New Brunswick election 2014

The Canadian province of New Brunswick held a general election on 22 September. Notwithstanding some problems with the vote-tabulation system, and several lead changes during the night, the Liberals won by a good margin: 42.7% of the votes against 34.7% for the Progressive Conservatives (PC). The seats split 27-21, giving the Liberals 55.1% of the seats and an advantage ratio (%seats/%votes) of 1.29. This is not particularly remarkable by the standards of plurality (FPTP) systems, and is nothing compared to some significant anomalies the province has experienced in the past (see previous posts).

The Green Party won a seat. It had 6.6% of the vote province-wide. Its one victory was in the riding (district) of Fredericton South, where it won 31% of the vote, against 26% for the PC, 22% for the Liberal, and 20% for the NDP. Not even a third of the vote–sometimes plurality is good for small parties. But not as good, obviously, as the proportional system (of the MMP type) that was formally proposed but for which the planned referendum was cancelled–by a party that had just won on a plurality reversal. (I said NB elections had been anomalous!)

A “populist” party known as the Peoples Alliance elected no one on its 2.14% of the vote, but it did miss in one riding by a mere 27 votes. The NDP won no seats despite 13% of the vote. I am not sure how closely it missed in key ridings. Of course, it is hardly unheard of for a third party to win no seats under plurality rules despite such a substantial vote total. Nor is it unusual for a fourth party to win a seat despite having half the votes such a third party. It is a disproportional system, especially given the small assembly size, and regional distributions of support are critical. It is hard to argue against the proposition that New Brunswick should dust off that old proposal for a new electoral system.

New Zealand 2014 election result

Preliminary results from the 20 September general election show the National Party has won 61 seats out of 121. Thus, by one seat, it has a majority in its own. Despite having a majority, it is likely to continue to govern with confidence-and-supply agreements with the same partners it has had for its previous two terms: ACT, United Future, and Maori Party. National will want to retain good working relationships with other parties, given that a majority is not likely to be a common occurrence under Mixed-Member Proportional (MMP); indeed, it is the first majority since the system was put in place in 1996. Moreover, with just one seat over the 50% mark, trying to govern alone could be precarious.*

It must be noted that this majority is manufactured by the electoral system. That might seem like something that “should not” happen under MMP with nationwide proportionality. But two points. First, National is very close to 50%, currently on 48.06%. Partly the reason “fully” PR systems rarely manufacture majorities is that such high vote shares are fairly unusual. Second, New Zealand’s proportionality is limited by the 5% threshold, and with one party, the Conservatives, having obtained 4.12%, there are some wasted votes. Just excluding this party’s votes, National has 49.93% of the remainder. At this moment, I suspect Prime Minister John Key and his party are very pleased with themselves for not having adopted the Electoral Commission’s recommendation to reduce the threshold to 4%. With a lowered threshold, the Conservatives likely would have won five seats (perhaps more, as they might have picked up more support had it been apparent that a vote for them was not wasted), and National would have had 2-3 fewer.

One of the other notable features of the outcome is that the Maori Party won a list seat for the first time. It was a bad result for them overall, as they won only one electorate (district) seat. In the past, the party had won 4 (2005), 5 (2008), and 3 (2011) seats, all of them electorates. This time, they easily retained the one but were not close in any other. Their 1.29% of the list vote was just enough to qualify for a second seat under the alternative threshold (what New Zealanders call coat-tailing, although I would prefer a different term).

It was a quite bad result for Labour (24.7%, 32 seats) and a disappointing one for the Greens (10%, 13 seats, a loss of one from their current high at the 2011 election). It was a very good result for New Zealand First, with 8.9% and 11 MPs.

The Internet MANA alliance failed to win a seat, probably because the anticipated backlash did indeed occur. Voters in the one supposedly safe MANA electorate heavily voted strategically to keep the MANA leader out, thereby also obviating any chance that Kim Dotcom’s lavish spending would put some Internet Party MPs in office due to the alliance. (And to think, some folks still insist that MMP is too complex for voters to figure out; this case seems to suggest such a view is quite wrong!)

A glance at MANA leader Hone Harawira’s electorate of Te Tai Tokerau, one of the Maori special seats, makes the strategic voting quite apparent. The winner was Labour candidate Kelvin Davis, who received almost two thousand more votes than the Labour list received from the electorate’s voters. Normally, I might just attribute that to the Green list voters, who numbered 1,821. However, many Green voters might actually have wanted Harawira to make it in, because Internet MANA was another potential block of left-leaning votes in parliament. New Zealand First (2,805 list votes) and National (1,659)–neither of which contests Maori electorates–certainly will want to claim credit for defeating Harawira (and Dotcom). We will have a better idea when the Electoral Commission releases its split-voting analysis. (Also of note: The Green Party contested four of the seven Maori electorates; this was one of those in which they did not enter a candidate.)

