New Zealand election: November 8

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark today called an election for November 8, initiating what seems an astoundingly long eight-week campaign. Wikipedia scribes explain that while the latest possible date was November 15, the country’s elections are normally held in September. With Labour tanking in the polls throughout the year, Clark has presumably taken a Howard-style option of a late election and a long campaign in the hope her rival, National Party leader John Key, will stumble before polling day.

Failing that, Clark can hope that New Zealand’s mixed-member proportional electoral system allows her to cobble together some kind of majority with minor parties. Currently represented are populist New Zealand First (seven seats out of 121 at the 2005 election), who are presumably in trouble following Winston Peters’ recent travails; the Green Party (six seats), who normally hover around the deadly 5 per cent representation threshold but can be expected to do well if Labour is on the nose; the Maori Party, who hold four of the seven designated Maori seats and for all I know are expected to do as well this time; religious-cum-centrist United Future New Zealand (three seats), who will need leader Peter Dunne to hold his electorate seat of Ohariu to maintain representation; free-market liberal Act New Zealand (three seats), who likewise need leader Rodney Hide to retain Epsom; and the Progressive Party (one seat), whose future is presumably tied to that of sole parliamentary member Jim Anderton, 70-year-old member for the electorate of Wigram.

Labour won 50 seats in 2005 and retained government in coalition with the Progressive Party, backed by New Zealand First (Peters was made Foreign Minister, but stood down a fortnight ago pending a police investigation into alleged failure to disclose donations) and United Future. The Nationals won 48 seats, up from 27 in 2002.

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.

26 comments on “New Zealand election: November 8”

  1. GP, New Zealand has about the same population as Queensland, which has 89 MLAs, 29 MHRs and 12 Senators for a total of 130 MPs (remembering that NZ doesn’t have a sub-national tier of government).

  2. The National Party looks a certainty here. Presumably governing in coalition or with the support of like-minded minor party/ies.

    Election coming up in Canada too. My tip: an outright majority for the Conservatives.

  3. Can someone who knows what is going on explain to me what that huge drop in the Labour Party’s vote i is in February last year?

    Also William – you labelled the New Zealand Labor Party as ALP 😀 Force of habit perhaps?

  4. The Nationals are absolutely not a certainty.

    They are in the lead, sure, but the Labour Party is in a much better position regarding coalition partners.

    There are six crossbench parties in Parliament. Progressive has one seat and is unlikely to get anymore, it’s basically a bonus seat for Labour. United Future has been reduced to two seats and I doubt will do much better this time, and I can’t see Gordon Copeland (the rebel UF MP) being re-elected.

    The Maori Party holds four of the seven Maori seats. The other three are held by Labour and I expect the most likely outcome is Maori winning 6 or 7 seats. Yet they are unlikely to get anywhere near enough party votes to justify those seats, resulting in an overhang. There’ll be lots of Maori who cast their party vote for Labour or Greens while voting Maori for their electorate, resulting in a couple of bonus seats for the left-of-centre parties.

    The Greens are doing much better than last time. I think we’ll be closer to 10 seats than our current 6. In the 2002-5 parliament there were nine Greens. So if the Greens and Maori between them won, say, 15 seats between them (a relatively conservative estimate).

    On the other hand, NZ First are doing very badly. They lost Tauranga in 2005 which means if they fall below 5%, like they did in the 1999 election (after their last experience in government), they will get no representation. Tauranga looks like sticking with the Nationals. Helen Clark has suspended Winston Peters as Foreign Minister over a donations scandal and John Key has ruled out working with NZF. I’m betting they won’t win any seats.

    The only other party is ACT. Everyone ruled them out in 2005 but they held on when Rodney Hide won Epsom. They only hold two seats, but National has moved much further away from ACT since 2005 (when Don Brash was called “the ninth ACT MP”). They have also got former Finance Minister Roger Douglas attempting a return to Parliament in #3 position. I doubt they’ll crack 5%, but they’ll get enough to get maybe 3, 4, 5 seats.

    In other words, you’ll have, in my scenario, 16 left-of-centre minor party MPs (1 Progressive, 7 Maori, 8 Greens), 5 ACT MPs, and maybe 2 United Future on the centre. This would mean the Nationals could substantially outperform Labour and still lose. This is not over.

