New Zealand 2020 preview

New Zealand’s general election will be 19 September (grrr, they are holding it on Rosh HaShanah). Given the generally good record of the government of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in handling COVID-19, at this point the question seems to be, how big will her win be? And how much will her two coalition partners suffer as Ardern’s party gets most of the credit?

Through today, there have been seven recent polls that have put Ardern’s Labour Party over 50% in votes. If this were to happen on election day, it would make for the first time since the mixed-member proportional system was first used (1996) that a single party won a majority of seats or votes.

The last poll showing the main opposition National Party ahead was conducted in February. The party has changed leaders not once, but twice, since then.

Obviously, with a majority, Labour would not need to take on coalition or support partners. However, it likely would want to retain its relationship with the Green Party and thus retain the latter in some decidedly junior position. That is, assuming the party clears the threshold. Even the polls that show Labour as far up as 60% (!) still show the Greens over 5%. So, it may be a close call, but they should at least remain in parliament. There seems to be only one poll in several months that has them below the party-vote threshold (mid-May, at 4.7%).

The other partner in the incumbent government, New Zealand First, is languishing far below the threshold in all polls. Its only faint hope for survival would be if it can take back the electorate (single-seat district) of Northland. The party’s leader, Winston Peters, won this seat in a by-election five years ago. The National Party won the seat back in the general election of 2017. Its candidate for the seat in this election, Shane Jones, is making his pitch for the seat.

For far too long we have tolerated substandard National Party representation for our Northland area. No power or influence. No bite and, in fact, not even a decent bark.

The just-linked NZ Herald article remarks that the by-election showed that “the government [then led by the National Party] knew so little about the North that it thought bridges were what everyone wanted.” Jones has said that most of the promised bridges were never built. (So, evidently they do want bridges, even if that’s not all they want.)

The episode is a nice reminder of how distributive politics can come into play in the MMP system. Despite effectively nationwide proportional representation, the district races are an opportunity for local factors to enter into the campaign. Nonetheless, it would seem a very tall order for New Zealand First to repeat in a general election what it pulled off in the by-election. With National crashing so badly nationwide, however, perhaps it is not out of the question that local National supporters could vote for Jones. The latter has emphasized that he could be in cabinet, while the National member would be an “obscure backbench MP,” continuing the alleged neglect of the region by both Labour and National. (Never mind that NZF is unlikely to be back in cabinet no matter what, if their votes are not needed, as they were after the 2017 election.)

Meanwhile, Peters has launched his party’s campaign with the rather odd slogan, “Back your future.” He is really pushing the idea that he is the only thing standing between New Zealanders and a radical government pulled further left by the Greens. It is about the best case he can make for a vote for his party. Given the overall competence Ardern has exhibited and the fact that the Greens would have hardly any leverage if Labour wins a majority on its own (or even if it is merely close to a majority), it is not a claim with much reality behind it. Still, the always colorful Peters has said that being in government has allowed him and his allies to block “woke pixie dust.”

The Greens are also looking for ways to differentiate themselves from both of their partners. Co-leader James Shaw remarked,

We’ve known for a long time, that the closer we got to election, the more likely it was that NZ First would start misbehaving.

…If you look at some of the difficulties that the Government has had over the last three years, a lot of them have come down to NZ First ankle-tapping them and blaming them for saying they can’t get anything done.

I know they like to say they are a force for moderation; it’s more like an agent of chaos.

Green MP Jan Logie has also called attention to New Zealand First’s opposition to the Sexual Violence Legislation Bill, which she is championing.

The Greens are also at work differentiating themselves from their senior partner, albeit with less divisive words, and a policy focus. For instance, they oppose Labour’s policy on charges to New Zealanders returning from abroad and needing to quarantine. (National supports Labour’s plan, so the latter can pass it without the Greens’ support in the current parliament.)

Peters and David Seymour, the leader of another small party, Act, have done their part to keep the campaign especially classy.

