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.*
- show the National Party has just 60 out of 121 seats, or 49.59% of seats on 47.04% of the party-list vote. The Green Party picked up a seat in exchange. No electorates changed hands, although wherever I mention specific vote totals or differentials, they could be slightly different in the final count. I will leave the rest of this post unchanged.]
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.
Thanks to Manuel’s page at Election Resources, we can readily check the list votes alongside the aggregated electorate (nominal) votes. National’s candidates collectively ran a little behind their party (46.8% vs. 48.1%), although that is a minor difference. Labour’s candidates ran far ahead, with 34% vs. just under 25% for the list. However, this is not because of great candidates–except maybe Stuart Nash, a former MP not running on the list, who won back the Napier seat. Labour’s nominal vote is so high because Green voters often give their electorate vote to the local Labour candidate. So do many New Zealand First voters. For these two parties, there was, as there usually is, substantial attrition off their list vote (from 10% to 6.6% for Greens and from 8.9% to 3.2% for NZF).
A seat I was following was West Coast-Tasman. This has been a close race between National and Labour before. In this election, Labour incumbent MP Damien O’Connor won it again. His votes were more than double his party’s list votes in the electorate, and still almost 3,000 more than the sum of Labour and NZF list votes, plus the number of Green votes remaining after their own candidate’s votes are subtracted. (NZF did not run a candidate.) By contrast, the National candidate, Maureen Pugh, ran more than 3,000 votes behind her party. It seems like a pretty clear case of split-ticket voting for the Labour incumbent; in other words, a personal vote rather than a strategic one, as O’Connor must have picked up a chunk of National list voters.
Why might O’Connor have such a personal vote? There could be many reasons, but one might be his vote for a bill that his party opposed, regarding relaxing logging restrictions following a major storm that downed many trees in this heavily forested district. (I can’t find that link now; sorry.)
This district was also where I saw a sign in the 2011 campaign warning against the pesticide “1080”.
This was an issue that United Future took up in that election (I saw signs for UF that said “ban 1080” on the South Island) in its (failed) quest for sufficient party-list votes to get a seat other than the safe electorate of its leader, Peter Dunne. In this year’s election there was actually a party registered under the name Ban 1080, and one of its candidates, Pete Salter (Businessman; Possum hunter), actually managed to come in third in the electorate vote in West Coast-Tasman. With 2,141 votes, he outpolled the Green candidate, Kevin Hague (2,024, which was about half what the Green Party list vote was). But the Ban 1080 list won only 855 votes in the electorate. It is an interesting protest vote in that so many voters were willing to cast their electorate vote for a candidate with no chance, but not their more precious party vote. (Again, it seems many voters really do understand the relative importance of the two votes.)
Coromandel is another rural district I like to watch. This is the one place where the Greens have ever won an electorate seat (in 1999, when their passing the threshold was in doubt). It continues to be a place where the Green candidate outpolls the party’s list–something that has happened in each election since 1999, despite their not having come close to winning the seat again. Aside from 1999, when Labour “lent” electorate votes to the Greens, it has been a safe National seat. This district is also where the Ban 1080 leader, Mike Downard, ran. He, too, outpolled the Ban 1080 list, but, with just 373 votes, not nearly as impressively as Salter in West Coast-Tasman. (Downard is a former deputy mayor of Tapuo, which is not anywhere near Coromandel.)
A few other Green candidates outpolled their list in the electorate contest, defying the usual trend of strategic voting for the local Labour candidate. For instance, in Tamaki, a safe National seat, Dorthe Sigaard received about 500 more votes than the party. Her list position (#55) was far too low to have a chance of winning. It is an interesting case of a “hopeless” candidate nonetheless having a “personal vote” (if we assume that any case of a candidate outpolling her party, but not being one of the top competitive candidates in the district, is evidence of a personal, rather than strategic, vote). The Green candidate in Tamaki Makaurau, a Maori district, also ran ahead of the list. Maybe it’s just a Tamaki thing.
However, neither co-leader Russel Norman in Rongotai nor the other co-leader, Metiria Turei, in Dunedin North, outpolled the party. Rongotai voters had some options: a candidate for the Climate Party got 53 votes and the Patriotic Revolutionary Front candidate got 48; the revolution has to start somewhere. (Options for those Rongotai voters who think Norman has sold out the Greens?)**
The Green candidate in Northland, David Clendon, did not outpoll the party. But he saw a much lower attrition from the party list than most of his listmates (from 3,244 to 3,094). Maybe that campaign event regarding Northland roads paid off.
The electorate of Epsom is always interesting. This is the one seat ACT won, with their candidate David Seymour coasting with 13,921 votes to National’s 9,398. On the list, ACT had a mere 881, but National had 19,961. Of course, even though National runs a candidate here, it essentially “lends” electorate votes to ACT to get the combined right an additional seat (and potentially more, although ACT’s nationwide list votes were again insufficient for a second seat).
The photo below by Errol shows the National strategy in Epsom well. The sign for the party shows only PM Key, not their candidate in the electorate, and has a prominent banner saying “your party vote is crucial”. By contrast, the sign right next to it, for ACT, shows the party name quite small but prominently says “David Seymour Epsom”, all in the same size type.
I also like the New Zealand First sign, at the left, which is policy-focused: “GST off; It’s common sense”. The Greens’ sign is quite different from all their signs that I recall from 2011: it does not make a policy statement, it just shows the co-leaders looking very official outside the Parliament building, and reminds voters to give them the party vote.
East Coast Bays is another one with unusual vote patterns, because it is where Conservative leader Colin Craig ran. He finished second with 4,556 votes, but far behind National’s Murray McCully. He had more than 2,500 votes more than his party’s list, while McCully’s 17,907 was 659 votes behind his party’s list. It would appear that some National voters were trying to help him the same way their counterparts help ACT in Epsom, even though there was no such deal announced here. This district also saw the Green slightly ahead of the party vote; and our friends at Ban 1080 pulled off the same (a not-so-impressive 203 candidate votes but only 41 for the list!).
The Conservative candidate in Napier also did well, despite finishing third. In fact, he won more votes (7,135) than Craig did in East Coast Bays and more than the party list (2,113), despite this being a relatively competitive electorate between Labour and National (decided for National by 3,733 votes, with about half that margin being the amount of attrition from the Green list to their candidate). Chalk up a “personal vote” to Garth McVicar, the Conservative candidate and former head of the Sensible Sentencing Trust.
Congratulations if you made it this far, thereby showing you are at least as fascinating by split-voting in New Zealand’s MMP system as I am!
* As of this writing, it is still possible that final results could result in National having 60 of 121. However, a contact in New Zealand tells me that this now looks less likely than it did on election night.
** The Climate Party ran one other candidate, in Auckland Central. The PRF had no other. Neither party registered a list.