts the Maori Party as "left". This is arguable, as there's no guarantees that they'll support a left-wing government, but they are composed of people who previously voted Labour, and it is what Frogblog has done).

Finally, a graph of the trend in the "wasted vote" lost to the threshold:


While the decline is good, the story it tells is actually rather depressing, in that this year 98.7% of votes were cast for parties already in Parliament. We've simply learned to stop voting for non-Parliamentary parties, and so they're withering and dying. This is probably bad in the long-term, as it narrows the political meme pool, and it turns the threshold into far more of a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we want to keep our democracy healthy, and keep a robust competition going for people's votes, we need to look at lowering it.


thanks for the link :)

National has also been eating up the right vote, and i think there are serious questions to be asked of the sustainability of that in the long term.

That said, maybe there just wasn't the mood for change this time - maybe that was the difference?

Posted by Span : 9/19/2005 09:28:00 AM

What have Rodney Hide, Jim Anderton, Peter Dunne and (until Saturday) Winston Peters all got in common? Answer: A safe electorate that can act as a springboard for their parties in parliament by guaranteeing they will not die by the threshold cut. The lesson for the the Greens and the now near-defunct Alliance and all individuals who wish to establish a presence in the MMP parliament is to adopt a policy of winning an electorate seat. Love him or hate him (and I can't stand the guy) Rodney Hide has instructed everyone who really wants to be in parliament how to do it: Be relentlessly on message, relentlessly positive about your chances, be prepared to accept one, two or even three defeats with a smile (in other words, be prepared to work for up to nine years for a victory), and wear out three pairs of shoes in the three months before polling day.

The way NOT to do it is to try once then do a whole lot of special case bleeting that the MMP threshold should be lowered or you didn't get a fair hearing in the media or whatever. MMP can work for even the smallest party, you just have to establish your electorate base first.

Posted by Anonymous : 9/19/2005 09:40:00 AM

Preferential voting would be a far better solution than lowering the threshold (though lowering the threshold as well wouldn't hurt). Any threshold is a self-fulfilling prophecy, unless people can list their second preferences to be sure their votes won't be wasted.

Posted by Commie Mutant Traitor : 9/19/2005 09:41:00 AM

Anon: Oh, I agree - the Greens really need an electorate seat as backup. But as for the threshold, this isn't "special case bleeting"; I've argued for lowering it for years, solely on the basis of it giving us a more representative democracy, and regardless of who would gain from a change.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 9/19/2005 10:19:00 AM

The electorates are generally won FIRST by an MP initially representing a major party (National - Peters, Labour - Anderton, Turia, Dunne). Then they build up a base.

Hide was smart enough to target a strongly National electorate with the message "vote me for a National government". And of course the sitting MP's high list place was the clincher for him.

Where could those conditions be replicated on the left? How would voters respond?

The Greens have a distinct brand from Labour, whereas ACT do not have a very distinct brand from the Brash-Nats. Switching to Hide was not a huge leap. The Labour voters of, say, Manurewa or Mt Albert, are unlikely to transfer to somebody like Rod Donald en masse.

The Greens represent a long-term worldview that is becoming more mainstream (sic!), and they will continue to be relevant when the likes of Dunne, who represent nothing, are gone. They are the only minor party who can reasonably expect to stay in business even if they are temporarily out of Parliament, because their issues are permanent and distinct. An electorate would be nice, but probably too hard to manipulate, unless a sitting electorate MP joins them.


Posted by Anonymous : 9/19/2005 11:13:00 AM

Simon: you ask "Where could those conditions be replicated on the left? How would voters respond?"

The best example I can think of - and the one I had in mind when thinking of the contrast with Hide in Epsom - was Laila Harré when she was seen as the Alliances best chance of keeping a presence in parliament when she ran for Waitakere in 2002. She came second, and instead of persisting a la Rodders in Epsom she threw in the towel. Given the way voters have now worked out MMP in this election, I would have thought that had she put in the effort Mr. Hide did in Epsom, she may well have won that seat this time round.

