14 December 2011

More on the referendum

Due to the dramatic differences in informal vote numbers across electorates - and hence a skewing of the distribution of Part B preferences - it's hazardous to draw exact conclusions from correlations across the different votes. Also, the figures I have are aggregates of electorates, not ballot-papers individually. I've done the maths anyway, but I won't cite figures, as they are not really precise. Keep in mind that you could vote, for instance, for FPP in Part B, and yet vote either for MMP or for change in Part A.

Overall, the percentage of an electorate's pro-MMP vote in Part A correlates almost one-to-one with informal votes in Part B. So those informal votes must be mostly pro-MMP voters.

Other correlations are weaker, but they suggest that:

1. The more pro-change votes in an electorate, the more votes in favour of both FPP and SM in Part B.

2. The more pro-MMP votes in an electorate, the more votes for STV in Part B.

3. PV seems to be evenly split between pro-MMP and pro-change voters who made any choice in Part B (once one takes out the Maori electorates which showed a strong preference for MMP but also gave PV the second place in Part B).

Points 1 & 2 are unsurprising. One might have expected that PV would correlate more strongly with the pro-change vote, but it was, after all, the least favored of the 4 alternatives.

As I argued in my previous post, the pro-change voters' preferences seem to be divided largely between the familiar (FPP) and the option pushed by the 'Vote for Change' lobby-group with Mr Key's support (SM).

It makes sense that pro-MMP voters, if they chose any alternative, would go for STV, as that is the most proportional of the four alternative systems.

Maori electorates were more in favour of PV than the nation as a whole, probably because it delivers 12 Maori seats. If they chose to go on the Maori roll, then presumably they like the idea of more Maori seats.

12 December 2011

The Referendum on the Electoral System

Not only did NZers vote to stay with the MMP status quo, but they were not widely committed to indicating preferences among the alternatives. Of those who did pick an alternative, FPP (the most familiar one) got the most votes, but still well short of a majority, even of valid votes.

The alternative that was pushed by the pro-change lobbyists, Supplementary Member (SM), came in second – or third, if you include ‘no vote’ as a valid option in Part B.

So, the ‘Vote for Change’ lobby was defeated on all counts.

Many voters found it too hard to work out which alternative they preferred, and either left Part B blank or went for the familiar old FPP. Many who favoured MMP may not have wanted to put forward any alternative. We should not conclude that all informal votes were due to lack of knowledge.

Much of the voting was conditioned by what we know (or knew) and are used to. Voters were not really able to weigh up the pros and cons of the five alternatives, especially the unfamiliar ones (SM, STV and PV). If we’d all had perfect knowledge, STV would have done much better, as it is the most proportional, and the pro-MMP result suggests a popular preference for proportionality.

There are some interesting demographic trends in the support for MMP and its alternatives.

Maori electorates are the strongest in support of MMP, along with lower SES electorates. Rural conservative electorates were the biggest supporters of change, especially to FPP.

The message about SM as an alternative was most likely to influence conservative urban electorates, especially in Auckland, but not the rural ones. The right’s dissatisfaction with MMP was thus split between traditional FPP and the half-way house of SM.

Other centre-right voters, especially in the cities, were content with MMP, because many who voted for National this year also voted to keep it. So it was bad timing for the pro-change lobby, and probably a misjudgement on Mr Key’s part to push for SM. Change would have required a much stronger sentiment among centre-right voters that MMP was not delivering the goods for them.

Finally, Epsom voters are somewhat inclined to do what Mr Key wants them to do. Not only did they take the hint about Mr Banks, but they were also the most in favour of SM. Love thy neighbour?

For supporting statistics etc, see the post below.

Referendum facts and figures

Part A of the Referendum asked if we should keep the MMP system or change to an alternative.

57.8% of valid votes were in favour of keeping MMP. That compares well with the 53.9% in favour of MMP in the 1993 run-off referendum against FPP.

By far the strongest support in favour of MMP in 2011 came from the seven Maori electorates, ranging from 85.5% in Waiariki to 78.9% in Te Tai Tonga. That was closely followed by Mangere (76.7%). Urban, traditionally Labour-held seats tended to be the strongest supporters of MMP, after the Maori seats.

But support for MMP was also strong in some urban blue electorates. Hamilton East was 59.4% in favour of MMP, but was won by National on party vote (51.4%) and candidate vote (8,275 majority). Botany favoured MMP by 55.4% (slightly below the overall result), but National scored 61.1% party vote there, and the National candidate has a 10,741 majority.

By contrast, the strongest support for changing the voting system came from rural and traditionally National-held seats. Clutha-Southland topped the change vote with 55.4% in favour of change.

Ground-zero for MMP politics, the Epsom electorate, was marginally in favour of MMP (50.1% voting to keep it). In Ohariu, 62.0% voted to keep MMP, above the national average. So the pressure on those electorates has not turned their voters against MMP.