Act is enjoying a bit of a surge lately, from polling oblivion a few months ago to 5% in one recent poll and over 4% in several. It just might survive. Seymour currently holds an electorate seat. Because New Zealand’s MMP has an alternate threshold–five percent of the party-list vote or a single district win–there is a chance the party could elect more than one member for the first time since 2008 even if it remains below 5%. I’d think their odds are reasonably good, as some more ideological right-wing voters may see National has hopeless to form a government and vote Act.

The current government was a somewhat strange one when formed. Labour’s 2017 result was ten seats behind the then-governing National. Even with Green support the left-leaning post-electoral combine was two seats seats short of National (54-56). They needed New Zealand First (9 seats) to choose them over National, which of course it did. Now the government looks to be one more case for the common political-science finding that governing as a junior partner is perilous for a party’s electoral support. New Zealand First may be shut out of parliament altogether, and the Greens may be down a seat or two from their 8 in 2017 and facing a partner that possibly has a majority on its own.

New Zealand to have referendum questions on 2020 ballot, potentially including “tweaks” to MMP

Earlier in December, the Justice Minister of New Zealand, Andrew Little (Labour) announced that there would be a binding referendum on recreational cannabis use concurrent with the 2020 general election. There may also be a question on euthanasia, and–of core interest to this blog–electoral reform.

Earlier, Little had said:

It has been floating around that if we’re going to do a bunch of referenda, why wouldn’t we put this question about whether we want to make those final tweaks to MMP, reduce that 5 per cent threshold to 4 per cent, get rid of the one-seat coat-tailing provision.

These proposals were part of the Electoral Commission’s MMP Review, but the government at the time (National-led) did not act on them.

The multiparty nature of the New Zealand political system that MMP has institutionalized is apparent in these issues being on the table. Having a referendum on cannabis use was a provision of the confidence and supply agreement that Labour signed with the Green Party after the 2017 election. In addition, Labour’s other current governing partner, New Zealand First, has indicated support for a bill on euthanasia sponsored by the leader of ACT, another of the smaller parties (a right-wing partner to opposition National).

Both provisions that the MMP Review recommended changing have had past impacts on current parties. The ACT has depended for its representation in parliament on the so-called coat-tailing provision (a term I do not like for the alternative threshold) in several elections. The New Zealand First once was left out of parliament for having a vote share between 3.5% and 5%, despite other parties (including ACT) being represented, due to winning a single district (electorate) plurality. (Obviously, 4% would not have helped NZF in 2008, as it had only 3.65%. But the point is that the current provisions produce potential anomalies; I have suggested before that the two thresholds should be brought closer to one another.)

Also of note: Little said that the cabinet had discussed, but decided against, having a citizen’s assembly to deliberate issues related to cannabis (and perhaps also euthanasia).

MMP weekend: Germany and New Zealand 2017

We are entering days of convergences. Over the next two days, the Jewish and Islamic new years and the first day of Autumn coincide. Then, on the weekend, we have the convergence of elections in the two countries that offer our best examples of mixed-member proportional (MMP) representation electoral systems: Germany and New Zealand. (Lest I be accused of hemispherism, let me hasten to note that in one of those countries, the election will be the day after the start of spring.)

In the case of Germany, which votes Sunday, there really has been no doubt for some time that the CDU/CSU alliance would place first, but it will be down from its 2013 result. There is also little doubt that the two parties that missed the 5% party-vote threshold in 2013 will clear it this time: the center-right FDP and the far-right AfD. The SPD, which briefly flirted with the lead in the polls some months after changing its leadership, looks like it may struggle to break 25% of the vote. The real question is what the coalition will be, after the election results are known.

I would expect the SPD to want a period of opposition to recollect itself after what looks sure to be another disappointing result for the party. Thus it may not be willing to renew the current CDU/CSU+SPD big coalition (what we should stop calling a grand coalition; my more direct translation of the German term is more apt). If the FDP has enough seats to combine with the CDU/CSU, we might see a return to the center-right combo that governed from 2009 to 2013, as well as in many past terms. There is just enough error in the projections from polling to allow for the possibility that this could be a viable combine. (Mouse over the numbers in the table at that link for the range of vote and seat projections for each party.)