In a comment at an earlier post, Manuel offers an interesting further observation on Internet MANA:

Incidentally, of 30,363 votes polled by Internet and Mana electorate candidates – as it has been pointed out here before, the two parties ran separately in the electorates (although never against each other) – 26,521 were for eighteen Mana candidates, and the remaining 3,842 votes for the fifteen Internet Party candidates, including 1,057 for party leader Laila Harré in Hellensville (where her poor fourth-place finish with 3.6% of the vote was by far the party’s best showing).

Harawira seems to have made a pretty serious miscalculation in forging his alliance with Dotcom.

I will now offer a few semi-random observations on specific electorates and smaller parties. Continue reading

Small party electoral strategy

The strategy of parties, especially smaller ones, in multiparty systems is a particular interest of mine (a statement that will surprise no one). Here are a few interesting examples from the current New Zealand campaign.

One area of interest is about… interests. What interest groups do small parties cultivate for support?

Greens want to spend millions backing NZ game developers” was a headline on TV NZ on 12 September. Green Party Co-leader Dr Russel Norman says, “Game developers are currently locked out of the government support and grants that other creatives receive. Our plan remedies this anomaly”. Computer game developers are not an interest group I normally think about, but the Green Party has acknowledged them.

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Photo credit: Errol Cavit, in Maungakiekie electorate. Used by permission. I am not there this year, so I rely on Errol for my election-sign photos. But you can still see my collection from 2011!

OK, so what about the racehorse industry? Check. Winston Peters recently reminded voters of “a 10-point plan from New Zealand First to save the racing industry”. In fact, earlier in the campaign, he gave a speech to the New Zealand Trainers’ Association. In the speech he claimed credit for past good deeds when he was Racing Minister in a Labour-led government:

In 2006, New Zealand First recognised the export potential of the New Zealand breeding industry and the need for improved international marketing, and achieved a much improved taxation regime through a reduction in totalisator duty and an accelerated write-down regime for bloodstock.

Peters added an allegation that “Over the past six years National has done nothing for the racing industry.”

Returning to the Greens, of course, the party is mostly an urban-based party. However, one of the characteristics of nationwide proportional representation is that votes anywhere help increase your aggregate seat total. And so the Greens’ co-leader Norman and their transport spokesperson, Julie Anne Genter, campaigned in the rural far north on their plans to make rebuilding storm-battered roads a priority. “Ms Genter said central government’s roading priorities meant there was not enough investment outside big cities.”

Additionally, Greens did a photo-op* at a dairy farm to announce their “Smart farming for clean rivers’ policy”. I suspect that one, unlike the one regarding roads in Northland, was mainly aimed at urban consumers. But the party does seek (and, apparently, receive) votes from the small-farm sector, especially organic and “sustainable” farms. Not to be outdone in this policy niche, a big party, National, has emphasized that its primary industries policy takes into account that:

Environmental sustainability is increasingly important to consumers around the world and this is a priority for National. We are cleaning up waterways and carefully manage fishing stocks, including the creation of two recreational fishing parks in the Hauraki Gulf and Marlborough Sounds.

National’s primary industries spokesman Nathan Guy also noted that “We will continue to support carefully-targeted irrigation projects that will deliver economic and environmental benefits for New Zealand.”

I must admit that I am happy New Zealand’s legislative term is just three years, and that it has a thriving multiparty system. These characteristics of NZ politics keep things interesting!

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* The linked item has the photo and caption, but the story is about “Greens need to compromise to get ahead”. This is something that some of their subsequent statements indicate they are well aware of.

New Zealand general election 2014

This Saturday is the general election in New Zealand. There seems to be little doubt that National Party Prime Minister John Key will remain in office. However, there is considerable question about what the shape of the post-electoral deals will look like. A New Zealand Herald article goes over the possibilities (some of which may be remote).

The current government was formed from agreements signed by Key following the 2011 election with the Act, United Future, and Maori parties. The latter party is likely to be much diminished, and there has been considerable speculation that Key may need to turn to the New Zealand First Party to make a deal.

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Photo credit: Errol Cavit, in Maungakiekie electorate. Used by permission. I am not there this year, so I rely on Errol for my election-sign photos. But you can still see my collection from 2011!

