New Zealand election: November 26

New Zealand will hold one of its triennial national elections tomorrow, and all the polls suggest the ruling conservative National Party stands on the cusp of an extraordinary achievement: a parliamentary majority achieved under a proportional representation voting system. The final poll from New Zealand Herald-Digipoll has the National Party on 50.9 per cent, while Roy Morgan (a phone poll of 959 respondents) has it at 49.5 per cent. The opposition Labour Party on the other hand is languishing on 28.0 per cent and 23.5 per cent respectively. The National Party is nonetheless a few points off its peaks from earlier in the campaign, and intricacies of the electoral system mean a simple majority of the vote might not be enough to translate into a majority of seats. But with two minor parties including the substantial Act New Zealand committed to support a National Party government, Prime Minister John Key’s hold on office looks secure in any case.

Under the mixed-member proportional system, voters are given a “party vote” as well as voting in first-past-the-post elections for 70 constituency seats. It is the party vote which is of interest to casual observers, as it ultimately determines the partisan composition of the parliament. In addition to the constituency members, 50 “top-up” seats are allocated in such a way as to give each party a share of seats more-or-less proportional to its share of the vote – provided they either clear a 5 per cent threshold of the national vote or win a constituency seat. The other peculiarity of the New Zealand electoral is the seven single-member Maori electoral districts: voters opt to be on either the Maori or the general roll, and exercise their constituency vote accordingly.

For the latter reason, the only constituency seats of interest to non-local observers are those which might be won by minor party candidates whose parties poll less than 5 per cent nationally. Success will entitle them to between zero and five extra seats, depending on the size of their party vote. Barring surprises, the only two seats which appear to fit the bill are Epsom, held by Rodney Hide of free-market liberal Act New Zealand, and Ohariu, held by Peter Dunne of the religious-cum-centrist United Future New Zealand. Act New Zealand currently has five seats in parliament on the back of its 3.6 per cent party vote in 2008, which would have been zero if Hide had lost his seat – although he in fact won very easily. Dunne on the other hand retained Ohariu narrowly, and United Future did not score enough party votes to win further seats. The 2008 election also saw the parliamentary demise of the once-prosperous New Zealand First party after its leader Winston Peters lost his seat of Tauranga, and it fell below the threshold in the party vote. However, the polls suggest it has undergone a surprising (to me at least) revival: their support is at 5.2 per cent from Digipoll and 6.5 per cent from Roy Morgan. Peters is top of the party’s list, and is not contesting a constituency seat.

The other operative minor parties are the Green Party, the Maori Party and, to a lesser extent, the Mana Party, a breakaway from the Maori Party formed when Hone Harawira resigned from it (New Zealand electoral law then obliged him to face a by-election in the seat – his success presumably stands him in good stead to retain the seat tomorrow). The Green Party won the seat of Coromandel in 1999 but has otherwise relied on clearing the threshold to win representation. It had a struggle achieving this until its vote lifted to 6.7 per cent in 2008, and is expected to do substantially better this time, with polls consistently indicating a vote in double figures and a representation of at least 14 seats (although Australian experience suggests they might not meet such lofty expectations). The Maori parties make the outcome in the seven Maori seats relevant to the final party totals, giving the Maori Party in particular the opportunity win substantial representation without clearing the threshold. The party won five seats in 2008, one of which it lost with Harawira’s departure earlier this year, but this time it will be encumbered by vote-splitting with the Mana Party. The other two Maori seats are held by Labour.

As noted at the beginning, the peculiarities of the system can distort the proportional conversion of votes to seats. Firstly, the capacity of the Maori Party in particular to win more constituency seats than its party vote would entitle it to can result in an “overhang”, meaning a greater number of seats in parliament than the normal 120. Its five-seat haul caused this to happen for the first time after the 2008 election, boosting the total number of seats to 122. This affects the National Party’s chances of winning a majority as its share of the vote will only be converted into a share of the base 120 seats. Another theoretical possibility for an overhang is that the National Party will so completely dominate the constituency contests that it will emerge with more seats than its party vote share allows. To do so it would need to win as many of 60 out of the 70 seats. Without having investigated the situation too closely, this doesn’t seem to me to be entirely implausible in circumstances where one major party is so completely dominant in a single-member electoral contest (witness the New South Wales state election). Another point in the National Party’s favour is that they will benefit from the 5 per cent threshold, as votes for parties which fail to reach it will be excluded from the seat calculation – hence lowering the bar to obtain a majority of seats.

