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).