Part B of the referendum asked which of 4 alternative voting systems you would choose if there were a change of electoral system.

There is a compellingly strong statistical correlation (0.96) between the percentage of votes in favour of MMP in each electorate and the percentage of informal votes in Part B. Those in favour of MMP were clearly less likely to indicate a preference for any alternative – though some may have thought they weren’t supposed to. So, Waiariki voters returned 48.9% informal votes in Part B, but only 2.2% in Part A.

In Part B, 33.14% of votes nation-wide were informal, and this figure is higher than the percentage of votes in favour of the front-running alternative (FPP) which got 31.19%.

Let’s look, then, at the valid votes only for Part B. As a percentage of valid votes, 46.7% voted for FPP as the favoured alternative. The strongest support for FPP came from rural South Island electorates, beginning with Clutha-Southland (58.1%). The lowest support for FPP came from urban electorates, with no obvious bias towards either National or Labour strongholds. The lowest were Wellington Central (24.5%) and Auckland Central (32.3%). Epsom voters gave relatively low support for FPP (33.2% of valid votes).

While the Maori seats led the vote in favour of retaining MMP, for their valid votes in Part B the most popular alternative was FPP. All but one Maori seat gave higher rates of valid votes for FPP than the national average – but then they also had high rates of informal votes, in the 40s.

Supplementary Member (SM) ran second among the alternatives. It had been promoted by the ‘Vote for Change’ lobby-group with the support of Mr Key. It got 16.14% of all votes nation-wide, and 24.1% of valid votes. Looking only at the valid votes, the six electorates that returned the strongest support for SM were all blue-ribbon Auckland electorates, with Epsom at the top (35.9%). Maori and South Auckland electorates gave the lowest support for SM.

The strongest support for STV was in Wellington Central, with 37.9% of valid votes. Wellington Central was also the least in favour of FPP. Note that STV is used there in local body elections.

Preferential voting (PV) got the strongest support in the 10 Maori and South Auckland electorates, with Waiariki at the top again giving PV 23.4% of valid votes. But these electorates had high levels of informal votes (over 40%), and their valid votes for FPP were higher (45.7 to 51.6%) than for any other alternative. PV got the lowest vote overall.

Data source: Electoral Commission

11 December 2011

How defeat can focus the mind

An oft-noted trend in contemporary democracies is a steady decline in political-party membership numbers. One possible cause of this is the risk-aversion of party elites, and their desire to control things from the top. Members feel irrelevant, and they drop out.

Setting the example for inclusive party rules, though, is the Green Party, which can genuinely boast more democratic internal processes. That gave them two strong co-leaders and a well-supported campaign – and their best result ever. The Maori Party too are well known for 'going back to their people'.

It looks like Labour is taking this idea on board, and there have been very well attended meetings around the country at which the contenders for leader and deputy leader have set out their visions for the party, for the country, and of course for the next election. The winner could one day be our next PM, so that could explain the bigger-than-expected turn-out. Defeat may not be so discouraging to members if they are invited to participate in the future of the party.

Only the caucus get to vote for the party leader under Labour's rules, of course, and this will happen on Tuesday. It's a tough choice for Labour MPs (who are now rather fewer in number), as the candidates are all excellent in their own ways.

But this more open leadership selection process has been a success for Labour. While there are risks associated with revealing internal rivalry, the process has generated considerable media attention for Labour, plus pre-selection public feedback on the candidates, and simultaneously reinvigorating membership interest and involvement. What could have been demoralizing defeat can thus be turned into an opportunity to gather up support again.

There can be no doubt that Labour has to do things differently in future, or suffer humiliation again in 2014. The recent round of party leadership meetings may actually indicate an intention to become, internally, a more democratic and open party. Now, that would be a change all on its own.

Leadership change is about to happen no matter what. But then there is the complicated question of credible policies and narratives about NZ and its future that would be powerful enough to bring disaffected former Labour voters back into the fold - or to inspire young people who have never voted. Anyone who can motivate a good portion of those who abstained last month could be on a winning streak.

06 December 2011

What a difference a cuppa makes!

The National/Act agreement makes policy concessions in favor of the Act agenda that far outweigh the degree of policy-compromise necessary to achieve that party's support. After all, Act is a one-man band. And when you add the policy concessions to Banks's ministerial posts, he walks away with apparently huge prizes. One seat weighed up against 60 did not need to tip the scales that far to the right.

Or, what's really going on is that Key has invited Banks in as a Trojan Horse. The apparent concessions to Act on policy are off-manifesto wish-lists that National already had, and Key can sign up to them and then write it off to that 'weird' system called MMP.

Statutory public-spending cap; charter schools; lighter regulation; tougher welfare; ACC booted out of workers' comp altogether.

Is this Banks's wish list or is it Key's, or a combination of both?

A quick tea break in Epsom was all it took.