Posted by Anonymous : 9/19/2005 11:33:00 AM

An interesting questions is whether the National caucus can be formed into a coherent whole. Given that they have taken vote from the hard right and the centrists, and that they've lost, and that there's going to be a doozey of a leadership battle - will they tear themselves apart?

Labour has the pressure release valves it needs (Greens, Progs, Maori, even perhaps UF). More importantly they won.

What does National have? Will the hard-right/centrist polarisation within the caucus lead to people splitting off to ACT (a hard-right National MP with a safe seat would be a godsend to ACT right now, and whoever crossed over could get whatever policy wins they want).

Similarly if the new leader of National is hard-right would National centrists defenct to UF or NZ First?

Posted by Anita : 9/19/2005 01:02:00 PM

I disagree about the left maintaining its share.

In 2002 the left (broadly defined) comprised:
Labour 41.26%
Greens 7.00%
Progressives 1.70%
Alliance 1.27%
ALCP 0.64%
Mana Maori 0.25%

Giving the left a total share of 52.12%

On election night 2005:

Labour 40.74%
Greens 5.07%
Maori 1.98%
JAP 1.21%
ALCP 0.23%
Alliance 0.07%
DfSC 0.05%

A total of 49.35% - that is the left has bled 2.77%

[[Trying to make any sense of the 1999 results made my head hurt - does anyone haev any idea how I should categorise "the South Island Party?]]

Posted by Anita : 9/19/2005 01:18:00 PM

Is under 3% really a lot to bleed given that the centre-left has been in power since 1999? I don't think it is, personally.

I do agree about the Alliance in Waitakere. I have been thinking about it a lot since Rodders won Epsom. What might have been if we could have won in 2002 or won on the weekend? May post on it in the next few days.

Posted by Span : 9/19/2005 01:43:00 PM


A 2.77% swing away from an original block of 52.12% works out to just over one voter in twenty.

The idea that of every twenty people who voted left in 2002 one has joined the centre-right seems significant.

Note that this is the swing between 2002 and 2005 - only three years. I think that the swing from 1999 is greater, but as I said some of the parties weird me out :)

But taking a stab at 1999:

Alliance 7.74%
Animals First 0.16%
ALCP 1.10%
Greens 5.16%
Labour 38.74%
McGillicuddy Serious 0.15% [Well they have to go somewhere]
Mana Maori 0.25%

Total 53.3%

So a loss of 3.95% since 1999. About one voter in fourteen no longer supports the left.

To repeat my caution above, I had great difficulty working out what many of the smaller parties actually stood for - so I may have undercounted the left, and the swing may be worse than I conclude.

Posted by Anita : 9/19/2005 01:58:00 PM

Anita: Yes, there's been a falloff - but 2.16 of that 2.77% is from parties that were below the threshold in 2002 and thus didn't affect the outcome.

I'm really more concerned about the people who stopped voting. Apparantly 20% of those who voted Labour in 1999 stayed home in 2002. That's around 8% of the electorate. While turnout is up, I don't think its up enough for them all to have gone back to the ballot box. There's therefore significant leftwing support out there if it can be motivated.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 9/19/2005 02:50:00 PM

it's not really a difference between left and centre-right though, it's centre-left + left v centre-right + right - those pesky swinging centrists! and i guess also that there will be new voters (youth and immigrants) entering the equation, while older voters ah, leave (ex-pats still being able to vote of course).

in a way it's hard to say now what is a big change for a third term centre-left govt, because MMP is so new. we're probably going to have to wait 50 years before we know whether you or I are right Anita (and i don't know about you but i'll possibly be too old to recall this by then ;-) )

i suspect part of the drop in turnout for 2002 was the Alliance supporters who didn't show up. I don't have the link to hand, but Joe Hendren did some numbers on this a while back. Many of those people still wouldn't have had a reason to get out of bed in 2005. The same could possibly be said for those Act supporters who didn't think Rodney could make it.