However, the most likely result seems to me to be Jamaica! I will admit to rooting for this: CDU/CSU + FDP + Green. (The name refers to the parties’ colors.)

In New Zealand, the contest for Saturday’s election is much more uncertain. For months it seemed National, which heads the current multi-party governing arrangement, was cruising to another win. Then Labour changed its leader and surged (similar to the German pattern). By a few weeks ago, the two largest parties were running neck and neck, while the Greens stumbled badly and looked at risk of failing to clear the 5% party-vote threshold. This scenario was posing a potential difficult challenge for center-left voters: Do you vote Labour to bolster its formateur status (as the largest party, although there is no formal right of first attempt to the largest in New Zealand)? Or do you vote Green to ensure there is a viable partner for Labour other than Winston Peters and his New Zealand First (NZF) party? Given that the electoral system is MMP, you can do both: vote for Labour in your district (electorate) and vote Green on the list. However, while that might be a voter’s way of making a statement of preferred coalition, only the party vote affects the overall balance of seats in parliament. (Some exceptions to that statement, as I will get to below, but none likely relevant to the Labour-Green situation discussed here.)

In recent days, some polling suggests that National might be pulling ahead again. The result could be very close, and it could be a situation in which NZF is pivotal (although that may be less likely than it seemed some weeks ago). That is, assuming NZF makes it. The party has been tending downward and is hovering near 5%, as are the Greens . Here is where the electorate (district/nominal) vote comes in. The threshold provision for a party to participate in nationwide proportional allocation is 5% of party-list votes or one electorate. (Additional MPs elected beyond the electorate candidate are what I have termed “piggyback MPs“, not to be confused with that other MMP creature, the “shadow MP“.) The Greens do not have an electorate where they are viable, but NZF does.

Peters, the NZF leader, currently holds an electorate seat, Northland, having won it in a by-election in 2015. He is the party’s candidate again for the seat. If he retains it, his party would qualify for additional list seats, even if it fell below the 5% party-vote threshold.

The other electorate contests that matter include the one in Epsom, although it is not really a contest. The seat is safe for the one Act MP, David Seymour, who is quite certain to return. It is probably not likely that the Act party vote will be sufficient to earn the party a second seat, although I saw one projection a week or so ago that suggested it was possible. Act has been a governing partner with National since 2008.

Then there is Waiariki, one of the Maori set-aside seats. (Voters who claim Maori descent can choose to vote in their special Maori electorate or in the general electorate seat in which the reside.) Te Ururoa Flavell is fighting to hold the seat, which is the only way his party will retain a presence in parliament. That is quite a change for the party, which has been a National governing partner since 2008. In the past it has won as many as five electorate seats (in 2008) and in 2014 it had sufficient party votes to win a list seat for the first time, in addition to its win in Waiariki electorate. This time, it may end up with just one seat–or zero.

One electorate we know will not matter this time is Ohariu. United Future leader Peter Dunne resigned in August, after a 33-year career as an MP. This effectively kills the party, which has been a support partner to every government, whether led by Labour or National, since 2002. Only in 2002 did the party clear the party-vote threshold, and since 2008, Dunne has been its only member.

In an interesting twist on the Ohariu story, the Greens had initially decided not to contest the seat, in order to give the Labour candidate a chance to defeat Dunne and thereby knock a National partner out of the government-formation equation. When Dunne resigned, the Greens announced a candidate for the seat. With Dunne not running, there is no scenario in which this electorate will matter for the parliamentary balance, so there was no reason for the Greens not to have “local face” on the party (even though many of its voters will split their vote and give their electorate vote to the Labour candidate anyway). Running a candidate is thus another example of what I have called green contamination.

Two MMP elections in one weekend. Now that will be something to watch!

 

Should New Zealand do away with by-elections?

In New Zealand’s MMP system, there are by-elections if there is a vacancy between general elections in a single-seat district. This is not a mandatory feature of MMP systems; Germany, for example, has no by-elections. A vacancy in a district is filled off the list of the party of the vacating member.