The other feature of tomorrow’s poll will be a non-binding referendum on the electoral system, with all indicators pointing towards the retention of mixed-member proportional. Voters will first be asked if they wish to keep MMP or change to another system, and then given four options to choose from if MMP is abolished. Two of these – first-past-the-post and Australian-style preferential voting – involve a complete reversion to a single-member constituency system and the abolition of proportional representation. A thirde, the Australian Senate-style single transferable vote, would do the opposite – constituencies would be abolished and all seats determined at national level (CORRECTION: Martin B in comments points out that the plan is to have 24 to 30 districts proportionally electing between three and seven members, giving minor parties much higher hurdles to clear – what is known in the trade as “low magnitude” PR). Finally there is the “supplementary member” system, which would be similar to MMP except that the party seats would simply be allocated according to the parties’ shares of the total vote, rather than being used to achieve an proportional result overall by “topping up” the constituency result. This would reduce the number of minor party MPs without eliminating them entirely, making majority government easier to achieve.

The supplementary member system is favoured by the National Party, but all other major players favour the status quo. The latter seem likely to get their way: the Digipoll referred to above finds 54.4 per cent planning to vote to keep MMP. On the second question, 29.9 per cent favour first-past-the-post, 17.2 per cent favour the single transferable vote, 13 per cent favour the supplementary member system, and only 11.4 per cent favour preferential voting. Much further reading from Antony Green, and also Charles Richardson at Crikey. I suppose it’s also possible that some actual New Zealanders have had something to say about the election, but here I reach the limits of my knowledge.

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.

83 comments on “New Zealand election: November 26”

Comments Page 1 of 2
1 2
  1. It says “Dunne on the other hand retained Epson narrowly” instead of “Dunne on the other hand retained Ohariu narrowly”.

  2. Bill, the STV proposal is not for a single electorate. It’s for 24-30 electorates returning 3-7 members each. More Tasmanian than Senatorial.

  3. 3

    For it to be properly Tasmanian style they would have to become an Australian state to get HoR district boundaries to share with the STV electorates and they would have the same number of MPs. It is like Ireland, NSW for three elections before Jack Lang scrapped STV or the BC-STV proposal.

  4. Any how, so since mid-2009, a bit over 6 months after the election, the ALP/Green combined poll results seem to have been fairly stable at ~45% give or take.

    But in the last 12 months, the ALP polling figures have gone down by about 6-7% and the Greens figures have gone up by 6-7%.

    It will indeed be interesting to see whether the combined vote is more or less than 45% and whether or not the Greens polling figures overestimate their actual results.

  5. Quel embaras, recursive pedantry strikes!

    I was just looking at Antony Greens graph and got conditioned. 🙂

    I reckon Q1 will scrape in with a bit over 50%.
    Q2 will thus be less interesting but FPTP will clearly top this. Which is ridiculous.

  6. “New Zealand electoral law then obliged [Hone Harawira] to face a by-election in the seat – his success presumably stands him in good stead to retain the seat tomorrow”

    That’s very true! And what’s more, Hone’s decision to resign more than 6 months before the scheduled election (thereby forcing a by-election) was a deliberate and intelligent move. The victory in Te Tai Tokerau was an important trial of strength and a demonstration to leftist voters that it would be safe to cast a party vote for Mana (at the general election) without it being wasted through Mana not reaching the 5% threshold.

  7. [Actually, the scenario of National winning all but 10 electorate seats is highly implausible.]

    I suspected a local observer might tell me that. I probably should have said something like “technically possible” rather than “not entirely implausible”.

  8. New Zealand electoral law then obliged [Hone Harawira] to face a by-election in the seat

    No it doesnt. Harawira was a electorate MP so a bye election was entirely his choice – and done for tactical reasons. Recent MPs who have resigned from a party have kept their seats, Field from Mangere was an example in the last parliament along with a United Future list MP who also stayed on.
    There was legislation , now repealed, known as the ‘waka jumping’ law which allowed parties to expell List MPs who had resigned or had misconduct issues and replace them with the next highest List MP. This was only used once by the ACT party, who had opposed the passing of the law, to remove Donna Awatere- Huata, who was facing fraud charges – but not yet convicted.

  9. One other point that may be of interest to Aussie readers is that all political blogs in NZ have turned off comments and will make no new political posts from midnight till the polls close ( 7PM).
    Election rules prohibit any message that may attempt to influence a voter, so all street billboards have disappeared overnight as well. The Chief electoral officer has even gone so far to say that a weather forecast which mentions voting, “take your umbrella to the polling booth” is ruled out. Needless to say parties handing out how to vote cards at the polling booth would cause apoplexy. Vehicles used to take voters to the polls may only use ‘colours’ and not names or party logos.
    I cant even write any of this on a New Zealand based blog, but I dont think they will come after me !

  10. Hmm, seems my late night commenting caused some errors in maths as well as an inability to distinguish Phil Goff and Julia Gillard. Let’s try a more sober analysis.

    Labour + Greens has been hovering at about 40%. They’ll need to get the combined vote up above that I would think.