Posted by Span : 9/19/2005 02:59:00 PM


I think the disappearance of the left wasted vote from 2002 is a concern even tho it hasn't altered the electoral outcome. To my mind it means that either they've just given up, or that this time they cast a non-wasted left vote, which leads to the conclusion that a decent chunk of labour's 2002 voters must've voted further right.

Either way it raises concerns for us as a society. Is there a chunk of the left which is just giving up trying? Or is there a gradual drift left occuring? (hard left -> left -> centre-left -> centre ->centre right)

Neither of those gives me a great deal of optimism about our long term future.

Posted by Anita : 9/19/2005 04:30:00 PM

Anita: you can always take comfort in the thought that if the current struggle over the Treaty and diversity is a generational one, then three more years of Labour means three more years of people growing up with the Treaty and with an environment of respect for diversity, and three more years of old people with old values dying.

That doesn't win the economic argument, of course, but it makes it a hell of a lot easier to win the social one.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 9/19/2005 04:42:00 PM

that's a good point I/S, about diversity. as we grow as a society then more people (read: straight white men) are likely to know others who are radically different from then, eg Maori, PI, not-strictly-hetero, etc.

And that is an interesting part of the rural/urban split of this election - especially given that 75% of Maori now live in urban areas, how often does your average Jo Farmer or Jill Small Town encounter those who are markedly different from them?

But then maybe I'm blinkered about provincial life, as a big city dweller my whole life.

Anita, have you read Oracles and Miracles? that really brought how to me the disenfranchisement that many on the hard left feel :-(

Posted by Span : 9/19/2005 04:58:00 PM


Actually I think that the social argument is the easier to win. NZ doesn't have a strong fundamentalist Christian political lobby (and given the recent CHP and Exclusive Brethren debacles I can't see a resurgence soon) so a gradual drift toward more liberal social attitudes should occur - hurrah! :)

Race is the scarey one - as NZ becomes more multicultural we come to a point where we can become more inclusive or more xenophobic. I have great faith in our collective experience as migrants and children of migrants - but then I think about Orewa and anything Winston says. Then I look at the drop in Winston's vote and regain my optimism.

It's the economic argument that is IMHO hardest to win, and perhaps the most important. It doesn't matter if we have an inclusive socially liberal society if it's structured so that the economic gulf between the haves and the have-nots is practically unbridgeable. If our ghettos are created by economic pressures rather than xenophobia they're still ghettos.

So how will we win the economic argument?

Posted by Anita : 9/19/2005 05:02:00 PM


This probably belongs in another thread, but...

All this talk about the gap between rural and urban. Has anyone seen any comparative figures with the gender, age or ethnic gaps? My gut feel would say that the rural/urban split is eclipsed by the split between different ethnic communities and ages, and perhaps even genders.

Posted by Anita : 9/19/2005 05:06:00 PM

I agree Anita - it's clear to me that National targets Pakeha, particularly men, and it seems that older people are more conservative, both socially and economically. I suspect that that is the breakdown we would see in the rural areas - older white men being predominant. I'm not basing that on anything remotely objective of course, just an impression.

I had Aaron Bhatnagar on a bit when my partner received a direct mail from the Mt Roskill National candidate when I did not. At first I thought it would be because they were after men, but then I worked out that it was the fact that he has a common Pakeha last name, whereas mine is quite unusual. The electronic Electoral Roll that parties receive doesn't have ethnicity information, so the only way you can target ethnic groups is to search for last names that fit.

This would also be why a Pakeha friend of mine with the surname Lee received a letter from Lynne Pillay in Waitakere in 2002 urging her to vote for the party that strong links to the Chinese community ;-)

we seem to have got a bit off the point, so here's a swerve back in that direction - given that Maori and PI are rising as a percentage of our population, while Pakeha are falling, and the way those demographics fall in terms of voting, you would expect the centre-left vote to slowly slowly grow over time.