Nigel Roberts, a leading New Zealand expert on elections and electoral systems, writes in the Dominion Post that New Zealand should end the practice of by-elections. In making the case, he refers to a by-election in the constituency of Mt Albert, which is a safe Labour seat. The Labour Party’s candidate in the by-election, Jacinda Ardern, already is an MP, via the party list. Thus the effect of her winning (which she did) is simply to shift the type of mandate she has*, and have her replaced as a list MP by the next available candidate on the Labour list from the preceding election.

Roberts suggests adding a regional component to the lists in order to ensure that the replacement is from the same region as the district in which the vacancy has occurred.

A potential problem with the proposal is the fact that sometimes a by-election really does shift who controls a district and sometimes can even change the nationwide balance between parties (as happened in a recent case in Northland district). Roberts takes the position that this is better avoided, so as not to change potentially the majority for the government. “Party votes cast in general elections should make or break governments – not electorate votes cast in by-elections,” he says.

I am curious to know what readers think of the proposal.

* As well as, sadly, deprive us of my favorite case of a list MP “shadowing” the district-elected MP.

New Zealand flag finalist…

The first of the two rounds of deciding on a potential new flag for New Zealand has been completed. The winner is Silver Fern (Black, White, and Blue). It will go head-to-head (hoist-to-hoist?) against the current flag in a second postal ballot next March. The proposed alternative shares with the current flag the stars of the Southern Cross.

This round selected from five alternatives, using a preferential (ranked-choice) ballot. The winning option did not lead on first preferences. That leader was ” Silver Fern (Red, White and Blue)”, which had 41.76%, against 40.16% for the eventual winner. The leader in first preferences was the only one of the five designs without black in its color scheme. Apparently, via the sequential elimination and then transfer of preferences, the consensus was fern and stars with some black.

This first round originally was to be among four alternatives, but a social-media campaign of especially passionate supporters managed to get a fifth design, Red Peak, included. Red Peak, however, did not fare so well, coming in a distant third with 8.69%. Another silver fern option, which was all black and white, and a black-and-white Koru design ended up way back.

The preferences round by round suggest the Red Peak was by far the second choice for Koru supporters. When black and white fern was eliminated, its ballots put the black-white-and-blue fern design in the lead, narrowly, for the first time. This made Red Peak the swing bloc, and those ballots split 54.34%-45.66% for–perhaps a little ironically–the option with no red on it–but with that consensus black. The final count was a vote division of 50.53%-49.47% between the two fern-and-stars design.

The long list from which the five ballot contenders were selected by a panel had 39 options. The panel had 10,292 designs to sift through.

NZ Greens first block bar-opening, then relent

There was an interesting little tussle between the ACT New Zealand and the Greens this past week. The matter concerned a private member’s bill that would allow the opening of bars in the wee hours of the morning so that New Zealanders could gather to watch live matches at the next Rugby World Cup (which will be played in Britain next month).

The bill was sponsored by the sole ACT MP, David Seymour. As I understand the parliamentary procedure (with the help of some New Zealand friends), if a private member’s bill does not win the regular lottery for consideration by the House, it is possible for an MP to introduce it directly. However, this requires unanimous consent to proceed. The Greens turned down this request.

RNZ:

ACT leader David Seymour said, under his bill, licensed premises would have been able to open for an hour before a match started, and an hour after it had finished.
But the Greens’ health spokesperson, Kevin Hague, said the party could not support the bill as it had the potential to cause real harm to communities.
He said the move was a ham-fisted attempt by Mr Seymour to be a ‘man of the people’ but it actually had the potential to cause real harm to communities.
“Under David Seymour’s bill, boozed-up people will be spilling out of bars just as parents are dropping their children at school or are on their way to kids’ weekend rugby and netball games.”
Mr Seymour called the Greens “party poopers” after they blocked the bill.

However, the very next day, the Greens changed course and allowed the bill to go ahead. RNZ again:

Mr Seymour told Parliament ACT had offered to make changes to the bill to get the Greens’ support.
“Politics is often the art of compromise and if this bill emerges with at least the All Black games and finals applied to then that, I believe, will be a great victory,” he said.