    Antony Green cites a NZ Herald article saying the overhang could be up to 6. I can’t possibly see how it could be that high. The current overhang is 2. If Dunne can retain Ohairu that will likely turn into an overhang seat as well. Perhaps the Maori/Mana overhang can go to three? Or is there some possibility that Labour will lose their Maori seats?

    Surely at least 4% of the vote will be wasted, even if NZFirst scrape over the 5%. That means Nats will need to get their vote out of only 96%. If 4% is wasted and the overhang is 4 I calculate they only need about 50.4% of the party vote. Even if the overhang is 6 it only goes up to 51.2% – and any wasted vote over 4% makes it easier.

    Basically the opinion polls need to have continually overstated support (or there is a polling-booth change of mind for a significant number) for NAts not to get an absolute majority.

  11. William, thanks for your post. There is a possibility that a new minor party may win seats in parliament, the Conservative Party founded by Auckland Businessman Colin Craig.

    Craig is funnelling a lot of his own money into the campaign and is running in the safe National seat of Rodney. It is rumoured that he is spending $1 million on the campaign, mostly in Rodney. The party is an outgrowth of conservative campaigns run by Craig in relation to the smacking referendum and the Auckland Super-City Mayoral Election. Craig describes the party as socially and economically conservative.

    Mr Craig claims he can win the seat and has provided a poll funded by his party to that effect:

    Conservative leader confident he can take Rodney from Nats

    However such party funded and published polls should be treated with a shaker of salt. Mainstream published polls have the party support at 1-2% nationally. Craig would have to win Rodney for the party to enter parliament.

    If elected, it is likely that it the Conservatives would support National. However, the party is opposed to the sale of 49% of state owned power generation companies and sell down of the Government’s stake in Air New Zealand which Key is proposing.

  12. The Maori seats bear some watching tonight simply because of their impact on the overhang which depending on post election coalition arrangement will help or hinder National trying to get the stable governing position in parliament.

    Last election the Maori party won 5 electorate seats, when its party list entitlement was only 3 seats. Due to Hone Harawira leaving to start his own party it is very likely he will win his own seat again tonight, Te Tai Tokerau. Of the 4 seats left, I list them below with the 2008 Maori and Labour electorate votes in order of winning margin.

    Te Tai Hauāuru (71-29)
    Tāmaki Makaurau (66-27)
    Waiariki (68-32)
    Te Tai Tonga (47-42)

    The only seat that is vulnerable to vote splitting between Maori and Mana to the benefit of Labour is Te Tai Tonga. This seat covers the South Island and Wellington. Mana has also suggested they are a chance in Waiakiri, based around Northeast New Zealand.

    There has been polling for the Maori seats done during the election and they have all favoured the Maori Party, even in Te Tai Tonga. But these polls have a sample of 400 and thus have a MOE of 5%. I also note that polling in Waiakiri has the Maori Party well ahead even taking in to account the 5% MOE.

    Close Race for Te Tai Tonga

    Te Ururoa Flavell leads in Waiariki poll

    Maori Party looks good in polls

    The Maori Party’s share of the party vote will probably drop tonight just due to the fact that Mana is on the ballot. I would say that they would get 1-2% which would entitle them to 2 list seats. Therefore a Maori Party overhang of 1 is likely, 2 if they can hold Te Tai Tonga.

    The Maori Party is the most likely coalition partner for National, if ACT, Dunne/UF or Conservatives do not get into Parliament and National are short of an outright majority. However, the Maori Party has not yet indicated a preference on which party they will support in Government. Maori voters generally tend to support Labour over National, so it is not a natural fit for their voting base for the Maori Party to prop up National. But if the Maori Party holds the balance of power, being the only road to government for National it will probably be too rewarding opportunity to pass up.

  13. [No it doesnt. Harawira was a electorate MP so a bye election was entirely his choice – and done for tactical reasons.]

    Thanks for pointing that out. It used to be the case in Australia, a long time ago, that members had to re-contest their seats when they entered their ministry, and I thought there might be some sort of a relic of such things in NZ. As should be evident by now, NZ politics is largely off my radar.

  14. One other item that worth keeping in mind tonight, is the hitherto undecided vote. A TV3 poll published on Thursday had the National party vote on 50.8% amongst decided voters. Out of all respondents, 12% were undecided, once the undecided respondents were pushed for a preference, the National party vote fell to 47.4%.

    3News poll article.

    This is the only poll out of the final pre-election polls that I know has pushed undecideds for a preference, so this observation cannot be corroborated. It is a sharp drop though and shows there is risk to the downside on the National party vote.

