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Polity: Even non-coattail electorate deals can create unfair advantage

Written By: - Date published: 10:15 am, June 12th, 2014 - 21 comments
Categories: elections, electoral systems, MMP - Tags:

polity_square_for_lynnReposted from Polity.

There has been plenty of discussion about electorate “cup of tea” deals recently, in which a large party agrees to give a small party an easy run in an electorate, so that the small party is more-or-less guaranteed seats in Parliament when they might otherwise get kicked out. Vernon Small has more specunalysis about National’s suite of deals this morning.

Some of the concern is about “overhang” “coat-tailing” (HT: @trevormallard) where a party on, say, 2.5% can gain three or even four seats off the back of a single electorate win. The impact of that on Parliament overall is clear.

But what of the deals with true minnow parties, like United Future or ACT? If a party is only polling enough to get one seat anyway, does it matter to Parliament overall whether the small party wins an electorate or its client big party wins it instead?

The answer is “possibly, yes,” because we can never be sure which party ultimately loses a seat to accommodate the new minnow party in a 120 seat parliament. Sometimes, it will be the big party making the deal, at which point everything comes out square. But other times it will be some other party that was entirely outside the deal. At that point the consequences can be huge.

Here’s an example that uses pretty plausible polling numbers, the Electoral Commission’s St Lague method for handing out list seats, and the Epsom deal as a test case:

Scenario 1
No Epsom deal
Scenario 2
Epsom deal
Party Party vote Electorate Total Electorate Total
National 44.5% 40 57 39 57
Labour 31% 29 40 29 39
Greens 11% 0 14 0 14
NZ First 5.5% 0 7 0 7
Conservatives 2.2% 0 0 0 0
Internet MANA 2.3% 0 0 0 0
Maori 1% 1 1 1 1
United 0.5% 1 1 1 1
ACT 0.5% 0 0 1 1
Total 120 120
Team NUFMACT 46.5% 59 60
Team LGNZF 47.5% 61 60

By rights, the potential Centre-Left coalition should have more seats in Parliament than the current Centre-Right Coalition, because they won 1% more votes. And without an Epsom deal, that is what would happen.

But with the Epsom deal, ACT gets an electorate seat in place of National, and that is not all that changes. National’s overall entitlement in Parliament remains unchanged (it is based only on the St lague calculations), so it picks up an extra list seat to offset the electorate seat loss. That list seat comes at the expense of Labour in this case (again due to the St lague quotients), and all of a sudden the Centre-Left’s 1% vote advantage comes to nothing, and we have a 60-60 deadlock.

This situation occurs roughly half the time, meaning than an electorate deal with a minnow leads on average to a 0.5 seat advantage towards the Coalition making the deal.

21 comments on “Polity: Even non-coattail electorate deals can create unfair advantage ”

  1. Tiger Mountain 1

    Interesting numbers.

    Many have been looking North but is another cup of brewing–with Blinglish now on the list and ex Fed Farmers, now ACT, nutsky Nichols standing against the tory baby face?

    • ghostwhowalksnz 1.1

      Never going to happen. South Island voters are more likely to vote and are more likely to vote traditionally. Act doesnt really have much support in farming areas and only gets traction in winning a seat in big city urban areas ( Wellington Central and Epsom)

      • Graeme 1.1.1

        That’s not to say the local Nat electorate committee won’t have a go. The candidate selection was a little bizarre, considering who they rejected, so there’s some lateral thinkers on that committee.

        How it’s going to go with the electorate is another matter. You’re dead right ghost, very traditional, conservative people, they could be quite offended being asked to vote for Nicholson who didn’t last long at the Feds.

        Also add in Queenstown to the mix. Affluent, intelligent, environmentally aware and very cosmopolitan. And quite liberal as well.

        There’s two very different sides to this electorate, rural Southland and Wakatipu, neither are as conformist as Epsom.

        If they do try for an ACT overhang it could blow up in their faces from all directions. We could be in for an entertaining campaign in the electorate for a change. They are usually such dour affairs it’s embarrassing.

  2. Lanthanide 2

    Not particularly useful example numbers picked there. We can’t be sure Conservatives or Mana will win electorate seats, but it seems likely.

