Wednesday, September 27, 2017

This is MMP working, not failing

Writing in Stuff, Julian Lee argues that MMP has failed because so few minor parties were elected to Parliament this election. I share the disappointment at the lack of diverse representation and the apparent narrowing of our political sphere, but that isn't due to any failure of MMP. With a Gallagher Index of 2.7, this election wasn't especially unrepresentative in terms of votes equating to seats. MMP seems to have done a better job at ensuring that seats reflected public support than it did last time (when the Gallagher Index was 3.82), or in 2008 (when it was 3.84). Instead, the reason there are so few minor parties represented in Parliament this time is because people didn't vote for them. And that's not the fault of MMP - or at least, no more so than in any previous MMP election.

So whose fault is it? Minor parties can fairly point the finger at the media, who excluded them from debates and whose horse-race style of journalism implicitly stacked the deck against them. And they can point the finger at the election broadcasting rules, which seem designed to lock in a big party duopoly by preventing other parties from buying advertising. But that's the unfair game they've had to play for the last 21 years. They've done better at that game in the past, so fundamentally they have no-one to blame but themselves for their worse performance this time.

That's not to argue that MMP is perfect. As Lee notes, many countries use no-threshold electoral systems, and this would have produced a much more proportional result (and TOP would probably be showing us right now whether their plan of supporting environmental vandals to save the environment would work). As I've argued before, the 5% threshold is an arbitrary and undemocratic barrier to political competition, and it needs to go. But even without it, the blunt truth remains: if parties want to be represented, they need to persuade people to vote for them. And if they can't, they have no-one to blame but themselves.