The article has some brief overview of the concessions (which seem minor to me).

I have to wonder if the Greens really wanted to garner a reputation as the party that is against World Cup viewing in bars. One further report that I heard on RNZ suggested that the party took a great deal of criticism for the initial veto.

The bill seems now set to go ahead with National Party support and Labour declaring it a personal (free) vote.

By-election in New Zealand

Winston Peters, leader of the New Zealand First Party, has won a by-election in the electorate of Northland.

In the mixed-member proportional (MMP) system in New Zealand, unlike the generally similar one in Germany, by elections are held to fill vacancies in single-seat districts. In this case, the winner is a sitting list MP. So what happens next? There is no party vote in a by election, nor is the compensation mechanism engaged in any way. So when Peters relinquishes his list seat to take up the electorate, his party would be entitled to a fill the list seat with the next candidate on its own list. In other words, the party can gain a seat by this mechanism!

As it happens, NZF may not exercise its right to claim a new seat; it may simply leave the seat vacant. (Updated: It looks like NZF just might take the additional seat to which it is entitled after all.)

Peters won with a little indirect assist from the Labour Party, whose leader admitted in the days before this election that its candidate had no chance. He said that Northland voters “are going to look around and they have to make the decision about what’s best. If they want to say they are sick and tired of being neglected, they are going to have to decide how they do that and vote accordingly,” said Andrew Little.

Peters held an electorate seat as recently as 2005, Tauranga, which is rather far from Northland. He is, however, originally from Northland.

Below is a comparison the results, showing only those parties that won at least 5% of the votes in either the 2014 general election or this by election; “–” indicates the party did not run a candidate in the given election.

Party 2014 list 2014 nominal 2015 (nominal)
National 17,412 18,269 11,347
NZF 4,546 15,359
Labour 5,913 8,969 1,315
Green 3,855 3,639
Conservative 2,243 1,555
Total 35,707 35,056 28,468

The most dysfunctional and undemocratic parliament in the Commonwealth?

On ipolitics.ca, Frances Russell reviews Democratizing the Constitution — Reforming Responsible Government, by Peter Aucoin, Mark D. Jarvis and Lori Turnbull.

Russell begins the review by declaring that “Canada has the most dysfunctional and undemocratic parliament in the British Commonwealth.” She subsequently indicates that the book’s proposal is that:

Canada should follow the lead of its sister Commonwealth countries Britain, Australia and New Zealand and codify the principles of parliamentary democracy to ensure the players — voters and politicians — understand the playbook and stay within the rules.

Because themes of this sort are a frequent topic of discussion around here, I thought I would open up a new thread.

Thanks to Wilf Day for the link.

Vexing vexillological questions

New Zealand will go ahead with a referendum on its flag. In fact, two referenda, following a similar process to the electoral-system referenda that the country has held in 1992-93 and again in 2011: an initial selection from several choices, followed by a later binary choice between the status quo and the proposed change.* Both would be held in 2016. From ABC:

The first, at the end of next year, would ask the public to choose a preferred design from those selected by a panel of notable New Zealanders.

The second referendum would pit the winning new design against the current flag in 2016.

Stuff NZ has an image of one possible alternative, which retains the Southern Cross in addition to a fern. Another that is a silver fern on black has been widely discussed.**

The political parties will recommend members of “a cross-party panel”, and public consultations will follow, to select the options to be put to voters.

Questions for readers: Aside from the obvious (and, by all accounts, wildly successful) Canadian case, are there other democratic countries that have undertaken a major flag re-design?

There are, of course, numerous cases of authoritarian governments that have changed their country’s flag unilaterally. And, new democratic states have needed to adopt a flag (India, Israel, etc.). But ongoing democracies do not change their flags often. I can’t think of another case aside from Canada, but maybe someone else can.

An aside: is there any notable debate about the flag in Australia? Or other long-term democracies that anyone can report?