  5. Ben,

    Good wrap. You obviously follow NZ politics closer than I. I concede I hadn’t paid much attention to the likely fate of the minor parties.

    But I question your assumption about what the Maori Party would do. They showed no willingness to work with Labour after the last election; which is why Clark was forced to team up with the minor right-wing parties.

    So why would the Maori Party save Clark this time around? Might they be more likely to conditionally support Key should National end up with a clear plurality of seats?

  6. I wonder How much of an issue the electrification of the Auckland rail network will be?

    The National support it but have a history of calling off rail electrification plans in Auckland (1955ish, 1975).

  7. [ Can someone who knows what is going on explain to me what that huge drop in the Labour Party’s vote i is in February last year? ]

    I know nought, but Wikipedia tells me Don Brash (former leader of the Nationals) quit parliament in Feb 2007, after handing the leader job over to John Key in Nov 2006. Maybe that was it? The polls look very similar to the ALP/Lib one in Australia during / after when Rudd took over from Beazley, so if that’s an analogy, Helen Clark’d better start looking for another job.

    Oh, and…

    (insert obligatory sheep joke here)


  8. I don’t know if anyone lives/has lived in NZ recently, but if so I’m curious as to the interest there in the US election.

    At a guess, I would suspect it be marginally less than Australia’s – but not by a lot. It is making news everywhere after all.

    I remember in 2004 there was, albeit temporarily, a bit of fuss made over the potential that our election date could clash with that of the US’s. If I recall, the theory went ‘if Howard goes after Bush and Bush gets knocked out, Howard’s chances are going to look pretty bad, so Howard is going to want to go before Bush’.

    This of course was at the height of the Iraq War and the ‘Three Amigos’ – Bush, Blair and Howard.

    I’m wondering therefore whether there is anything to be read by the fact the NZ election is just after the election in the US? Almost certain there is not (can’t see how Helen Clark can tie herself to the result) but it is food for thought.

  9. Max,
    I just can’t see how the US result will matter to this.

    If Obama wins, it’s time for a change. McCain wins, the right is ascendant. Either way the US election contains a good story for the National Party, if it happens to be winning at the time.

    And ditto for Labour, if (less likely, but possible I guess) it happens to be ahead at the time.

    I think your reference to Iraq explains why this was discussed here in 2004 – Bush and Howard were seen as being very close.

  10. This election is not over let me assure you all.

    I have been to NZ twice this year for work with the NZCTU and I am in regular correspondance with the Labour movement in NZ. I believe I can add my perspective on polling trends

    Firstly, the sudden massive drop in Labour support earlier this year came immeadiately after Labour passed laws that would stop parents being allowed to smack thier kids. It was actually about parental abuse which allegedly happens in certain Maori and Pacific Islander communities at a concerning rate. The Nationals did a good job of framing the issue as being about the right to smack your kids and it was amazing the public back lash.

    This was accompanied by a new Nat leader who took the K Rudd approach of being a nice teflon coated fellow with a unhealthy dose of “mee-too-ism”. This was proving a very successful startegy for the Nat party.

    The very recent upward turn in Labour support and downward turn in Nat support has come as a result of two things.

    Labour Leader Helen Clark has begun to play a clever game with policy debate, putting the wood on the Nats to either show they have some substance or show they have none. She is building the story line that the Nats are hollow and that messgae is gaining some traction- she is not without cunning and ability I assure you.

    Secondly, the Nats true neo-liberal agenda is starting to leak out of the party’s inner sanctum in very damaging dribs and drabs. Some Crosby Textor push polling was stolen and distributed to media. A proposal to cut back the workers compensation system was “found” and at a recent Nat policy convention, some “activists” illegaly bugged a policy debate where Nat members discussed doing “nasty things” to voters if they won. This was also released.

    Needless to say the teflon is scratched up pretty bad and the me-too-ism is getting a pretty solid shake up by the Clarke stategy.

    Personally I find it interesting the similarities in approach of NZ Labour and the former Aus Libs. I find it even more interesting the similarities between NZ Nats and Aus ALP. Looking forward to this election.

  11. Dave,

    I’m wondering if you could offer some sort of perspective as to what the minor parties are likely to do this election, and how much influence they are likely to have in regards to who forms government? The wikipedia article is disappointedly (and actually unusually) skimpy on those details.