In fact, NZF leader Winston Peters has suggested in recent days that “the media seem to have overlooked one option entirely, a Labour-New Zealand First combination on coalition or confidence and supply.” Anyone who has followed New Zealand politics since about 1996 knows that Peters likes to make himself indispensable, but not pre-committed, to either side. So here he goes again. In the same statement, Peters said voters should be “disabused of the notion” that NZF would allow the Green Party to “promote extremist policies” in a Labour-led government. This statement, too, has echoes of the past. In 2005 his bargaining position was strong enough to prevent Green entry into the cabinet, despite Greens and Labour having campaigned as each other’s preferred partners.*

Among the things to watch in this election (in addition to Internet Mana, discussed here previously) is whether the Conservative Party makes it in. Key had earlier announced that the National Party would not give a free ride to the Conservative leader, Colin Craig, in his electorate as it is doing in Epsom (for Act) and Ohariu (for United Future). Craig will have to make it on his own, by having his party clear 5%.** In late July a New Zealand Herald editorial suggested:

This will be a good election for small parties. Whenever one of the main parties is polling as low as Labour has been this time, some of its supporters give their votes to other parties in the hope of having more influence on the government. Winston Peters will be trying to harvest those dislocated Labour votes and he has complained that the Conservatives are copying his positions on many issues.

It also notes that Key may have calculated, “probably correctly”, that to make a pre-election commitment to help Craig and his (socially) Conservative Party would cost National more votes from the public than his seats would be worth. But if he makes it in anyway, there’s another force on the right to bargain with. This analysis may prove correct, and as the earlier-linked item on government possibilities noted, Craig would not demand a lot for support.

There is much more to be said about the likely performance of various parties in this election, and what the post-election bargaining might look like. So I will step aside for now and let readers say it…

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* The linked news item does contain an error in its recounting of the 2005 precedent, however. It says, “In 2005, Helen Clark led a minority government with the support of NZ First, United Future, and the Greens on confidence and supply.” Actually, Greens did not sign a confidence and supply agreement following the 2005 election, settling for a much weaker “cooperation agreement”.

** In New Zealand’s MMP system, a party needs 5% of the party-list vote or one district (electorate) win. If it attains an electorate, it qualifies for more seats from its list if its list vote would be sufficient for 2 or more seats (thereby waiving the 5% threshold).

Two more AfD breakthroughs in German state elections

Hard on the heels of clearing the 5% threshold in the Saxony elections, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) has won a chunk of seats in both Brandenburg and Thuringia. The party went over 10% in both states.

There is even speculation that the Left Party could get its first premier, because the current CDU-SPD coalition (Christian Democrats and Social Democrats) is well short of a majority of the vote in Thuringia. (The two parties had combined for 49.7% in 2009, and easily won a majority of seats in that election.) The Left Party (28.2%) is in second place to the CDU (33.5%), with the SPD third (12.4%). Greens won 5.7%. The three-party bloc of Left-SPD-Greens coalition has 46 seats, the same as the CDU-SPD bloc. Either would control a bare majority of the assembly’s 91 seats. (The AfD is the only other party to have won seats, and has 11; no one is interested in it as a coalition partner.)

In Brandenburg, the SPD retained its plurality, with 31.9%. It currently governs with the Left as a junior partner. The Left, which won 18.6% in this election, is down 9 seats from the last election. The two parties’ combined strength of 47 seats is still a majority in the assembly of 88 seats. SPD (30) + CDU (21) is also a possibility. In additions to the 11 new seats for the AfD, a party called Brandenburg United Civic Movements/Free Voters broke through and won 3 seats. Given that its list vote was only 2.7%, it obviously won on the strength of single-seat district wins.

The Free Democrats continue their collapse. They had 7.6% in Thuringia in 2009 but managed a mere 2.5% this time. It was even worse in Brandenburg, where the FDP won only 1.5% of the vote.

Before the election, federal Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose CDU is in coalition with the SPD (and the Bavarian CSU) warned against the possibility of a Left-SPD alliance in Thuringia, saying:

There’s a big national party here, the SPD, with a proud history…who would have thought that. A big, proud party like the SPD is making itself small.

Merkel’s remark is a tad self-serving. She has a vested interest in the SPD not trying out new partnerships with the Left (in addition to those states where such a coalition already has worked). Given her lack of partners, with the unattractive (for the mainstream) AfD replacing the FDP on the right, she needs the SPD to be a wiling junior partner for her party.

As I noted before the last federal election, small is exactly what the SPD has become, and its coalitions with the CDU are nowadays somewhat less than “grand”.