  15. After five per cent of the vote the results like an Australian opinion poll right now
    Nationals 49 per cent
    Labour 27 per cent
    Greens 10 per cent
    All approx

  16. Is there any NZ site trying to project final results based on partial totals + past trends?

    On the website I notice there is an item “Less than 6 votes taken in Polling Places:” (for most electorates this is zero, but it is up to 244 in total). I assume this means what it says, the number of polling places with <6 votes, but does it have some special significance in the counting process?

  17. Interestingly it looks like the majority of people in Epsom aren’t voting for who they support.

    With 6% counted, over 2000 of the 3200 National list voters are switching to the Act candidate (Banks) in the electorate vote, almost 200 of the 600+ Labour voters are going for the National candidate in the electorate, as are over half of the 500 Green voters.

    Less than 1 in 10 of people voting for Act actually prefer Act. A quarter or more of those voting National probably hate National.

  18. Review of what Antony Green just said on ABC. The early Nationals vote is holding up and not dropping off as it had in the past, and they seem to be on course for a shade under 50 per cent of the vote. This should be good for a majority because of the wasted vote (i.e. votes for parties that don’t clear the 5 per cent threshold and don’t win a constituency seat, and are thus excluded from the final calculation), which is about 4 per cent. The wasted vote is much lower than expected however because Winston Peters/New Zealand First look to easily cleared the threshold and are on 6.7 per cent. Don Brash is out because while ACT New Zealand has maintained its constituency seat, its party vote is not high enough to allow for extra members, and he was relying on a list seat. United Future NZ likewise look like they’re only going to win a constituency seat. This means life might get awkward if the National Party falls more than two seats sort of a majority. The Labour vote will end up in the mid-twenties if they’re lucky; the Greens are currently on 10 per cent.

  19. Labour leading in more contituency seats than I’d have figured – 21 out of 70. Which make sense, now I think of it – voters will be more inclined to stand by their local member if it’s their party vote that determines the final seat share.

  20. I see Antony now has trending kicking in and is forecasting National 60/121.

    Maori Party back in front in Tāmaki Makaurau so on for three again.

  21. Its an interesting system in NZ! With preferential voting like here it would be a National landslide, yet it looks life the left/right split of seats could be as close as 59/62.

  22. Correction. With 76% counted, TVNZ shows National with 61 seats, plus support from 2 seats for other conservative parties. The motley crew of non-right parties look to have collected 58 seats at this stage. National could form government in its own right, but still, at least on paper, a much closer rate than we would expect under our system with one party (National) polling up around the 48-49% mark!

  23. Projections show National will end up with 60, which will be short of a majority in a parliament of 121 seats (overhang of one). ACT NZ and United Future NZ are assured of a seat each, and National will need their support. If they fall to 59 seats, they’ll need to talk to a third party.

  24. So the En Zedders are going to have a conservative government? What were the words to their National Anthem, something about God protecting New Zealand? They are going to need it.

    I will start packing the food parcels.

  25. [Labour currently 4 votes ahead in Christchurch Central with 96.7% counted. Very close.]

    Yes, the funny thing about these razor-sharp seat races involving the majors is that they are meaningless to the seat totals for the parties.

    Still postals/absents to go in 10 days’ time according to Antony and these can cause shifts but for tonight the pattern is clear enough – oh and the booth matching Antony is using has performed very accurately.

  26. Amazingly, the Christchurch Central ‘election night’ count ended at ‘100%’ with National and Labour candidates tied with 10,493 votes each.

  27. [Yes, the funny thing about these razor-sharp seat races involving the majors is that they are meaningless to the seat totals for the parties.]

    True, but still interesting to watch nonetheless.

  28. Actually what is said to be a triumph fof Nationals is hardly that – last time govt parties had 69 seats – Nats 58 Act 5 Maori 5 and Dunne 1. Now probably Nat 60 Act 1 Maori 3 and Dunne 1 – loss of 4 seats.
    Mainly affected by NZ 1 Winston Peters getting back above 5% with 8 seats and Conservative Party pulling about 2.8% from other conservatives but winning no seats.
    So about a 3% shift in votes to the right but going backwards in seats and probably losing support of Maori party?

  29. William – they didn’t need it last time. The Maori Party has been burnt in supporting Key with split of Mana and loss of 40% of its votes and 2 seats. It would be wise to get out of government coalition and I would expect them to.

  30. ltep,
    That shows how much I know about nz. So they are going to need more than food parcels. Are they flogging off any interesting state assets, or have the all the best bits been snapped up?

  31. [Amazingly, the Christchurch Central ‘election night’ count ended at ’100%’ with National and Labour candidates tied with 10,493 votes each.]

    Yes, and the National candidate gets elected anyway, but the Labour candidate actually needs to win, or else he will be replaced by a different Labour candidate from the list.

    The factional jockeying to assemble and order those party lists must be an amazing internal process.

Comments are closed.

Comments Page 1 of 2
1 2