And conversely I think there's a chance that any strong Christian lobby in NZ could grow out of the Pacific Island churches of South Auckland.

Posted by Span : 9/19/2005 05:22:00 PM

I/S - I hope that a Labour-led government can cement social and policy changes, but "generational identity" may not be a particularly important frame of reference on all issues.

On, say, support for changing the flag and becoming a republic there may be a direct correlation with age.

But the "one law for all" rhetoric taps into a liberalism that is actually very common among younger people. The language of formal equality has an inter-generational appeal. The difference may be for the under-30s (or under-40s maybe) that it isn't associated with outright hostility to minorities.

I would hypothesize that an overwhelming majority of people under-40 would support removing Treaty principles references from legislation. Ditto preferential government consultation with Maori.

In any case, there seems to a universal human readiness to believe that "someone else is getting a better deal than me and it's not fair."

Posted by dc_red : 9/19/2005 05:30:00 PM


Rhetoric is exactly the issue :)

I think that the vast majority of NZers believe in appropriate consultation. Very few people would think it was fair to consultant over an issue affecting the whole community by running public meetings on Weds, Thurs and Friday at 11am. I can't imagine thaty many more people would think consulting with a south Auckland community by running a single meeting at 10am on a Sunday was a Good Plan. Or consulting with the disabled community about the design of a public library but refusing to discuss how toilets will be designed and sited.

When we hear "preferential consultatation with Maori" we balk at the word "preferential".

The fact the government has to make an effort to consult well with Maori is simply a consequence of the fact they've done it pretty badly for decades. If all we talked about was what the government needs to do to ensure it consults with everyone well then the same things would happen - but no-one would get so wound up.

Posted by Anita : 9/19/2005 07:01:00 PM

Quite fortunaely, there are lots and lots of schismatic proddy churches - and I think that a 7th day Adventist wouldn't vote Destiny, for instance. Which ought to limit the growth of christian sect-based parties - while the threshold stays..

Posted by Rich : 9/19/2005 07:14:00 PM

I enjoy the bone-picking as much as anyone. But I can't help thinking ... what if today's weather had arrived 48 hours earlier? What deep conclusions would we have drawn from a turnout 5 or 10% lower? What would we be claiming as self-evident truths about NZ in 2005? Would the right have won?

Fortunately, as the Brethren have told us, governments are in fact chosen by God. So He delayed the icy blast just long enough for the result He favoured!


Posted by Anonymous : 9/20/2005 12:18:00 AM

i suspect part of the drop in turnout for 2002 was the Alliance supporters who didn't show up.

Good point. I know for a fact that a lot of people who vote Green wouldn't otherwise vote at all. Probably the same was true for the Alliance.

The Greens are in the position of being the only party to the left of Labour (Maori party being a special case) : this is a bad idea for a number of reasons :

1) diversity brings the punters out : more people enfranchised, good for everyone (more votes for the left, good for everyone too!)
2) Greens get ghettoized as a "left" party, when in fact it's a lot more complicated than that. There used to be a lot of crossover of National voters voting Green, this no longer happens to any extent I think.

Posted by Anonymous : 9/20/2005 01:49:00 AM

> does anyone haev any idea how I should categorise "the South Island Party"?

Centerist I think. Possibly center-left like the scottish nationalist party? having said htat its only about .14% of the vote (or was that .14% of a single vote.... ?)

Posted by Genius : 9/20/2005 07:36:00 AM

Simon - i was thinking about that too, in the context of a whole lot of Canterbury people being unable to vote - I wonder if there is anything in the Electoral Act about it?

Alistair - i agree about the diversity - i worry that as the wasted vote falls non-voters are actually going to increase. The concentration on Parliamentary parties, almost to the exclusions of those outside, could ultimately result in a disenfranchisement of those whose views do not match those already represented :-(

Genius - i thought the South Island Party (SIP!) were mostly farmers opposed to measures like the RMA, and thus more centre-right?

Posted by Span : 9/20/2005 09:51:00 AM