Polity: Armstrong on Labour, turnout, MMP

Written By: - Date published: 11:36 am, July 15th, 2014 - 28 comments
Categories: electoral systems, First Past the Post, MMP, Politics - Tags: , , ,

polity_square_for_lynnReposted from Polity.

Over the weekend John Armstrong had a column about youth voter turnout in the upcoming election. Much of the material was familiar – young people don’t vote so much – nobody talks their language, yo! – parties are Trying Very Hard, but they are also old fuddy-duddies – and so on. But among that came this idea:

John Key’s overt pragmatism has exacerbated this trend. National’s lack of a strong ally on the centre-right has forced him to moderate National’s policy thrust. Labour’s desire not to be hostage to the Greens was reflected in Helen Clark similarly avoiding doing too much which risked angering centre-ground voters who kept her in power for nine years.

In short, MMP may bear some responsibility in depressing turnout. It cannot be blamed alone, however, for the abysmal turnout of younger voters.

I disagree, as Armstrong’s claim here runs directly-if-casually contrary to at least two large research programmes in political science.

First, proportional electoral system like MMP usually lead parties to be more widespread along the ideological scale, not bunch closer together (see Cox 1990). The incentives to bunch closer together are actually much stronger in an FPP-style system, because the large parties do not need to worry nearly as much about new parties encroaching from the extremes (see Downs 1957). So even if Armstrong is right that National and Labour are edging ever closer together:

  1. That is probably despite MMP rather than because of it
  2. That only has an impact on turnout if voters entirely ignore their other more ideologically strident options such as the Greens, ACT, or the Conservatives.

Second, there is a lot of evidence that proportional systems like MMP actually cause voter turnout to go up, not down (see Franklin 1996, Blais 2000). That is because in FPP-style systems, almost all votes are functionally wasted because they are cast in safe districts, whereas in MMP-like systems all votes are equally valuable, wherever they are cast.

Turnout in New Zealand has been dropping steadily for a long time, just as it has in other countries. This is a secular trend. Just because turnout has dropped since New Zealand adopted MMP, it does not follow that New Zealand turnout dropped because of  MMP. At the risk of descending into Sorkinisms,  post hoc ain’t no propter hoc.

28 comments on “Polity: Armstrong on Labour, turnout, MMP”

  1. red blooded 1

    Well argued. Dropping turnout significantly predates MMP and was actually one of the arguments used in support of changing the system. I suspect that social and political disengagement is a much more complex issue than choice of voting system. The media, our schooling system, technological and inter generational issues all play their part, as does the feeling that NZ is connected in a globalised world and can’t really affect the big issues. Of course, these are all valid reasons for feeling disconnected but they are also all cop outs.

  2. Michael 2

    The reason people have stopped voting is because they are alienated from our political system. This is not an accident: the Right depends on a low turnout to maintain power. By blaming MMP, Armstrong demolishes a straw man and diverts focus from the the real issue – to the benefit of his corporate masters.

    • blue leopard 2.1

      +1 Michael

    • dave 2.2

      Truth be told, most of the voters who don’t turn out wouldn’t have a clue what a straw man is. Unless your talking about the scarecrow from the wizard of oz that is. But some good old fashion sledging rings all the right bells.

      Armstrongs full of shit. You know this, and I know this. But the trick is to convince him (Armstrong) that he’s full of shit. That’s the art of sledging right there.

      • Tracey 2.2.1

        You start by saying things like

        ” only a fool would think… (insert the opposite of what you want him to think)

        Old litigation trick for addressing juries.

        • dave

          Year but it’s on your mind, otherwise you wouldn’t be talking about it.

          • Colonial Viper

            ? You don’t have to be consciously knowledgeable of all the various techniques of PR, false argument and crooked logic in order to be affected by them.

  3. dave 3

    This election will be decided by voter turnout. That’s for sure. The percentage of constituents who are benefiting from this National government is slowly dwindling. And when you consider that they only got 34% of the possible voters last election, it’s pretty clear that their strategy is to put off left voting people from making the effort to get on down to the polls.

    It’s a pure psychological technique that they’re using IMO. Getting their media cronies to do their sledging for them so as to make it look like it’s the opinion of everyone that Labour and the left are a waste of time. This creates a general feeling of apathy and hopelessness for those who would benefit most out of a new left government.

