NZ 2020: Strategic coalition voting?

Earlier, I noted that in the New Zealand 2020 election, the Labour Party flipped several seats in mostly rural single-seat districts that are normally strongholds of the National Party.

Commenting on those swings, North Canterbury Federated Farmers president Cameron Henderson said:

There were definitely “strategic farmers” voting Labour in an effort to avoid a Labour-Greens government.

He added a caveat, that most of the vote swings in these seats came from urban voters within predominantly rural electorates. Nonetheless, his confidence that there were strategic farmers is a nice anecdote regarding what some political scientists have regarded as strategic voting motivated not by who can win locally but by which parties may form government.

As I noted in my election preview in late July, there were only two likely outcomes of this election: A Labour–Green coalition or a Labour single-party majority. There were no occasions over the last several months when a National-led government was likely based on any publicly available evidence. For most farmers, a government in which the center-left Labour Party has a parliamentary majority is a much more palatable outcome than one in which that party needs the Greens for its majority.

8 thoughts on “NZ 2020: Strategic coalition voting?

  1. Pingback: MMP in NZ: An example of “best of both worlds” in action | Fruits and Votes

  2. There is much less media talk of Labour voters switching to Green as Labour ruled out various potential progressive policies (as well as the Green’s much more active approach to addressing climate change) over the course of the campaign – especially as polls showed the Greens consistently above the 5% threshold. There are definitely people attempting to use the Greens to try to pull Labour back to the left.


    • Yes, that is a fair point, and is also entirely consistent with the theory of coalition-targeted (and policy-motivated) strategic voting. And I do not doubt that some of that happened, and is indeed the most likely reason the Green Party slightly beat its polling numbers.


  3. A similar thing supposedly happened in Victoria’s 2018 State election. The Liberals/ Nationals were unlikely to win, the Greens were surging in support, so the options on the table were Labor-majority or Labor-Greens alliance of some kind. So – allegedly – a significant number of centre-Right voters switched to Labor to block the latter contingency. Query whether it would have been simpler and more transparent if the LNP’s leader had said “If Labor wins the most seats but not an absolute majority, our MLAs will abstain on supply and confidence matters so that Labor can govern on its own, not beholden to these dangerous radicals on their left”; but given the long traditions of the two-party Punch-and-Judy show, that wasn’t going to happen.
    On the one occasion that Hare-Clark in the ACT gave one party a majority on its own (2004-2008), Labor formed a single-party ministry and did not offer the Greens any portfolios.


    • ‘… [L/ NP] Opposition leader Matthew Guy’s dire warnings of a Labor-Greens minority government have been assisted by the Greens themselves publicly fantasising about forming the “most progressive government” in the state’s history. This is usually sound Coalition strategy – but not, perhaps, when there’s a wide expectation among voters that Labor will win, either in minority or majority, and some who would otherwise support the Liberals vote to ensure the minor party doesn’t get anywhere near the Treasury benches…’
      Peter Brent, “Victoria votes,” Inside Story (24 November 2018),


  4. Election 2020: There is no evidence National voters backed Labour to keep the Greens out
    This is the case with the theory currently being circulated by some Federated Farmers branch presidents and others that a large contingent of the rural vote backed Labour in order to keep the Green Party from being needed to govern.
    At this point there is no evidence this happened at sufficient scale to seriously change the election result.
    But the theory is very useful for people in the sector and on the political Right who need to explain why a Government supposedly at war with the regions got so much support from them – and to pressure Labour to not give the Green Party an inch of power.

    A bunch of data analysis by the Stuff team


    • Thanks, Errorl. I guess we won’t really have a good handle on this till we get the NZES results. But I note that one of the skeptics quoted there is among the leadership of the NZES team, so I would take her reservations quite seriously.

      On the other hand, the majority-minority difference here was so slight that it would not take all that many voters (not just farmers, by the way) wanting to stop the Greens to have put Labour over the top.

      The data viz is cool. Of course, it shows what we knew: It was a huge swing. It does not tell us which percentage of the swing was a sincere pro-Labour/Ardern vote and which was strategic stop-the-Greens. To be clear, I would expect the latter to be small, but would not be surprised to find it was a factor. Whether it was decisive in the majority or not is the key question. I just hope there are questions in the NZES that allow us to figure it out!

      For the time being it is just, as I said in my initial remarks, an anecdote.


  5. conservative New Zealanders in 1992, 1993 and 2011: “Vote for first-past-the-post, so we can have strong government and fiscally sound policies!”
    conservative New Zealanders in 2021: “National has lost the plot, but thankfully with PR we can simply switch our votes to ACT without splitting the vote and handing victory to Labour by default.”


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