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* But apparently without the first referendum having a simple “keep or change” option in addition to a set of “change” possibilities. In the 2011 electoral-system referendum, the “keep MMP” option passed, rendering the choice among alternatives moot. Thus the second-stage referendum was not held, unlike 1992-93.

** Which, to me, looks too much like the national rugby team’s banner. Or that of ISIS.

New Zealand split-vote results released

The New Zealand Electoral Commission has released the split-voting statistics from the 2014 general election.

This is a great service provided by the Electoral Commission, showing in each electorate (district) what percentage of voters for each party list cast their vote for that party’s candidate or any other candidate in the electorate. To make it even better for those who like analyzing voting statistics, they offer CSV files.

The NZ Herald offers a summary of key electorates.

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.*

    [

UPDATE:

    The

final results

    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. 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.

ElectionSign2014_01flr
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.

ElectionSign2014_04flr
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).

Green contamination

Political scientists who study mixed-member systems often refer to a concept of “contamination”.* One can find somewhat different meanings of the term in different works, but the most common conceptualization is the entry of candidates in nominal-tier districts where they can’t realistically win, but where their presence may help boost the list. The notion of “contamination” assumes that we should see a reduction towards two significant parties in the single-seat district, but this reduction may be retarded because of smaller parties’ vote-seeking for their party lists. The reasoning goes: the party may fail to mobilize supporters for its list if it is seen to have abandoned the district by not running a candidate.

Is the concept realistic? Scholarly literature is mixed (so to speak). But sometimes politicians act as though they believed political scientists. The Green Party in New Zealand seems to believe in contamination. (That was a fun sentence to write!)

First-term Green MP Holly Walker, elected form the list (like all Green MPs), is withdrawing her candidacy, according to the NZ Herald. Her list candidacy, that is. The article further notes,

Ms Walker, who will still contest the Hutt South seat in order to help the Greens’ party vote, said she was announcing the decision with “real sadness”.

So, even though she won’t be returning to parliament, her electorate campaign remains active, in order to attract votes to the list.

The NZ Green Party is an especially tough test for the contamination thesis, because Green voters in recent elections have shown a very strong tendency to split their tickets, strategically voting for the local Labour candidate. Ticket-splitting runs against the grain of the contamination thesis, which several authors have said is valid only to the extent that voters are generally reluctant to split their tickets.

However, the basic notion of contamination, as I articulated it above, is that the party can’t be seen to have abandoned the district. To do so would reduce their ability to get list votes. The logic does not actually require that voters vote for the district candidate. It only requires that the party’s putting a human face on the list by nominating a candidate in the district helps the party’s list vote. That seems to be precisely what the Greens and Walker are counting on.

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* Other authors call it “spillover”. A short bibliography on the topic (and I should note that not all these authors claim to find such an effect, and some specifically argue against it):

Cox, Karen E., & Schoppa, Leonard J. (2002). “Interaction effects in mixed-member electoral systems: Theory and evidence from Germany, Japan, and Italy.” Comparative Political Studies, 35, 1027-1053.

Crisp, Brian F., Joshua D. Potter, and John J. W. Lee. 2012. “Entry and Coordination in Mixed-Member Systems: A Controlled Comparison Testing the Contamination Hypothesis.” The Journal of Politics 74 (02): 571–583.

Ferrara, Federico, & Herron, Erik S. (2005). “Going it alone? Strategic entry under mixed electoral rules.” American Journal of Political Science, 49, 16-31.

Herron, Erik S., and Misa Nishikawa. 2001. “Contamination Effects and the Number of Parties in Mixed-Superposition Electoral Systems.” Electoral Studies 20(1): 63– 86.

Karp, Jeffrey A. 2009. “Candidate effects and spill-over in mixed systems: Evidence from New Zealand.” Electoral Studies 28(1): 41–50.

Ellis S. Krauss, Kuniaki Nemoto and Robert Pekkanen, “Reverse Contamination: Burning and Building Bridges in Mixed Member Systems,” Comparative Political Studies, Vol. 45, No. 6 (June 2012), pp. 747-77.

Moser, Robert G., and Ethan Scheiner. Electoral Systems and Political Context. Cambridge, 2012.