    It’s a sad state of affairs when a government is decided by a sledging match, but that’s the world we’re living in. Win the sledging contest and we give hope to the disenchanted majority. Give a person hope and they’ll get out and vote.

  4. Tracey 4

    Armstrong is still employed at the Herald??????

    • Colonial Viper 4.1

      He’s probably getting a Christmas bonus.

      • Tracey 4.1.1

        Armstrong is another argument for not raising the age of retirement.

        • blue leopard


          • RedLogix

            Armstrong is a prime example of why no-one should be accredited to the Press Gallery for more than five years in anyone consecutive stretch and no more than a total of fifteen years in their career.

            It’s called institutional capture. And is why people just don’t believe this shit anymore.

            On a complete tangent it’s interesting to note that while the big metro papers are struggling – it’s the small provincial and urban rags who continue to do quite well. Especially here in Australia. Media that is locally owned and connected to it’s community and is still trusted will never die.

            • Draco T Bastard

              Armstrong is a prime example of why no-one should be accredited to the Press Gallery for more than five years in anyone consecutive stretch and no more than a total of fifteen years in their career.

              I’m thinking five years is far too long for one stretch. Make it three years on followed by a minimum two years off.

              • Tracey

                I have seen it with sport journalists. If they write stuff the national body of rugby or cricket dont like, they get threatened by getting press releases last and so forth. I suspect its the same in the gallery

        • dave

          There’s no like button.

    • bad12 4.2

      Tracey, rumor has it that this can only be proven by the use of a defibrillator,(sometimes on an hourly basis),

      It is also obvious that this should be used at full power at all times so as to De-Fib-rillate the prick on a regular basis…

  5. dave 5

    I blame the lower turnout from younger voters on them picking up the herald and reading John Armstrong talk about politics. I get board just thinking about him.

  6. deep throat 6

    well said.
    time for these horrible old bstrds to pack up their money and pick up their tent and take a hike offf to happy valley or wherever they sunk their their retirement funds.
    these people contribute absolutely nothing to the discourse whatsoever.

  7. Sable 7

    Maybe its got something to do with the fact that most politicians in this country are self serving disingenuous grifters propped up increasingly unconvincing MSM “marketing” campaigns ….

  8. tc 8

    A shill for team shonkey and a sad out of touch old one at that.

    Spoon fed the lines to run like trevitt and co just another beltway trougher.

  9. aerobubble 9

    If you feel ignored by Politicians and politics, and inclined not to vote think about this.

    If politicians and politics aren’t communicating and delivering, then you need to get their
    attention. And what gets their attention the most? Well getting voted for. So when
    the government fails you, doesn’t think about your needs, and actively introduces laws
    that harm you, makes your work condition worse, makes you pay for education,
    makes it harder to buy a home, start a family.

    Don’t get depressed, get even. Vote out the government, left or right. After a few
    elections of three term governments, the politicians won’t be ignoring you or the people
    any longer. Those long business lunches with their favored industries won’t look so
    good, and their appeals to how much harder you should work to pay for tax cuts for
    the wealthiest, well they will be a thing of the past. Taxes on the wealth were well
    over 70% in the past because politicians used to fear people llike you voting them out.

    So get out, vote, get even, get recompense, get angry, vote out the incumbent party.
    And when the other side gets in, do the same if they don’t deliver higher taxes on wealth,
    better conditions for employees, and the nonsense that says you should work the extra
    hour to maintain them and their lifestyle choices (many and varied compared to you).

    • Colonial Viper 9.1

      let’s be realistic, you can vote politicians in or out, but the system appears to stay pretty much the same, just with different talking heads up top.

      And the only way that will change is not with voting them out yet again, it is by the creation of active mass movements placing pressure on governments to do the right thing, whether it is an election year or not.

      • Tracey 9.1.1

        You need a revolution if you want fast change but look at parties like the greens and how their presence has altered behaviours of labour and national over the couple of decades.

        There will be no mass movements in a nation where people believe they are lucky cos they are not india, lucky to have any job, believe if they work harder they will get more money, will you?

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