Kiwi kapers

Going by the opinion polls (of which this campaign has had an over-supply), tomorrow’s New Zealand election promises to be a humdinger. Fairfax NZ’s Stuff website has been making life easier by publishing weekly aggregates of no less than six separate polls, the projections from which have run as follows:

The talk of the late campaign has been an apparent surge in support for the National Party, largely credited to the promised tax cuts that have formed the centrepiece of their campaign. While poll results have been erratic, most have shown the Nationals surging ahead of Labour in the final two weeks. Of course, a mere lead over one’s opponent is not enough in a system where majority government is all but impossible. Coalition outcomes should never be second-guessed, but the most likely scenario for a change of government – a partnership between Nationals and New Zealand First, whose support they cannot take for granted – looms as a definite possibility, particularly if they can get United Future New Zealand or ACT on board. A lot depends on the combination of minor parties holding the balance of power, and this is where life in New Zealand gets complicated for the casual election watcher.

The Poll Bludger has done his best to explain New Zealand’s silly electoral system once previously. The point to remember is that minor parties need either 5 per cent of the vote or at least one constituency seat to win seats proportional to their national party vote. This means minor parties usually fall into one of two categories, depending on which criteria they meet. The Maori Party, Jim Anderton’s Progressive Coalition and United Future New Zealand are all likely to win representation because they have members who in Australia would be entrenched as independents. The New Zealand system offers such people the incentive to maintain their own minor parties as they can usually win at least one bonus list seat. The type of party that relies on a 5 per cent party vote to win representation is more familiar from Australian experience, and currently includes the Greens and ACT. In the middle is New Zealand First, which has usually been considered likely to meet both criteria.

Polling over the long term shows that support for the Maori Party, founded last year by former Labour MP Tariana Turia, has faded after an early burst of enthusiasm. Huge leads recorded last year in Te Tai Tokerau and Te Tai Tonga have disappeared in recent polling. Party co-leader Pita Sharples is still ahead in Tamaki Makaurau, but by a much reduced margin. The party is still favoured to win in Waiariki and Turia’s electorate of Te Tai Hauauru, while Labour appears well in the clear in Ikaroa Rawhiti and Tainiu.

ACT looked gone for all money, but a Roy Morgan poll suggests Labour may have inadvertently thrown them a lifeline in the electorate of Epsom, home base of leader Rodney Hide. The party had been suggesting locals would rally behind Hide since he seemed certain to lose his list seat safety net, unlike National Party incumbent Richard Worth. To this end it furnished the media with extremely dubious poll results that had Hide in front, which wise heads saw as an attempt to strengthen the party’s weak hand in pre-election horse-trading with the National Party. Labour however took the threat seriously, despite polls showing Hide was no better placed to win the seat than in 2002 when he came third behind the Nationals and Labour. In an illustration of the absurdities of MMP, Labour thought it best to withdraw their candidate from the race (although he remains on the ballot paper) and encourage a vote for the National Party, since a win for Hide might also have delivered ACT up to two extra list seats. The Morgan poll shows that voters in the seat felt this was "inappropriate" and reacted by rallying behind Hide, who led Worth 39 per cent to 32 per cent.

Another wild card is the possibility that the Green Party or New Zealand First will fail to win representation, which is unlikely but worth keeping an eye on because of the potentially momentous impact. Since they have no serious prospect of winning an electorate seat, the Greens will get six seats if they win 5.0 per cent of the vote and nothing if they get 4.9 per cent. In the latter case, the Nationals would be particularly well placed to put together a government. Conversely, there is the prospect that New Zealand First will not make the cut. The party has been on a pronounced downward trend in the past three months and is not assured of meeting the 5 per cent threshold. This will not matter so much if Winston Peters maintains his hold on the seat of Tauranga, but a poll last fortnight showed him well behind National Party candidate Bob Clarkson. For better or worse, that was before revelations emerged about Clarkson’s "earthy" sense of humour, which made it on to radio news bulletins as far away as the Poll Bludger’s home town of Perth.

As mentioned previously, the New Zealand Electoral Commission offers this MMP seat allocation calculator that lets you convert votes to seats – providing you pick the important electorate contests correctly. All and sundry are predicting that Jim Anderton of the Progressive Coalition and Peter Dunne of United Future New Zealand will retain their respective seats of Wigram and Ohariu-Belmont, although the Poll Bludger will keep an eye on them just in case. Beyond that, the only electorate seats that are likely to be worth your trouble are the aforementioned Epsom and Tauranga, plus all of the Maori seats.

Author: William Bowe

William Bowe is a Perth-based election analyst and occasional teacher of political science. His blog, The Poll Bludger, has existed in one form or another since 2004, and is one of the most heavily trafficked websites on Australian politics.