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Tim Watkin is wrong

Written By: - Date published: 10:22 am, April 8th, 2014 - 21 comments
Categories: blogs, Europe, International, Media, MMP - Tags: ,

Tim Watkin recently had a post over at Pundit, saying about why a 15% gap (in their latest poll of polls, uncorrected like Danyl’s) between Labour and National matters (presuming that it stays that way and polls don’t massively bounce around – see 11 point gap in latest poll).

His crux point is that in no MMP election has a party led by 15% and not formed the government.

Unfortunately for Tim, this is demonstrably wrong.

In 2011 there was an MMP election for a 120 seat house (70 constituencies, 50 list, St Lague method of seat allocation, overhang seats… all very NZ settings) in which the ‘losers’ got 39% and the ‘winners’ 24%.

As a Labour supporter it wasn’t the best election – the social democratic party vote dropped to 23%, leaving them as junior partners to the Greens. On the other hand, it wasn’t the worst election – the centre right party had been in power for 58 years!

In fact the centre-right CDU got 60 out of the 70 constituencies, so they had to create an 18 seat overhang (all those extra list MPs!) to give the Green-Red coalition their majority.

And what was the conclusion of the populace?  Well the government is still operating 3 years later at any rate. So unless Tim is saying Aotearoa has a greater propensity and history to electoral result overthrow than Germany… I think such a result would stand here as well.

Tim’s other point was how much the gap would de-motivate supporters and voters, who would think they have “no chance”. But it seems to me that can only be a problem of perception, not reality.  And who shapes that perception?

The Left parties will certainly not be pushing that. They’re talking about left-right blocs. So it’s only if the main media (as the window on the world of politics to most people) present the election as a foregone conclusion that people will reach that perception.

So surely it becomes once again our lead journalists’ responsibility to make sure they reflect (and not create) reality?

Postscript: Meant to include xkcd’s cartoon list of electoral precedents, and mention the intriguing contrast to NZ in the Baden-Württemberg state election:

The biggest issue was the turning of a terminus train station in the centre of the main city into a through station. So familiar until you realise that the centre-right government was pushing it through, and the Greens doubled their vote by opposing it…

(Other MMP electoral precedents incorrectly cited include at the last election “no party has ever got a majority under MMP”… while Scotland had (and has) a one-party MMP majority government…)

21 comments on “Tim Watkin is wrong”

  1. Tom Gould 1

    The number of MPs each individual party has is completely irrelevant. What matters is whether an individual MP is able to convince the Governor General that he or she commands the confidence in the House of a majority of MPs. Simple as that. Whether confidence is pledged by the MPs of a single party or those of a dozen parties is of no consequence. Under MMP, 50 per cent plus one MP wins. End of story.

  2. Blue 2

    Most journalists seem completely incapable of considering the election in any other terms than a straight National v Labour horserace.

    I predict that they will all end up with egg on their faces when National comes in at, say 41%, doesn’t have enough friends to form a Government, and we end up with a Labour/Green/NZ First Government.

    I look forward to the acrobatic justifications from all the idiot talking heads who’ve called it for National already.

    • Rob 2.1

      I think you mean that

      Most voters seem completely incapable of considering the election in any other terms than a straight National v Labour horserace.

      Most voters do only vote for Labour and National, for many of these voters the parties that poll less than 15% just make things a whole lot more complex.

      • Blue 2.1.1

        No, I think voters are more sophisticated than you give them credit for. The ones in Epsom and Ohariu certainly understand the special power they have been given to pervert the course of the electoral system.

        I know people who always vote for minor parties because they understand how MMP works and want a minor coalition partner to ‘keep the major party honest’.

        It’s not voters who have trouble with MMP – it’s journalists who struggle to fit the system into their preordained ‘winner/loser’ narrative.

        • Ant

          Also, if you look at the Maori electorates you begin to get a picture of a populace who appear to ‘get’ MMP pretty well. It seems like this affliction of not understanding MMP just affects journos.

  3. Philj 3

    We have very few quality journalists in NZ Mainstream Media. Getting less by the day. RNZ is heading the way of TVNZ, trivia, once over lightly Mora. I Will tell you what to think Ryan. I hope to be proved wrong. Wallace has promise…fingers crossed.