    There is still a chance the Nationals could win a majority in their own right (I sincerely doubt Labour will.) So what do the other parties do in such a situation? Would it be a similar story to the current WA election – government goes to the highest bidder? Or are there informal alliances present? Or are there parties who vow to give supply votes to the party who wins the most seats/popular vote?

    I vaguely remember NZ First stating last election that they would never block supply and consequently vote with the government on those confidence matters, but not much else. It’s a very strange system they have in NZ, and while it has its merits I imagine it can be unbelievably frustrating for the government of the day. Mind you, in reality it probably isn’t any different to the Australian system, where minor party support is generally required to pass legislation in the Senate anyway.

  12. New Zealand has a mixed member proportional voting system so it is inherently diffcult to win a majority in your own right. However this Government is on the nose.

    The Nationals won 48 seats the last time around, up from 27 in 2002. Labor only won 50 and had to gain support of minor parties to govern. It would be fair to say the mood of the nation will deliver Government to the Nat’s in their own right.

    Labour 45 – 50
    National 61
    New Zealand First 0
    Other Minor parties 10 – 15

  13. Big Blind Dave

    Beware the mutterings of your brethren across the ‘ditch’. I doubt they have a good handle on the realities of the New Zealand pysche, which is by natural inclination far less left leaning than Australia.

    New Zealand never had a ‘Eureka’ moment and the union movement was sorted out long long ago by Robert Muldoon (in the 70’s).

    Labor generally only gets into power when the Nationals have made a ‘balls up’ of it all. Seldom becasue they actually appeal to the electorate in their own right. (Which is I think similar to the situation with the Libs in WA – they are looking likely only because Labor botched what should have been a realatively easy job – what with the boom and everything).

  14. Re my above poll expectation. I would expect all of the NZF vote to return to the National ‘fold’ after the debacle that is Winston Peters. This starts National off on the right track with effectively 48 members + 7 NZF seats = 55.

    Therefore only need 6 seats from Labor and the minor parties to take control.

    Not a big ask given the sentiment in the country but it is hard to tell with the mixed member proportional system because many MP’s get in because they are on the ‘List” and are not diredctly voted for.

  15. Thanks for the question Max and now I have given Elf a chance to pose and answer all his own questions….(just stirring Elf)

    I am certainly no expert on NZ elections. I have been asssiting the broader labor movement with some work generally relating to the Rights@Work campaign we had here in 2005-07 and this has included some interesting polling of NZ voters. Of course there are many many differences in the political environments, so I am not saying there is a Rights@Work campaign the same as we had.

    The minor parties will play a big role in this election. My understanding is that they kind of do now, although Labor has not needed to form a coalition with the greens currently as there are enough other sympathetic parties to get them the confidence.

    There are very few minor parties that will join with the Nationals in a coalition in most electoral cycles, they dont sit close enough to the centre, but do occupy the broadest slice of the right. There is of course the Act party who are way out to the right and their support for the Nationals is something I believe is something the Nats will not want talked up.

    Elf, I apreciate your concern about me being mislead by my comrades in NZ, but i can assure you the events that i mentioned have actually just happend and the narrowing will actually happen also- it has begun.

    If Labor are even close to a position to join with minor parties to form government after this election it will be a minor miracle. They have been in for very (many say too) long and the previous failed Nat government is a distant memory for most.

    In my opinion, Elf’s pick for seats is well thought out. It is not impossible that it could be the actual result and Labor could still form a government on those numbers.

    The advantage a well prepared labor movement has in this system is that it is not compolsory voting. Turn out or “mobilisation” is what good unions do better than any other organisations in society. I mean when was the last rally you remember where thousands of Libs hit the streets to support something their party was doing?

  16. Good thoughts BBD. Traditionally the conservative vote is higher if it rains on the day. No, seriously that is true.

    It seems the labor voter would rather stay at home on these days and because it is voluntary voting, they can!

    Heres hoping for rain eh?

  17. Nats paying $1.26 and Labor $3.70

    I wouldnt put money on the Nats at those odds. But if you predict a slaughter then lay $1000 on it.

    Labor odds will shorten- but you can all give me a hard time if they don’t.

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