    Also lumping MP in with the right bloc in a deadlock situation like this seems unwise, given their voting record in Parliament aligns much more with Labour than it does National.

    • swordfish 2.1

      Agree with your critique in the first paragraph, Lanth. But not in the second. I think in the scenario Rob paints above, both the Maori Party and NZ First are more likely to go with National. The Left Bloc (which, of course, doesn’t include NZ First) really needs to finish ahead of the Right if there’s to be any kind of pressure on Winnie to support a new Labour-led Government.

      • ghostwhowalksnz 2.1.1

        The Australians use a ‘two party preferred’ phrase as their preferential voting means minor party electorate votes arent wasted.

      • Lanthanide 2.1.2

        Both the MP and NZFirst have more in common with Labour than they do National.

        Really it comes down to “who Winston can work with” and “what demands Winston makes”.

        • ghostwhowalksnz

          Who cares about what they have in common, its whether they are with the government or opposition.

          • Lanthanide

            No, it’s whether they’re in government and can do enough work there to show the public to convince the public to re-elect them.

            That’s why in the potential results above the Maori Party are sitting at 1% with 1 electorate MP, down from the heady days of 5 seats they won in 2008.

            The Maori Party might be slow learners, but Winston has been around long enough to know how the game goes.

            • Bluey

              I find your last two comments a little strange. I can’t see any reason to think the Maori Party and NZFirst have any more in common with Labour than National, and I certainly believe if they in fact do, it will not determine who they work with.
              If National get 45% or over, I just can’t believe Winnie will dilute his power joining the Labour/Greens/Mana.
              Happy to be proven wrong. But nothing I have seen has changed the fact Winnie holds the reins at the moment.

              • Lanthanide

                “I can’t see any reason to think the Maori Party and NZFirst have any more in common with Labour than National,”

                You only have to look at their voting record in Parliament.

                “I just can’t believe Winnie will dilute his power joining the Labour/Greens/Mana.”

                Depends what he’s offered, doesn’t it? He’s hardly diluting his “power” if Labour offer him more power than National are prepared to.

                Whether Labour are in a position to do that is a separate question.

    • Gareth 2.2

      The plausibility of the numbers doesn’t really affect the take home point though, which is that even without coat-tailing, gifting electoral seats to minor parties can still be an effective way of rorting the system.

      • Lanthanide 2.2.1

        Correct, but I don’t think many people are going to comment on that because there’s not much to say.

        The evidence provided is unequivocal.

        • Gareth

          Well, you did criticise the numbers as “not particularly useful” – I would say they served their purpose – but yeah, fair enough. As much as I’d like to see a discussion about how the system could be fixed, I don’t see it happening. I certainly don’t have any decent ideas.

          • Colonial Viper

            Greatly increase the proportionality of the electoral system by halving the threshold to 2.5% and ditching coat-tailing.

  3. Treetop 3

    Some times things are simple but they are not easy to do. For every coattail deal Key does, Cunliffe needs to do one back. Possibly Key will not take Graig on board unless Cunliffe equals Key’s coattail deal.

    The only way the Maori Party will survive is if Harawira does a coattail deal with a Maori electoral seat. Harawira needs to back Labour if Cunliffe is head strong about sticking to his no coattail principle.

    Am I correct in thinking that the Green Party has never won an electorate seat unless a deal was made e.g Coromandel?

    The Green Party need to be the strategic ones this time around, so the party vote does not play into the hands of National.

    Too many players on the left riding their own horse, is what Key is counting on.

  4. mikesh 4

    I think your reasoning is not entirely correct. The numbers of seats received by Labour, the Greens and NZ First should be the same in both cases because those are the numbers of seats their percentages entitle them to. ACT winning a seat in the second example would provide an overhang of one, giving National etc 60, but leaving Labour etc with 61.

  5. Papa Tuanuku 5

    I cringe when i think of the possibility of labour and or the greens helping to get act or dunne back in in ohariu and epsom. so they stand by their principles and stand in the seats, which looses the election for the left. Their principles will not be of any use to people on struggle street who need relief.

    There needs to be a message from green and labour that, as a left win this year is critical for all of us, they will stand down julie ann or gareth or the labour guy in ohariu and epsom. sort it out labour and greens, don’t lose the election for all of us.

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