  4. ghostwhowalksnz 4

    Even our close neighbors Australia have had governments formed where the largest party wasnt in government.
    Since the 1950s there have been 4 times when ‘ Labor’ have had more seats than the Liberals but they havent been the government.

    As well, in 1951 they both had 51 seats. Of course Liberals have the Country party, now called Nationals as coalition partners.

    1998 Lab 67 Lib 64. Howard was PM

    1969 Lab 59 Lib 46 Gorton

    1961 Lab 60 Lib 45 Menzies

    1954 Lab 57 Lib 47 Menzies

    The conservative parties allways run separate candidates and only recently in Queensland have they combined as Liberal- Nationals

    The method of electing Mps is soley by electorate but the method of forming an Australian government is only ever based on who has the numbers to form a coalition in the house.

    Its absurd to think NZ voters would be any different to Australians in accepting the major party didnt win the most seats

  5. DS 5

    There’s even a New Zealand First Past the Post precedent for the single biggest party not governing: in 1911 Reform got more seats than the Liberals, but the Liberals won an eighth term with the support of independents. Of course, the Government fell the following year, but the point is that there is no “single biggest party must govern” precedent.

    It happened in the UK (again FPP) in 1923. Tories win most seats, but the first Labour Government comes in, propped up by the (now third party) Liberals.

  6. srylands 6

    Yes I agree he is wrong. Labour could definitely win.

    The most likely scenario is that Labour/Greens will get about 41%, National 45% and Winston 5.x %. Winston will decide who forms the Government.

    Alternatively, NZ First will get 4.x %, Dunne gets 1 seat, ACT gets 1 or 2 seats, Maori Party gets 1 seat and in that scenario National wins.

    Sure there are other scenarios but those two are the most realistic.

    A scenario that has Labour/Greens over 50% is unlikely.

    • Rumour Willis 6.1

      “ACT gets […] 2 seats”


    • Lanthanide 6.2

      If MP gets 1 seat, it’s highly likely Mana would end up on 2 or maybe even 3. Which potentially changes the situation.

  7. fisiani 7

    ACT is the fastest growing party in parliament. At this rate they could have 4 MP’s

  8. Ben,

    I think you’ve fundamentally misunderstood Tim’s point. What I take him to be saying is:

    (1) The “it’s never happened before” point is not that this proves it can never happen. Rather, it’s that it is hard to motivate your ground troops to go out and bust a gut for you if it looks like you’re trailing so far behind the opponent you measure yourself against. And for all you may tell yourself (and others) “once the Greens are in the mix, it’s neck-and-neck”, the constant message that “National is 15% (or whatever) ahead” wears you down. So the longer the gap continues, the harder it gets to generate the momentum (and enthusiasm) needed to close it.

    (Of course, there is a way Labour could try and overcome this. They could link themselves publicly and continuously with the Greens as a “Left Bloc”, referring constantly to the two parties as one political force to offset National’s apparently commanding poll lead. But … they won’t.)

    (2) However, the main point is that Tim thinks, based upon having seen Peters up close and personal, that if Labour is still 15-something percent behind National on election night, he will not feel able to support them in Government. The public perception that Labour has “lost” and National has “won” will be so strong that he will feel obligated to support National. So given that for Labour to lead the next Government they’re probably going to need Peters in a King-maker role, that’s a real problem for them.

    Now, Tim may be wrong about that second point. But I think he is probably right. I’d also note that both he and I have both posted on a number of occasions busting the myth that “the biggest party should be allowed to govern”. But that’s different from saying that the gap between Labour and National just “doesn’t matter”.

    • Sacha 8.1

      “the opponent you measure yourself against”

      another part of the mindset problem, yes. Sooner we flush the remaining FPP dinosaurs from Labour’s backrooms and caucus the better.

  9. Dave 9

    Well seems like labour still has a mathematical chance of winning then, even if national doesn’t have some catastrophic collapse.

    • Colonial Viper 9.1

      Labour, supposedly representing the economic interests of the numerous bottom 90% of households, is on 32%.

      National, supposedly representing the economic interests of the rarefied top 10% of households, is on 43%.

      Talk about total disconnect.

  10. George 10

    A plausible explanation. Except it won’t be Holly Walker and Jan Logie filling Government benches. It will be Tracey Martin and Asenati Lole Taylor.

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