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Polity: Who do the “missing million” like?

Written By: - Date published: 1:16 pm, July 2nd, 2014 - 17 comments
Categories: election 2014, john key, Politics, Steven Joyce - Tags: , , ,

polity_square_for_lynnReposted from Polity.

When I first saw DPF quote some anonymous correspondent talking about voter turnout, I thought he was having everyone on. But over the weekend John Key was quoting this exact same research as a justification for why National need to Get Out The Vote this time, and so was Steven Joyce on The Nation. It seems this really is the high-water mark for National election analysis. Colour me underwhelmed.

National appear to think most of the tide of new non-voters in 2011 were National supporters, because many of the places where turnout dropped a lot were safe National seats. The problem is that this pattern – big drops in turnout in safe National seats – is consistent with at least two theories:

  1. The new non-voters were complacent National supporters, so seats with more National voters have more complacent ones who don’t bother to vote.
  2. The new non-voters were peeling away from the good ship Labour, whose energies were turned defensively towards protecting support from their core low-income urban base rather than expanding their reach into more challenging electorates. This second pattern is also consistent with the idea of Labour’s vote collapsing into its core areas in 2011, compared to earlier elections.

To better understand which theory might be right, we have to first look more closely at the data. Of course, reading the tea-leaves like this is always a bit hand-wavy, but we box on nevertheless. Take Clutha-Southland, for example, which had lower turnout in 2011 by about 1,900 votes compared to 2008. In 2008, National won 20,235 votes in Clutha-Southland, while Labour won 8,091. In 2011, National won 20,020 votes in Clutha Southland, while Labour won 5,160.

We can see which story is better supported by the evidence here. Labour lost 3,000 votes overall, while National stayed about the same. The Greens’ in Clutha-Southland total went up by around 1,000 during that period, leaving around 1,900 previous Labour supporters unaccounted for. A couple of things might have happened:

  • They may have stayed home, which is the simplest explanation.
  • Or they might have switched over to vote National – driving National’s total up, but then had that impact cancelled a pile of National supporters may have not bothered voting – driving their total back down again.

Second, as I pointed out earlier in the year, National’s form of analysis here (inferring individual-level behaviour from electorate-level results) is highly suspect. There are better ways to do this work, but it looks like National doesn’t know what they are.

Third, survey evidence can help us, too. The New Zealand Election Survey is the best resource for this. Of the people who (1) admitted to non-voting in 2011; and (2) remembered who they had votes for in 2008, 92 said Labour, 13 said Greens, 70 said National. On that imperfect measure, you might conclude that the missing million splits about 3:2 to the left.

The 2011 NZES also finds no net switching between Labour and National after 2008. 2.1% of the population reported voting for Labour in 2008 and National in 2011, and 2.1% of the population also reported voting for National in 2008 but Labour in 2011.

I am sure there were some National supporters who chose not to vote in 2011 out of complacency. But I think it is a minority, and that most of the new non-voters (who voted up to and including 2008, and then stopped) are lefties. The survey evidence points that way, and so does the E9 evidence when looked at properly.


17 comments on “Polity: Who do the “missing million” like?”

  1. Enough is Enough 1

    Just playing devils advocate here – but do the polls say anything in relation to this issue.

    National’s vote on election day was down against every single poll in the week leading into the election. That could very well be because the polls were not accurate. But they are probably no less accurate than the NZES survey.

    I am not convinced either way because as far as I know there is no New Zealand study that shows why people don’t vote, and if they had voted, which box they would have ticked.

    • swordfish 1.1

      Well, that’s just spiffing, isn’t it ? I’ve just spent an enormous amount of time typing out a detailed reply to EiE, but such is the debilitated state of my lap-top (as direct result of accepting Windows updates a week back) that it doesn’t seem to handle sending anything other than a very brief comment. Sooooo bloody annoying.

      • lprent 1.1.1

        My advice generally when someone says anything like that is to

        1. Try the back button to go to the previous page before the “send” AND
        2. Try a different browser. I usually assume that it is IE at fault. Chrome or Firefox work well. OR
        3. Try a less fragile operating system. Kubuntu is my favourite.
      • swordfish 1.1.2

        So the succinct version is this: (Part 1)

        (1) There are, indeed, a number of studies itemising the reasons for staying at home in recent Elections (quite a range of reasons – but a belief that ‘the Election was a foregone conclusion” is certainly a major one).

        (2) The NZES project (highlighted by Rob, above) does, in fact, provide data on which way non-voters would have gone had they turned out on Election Day 2008 and 2011.

        • swordfish

          (Part 2)

          First of all, thanks to Lynn for the advice. Much appreciated.

          (3) This NZES data has been a bone of contention between (a) Rob Salmond and (b) both Farrar and Blogger and Colmar-Brunton pollster, Andrew Robertson. The short version is that basically: (1) Andrew (analysing the NZES data – but also emphasising a number of very important caveats regarding doubts over sample size and representativeness) suggested non-voters turning out in 2011 wouldn’t have made much difference. Whereas, they would have, according to his NZES analysis, in 2008 (which would have been an absolute knife-edge election with only 3.5 points separating National from Labour rather than the 11 points that, in fact, eventuated on Election Day).

  2. Olwyn 2

    There is also explanation 3: that Labour voters in blue-held electorates do not reliably appreciate the importance of the party vote. This would not apply so much to the Greens; for their voters the importance of the party vote is more obvious, since they have not recently held any electorate seats. However, it is easy to imagine a Labour voter in a blue area thinking, “Why bother? X is going to get in anyway,” forgetting that their party vote would add to the overall percentage.

    • Enough is Enough 2.1

      That works both ways Olwyn.

      An ignorant Nat that doesn’t know how the system works voting in Mt Roskill might think “Why bother? Phill Goff is going to get in anyway,”.

      • Olwyn 2.1.1

        True, but when you add other discouraging features like negative polls, media bias, etc, to the certainty that Howick is never going to change its spots, the sense of foregone defeat may be greater in such places.

      • felix 2.1.2

        An ignorant Nat that doesn’t know how the system works voting in Mt Roskill might think “Why bother? Phill Goff is going to get in anyway,”.

        That’s why National saturate their campaign with John Key’s name and face. Nat voters in Mt Roskill aren’t voting against Goff. For the most part they couldn’t give a fuck who the local Nat candidate is.

        They’re voting for John Key.

  3. Jack 3

    The problem we have here in NZ is many of the lower socio-economic groups are not politically literate and if they read the messages sent out by MSM get even more apathetic and disconnected, hence not voting at the polls

    Unfortunately it works against the left wing parties and the people in need of Government support.

    • Sacha 3.1

      “many of the lower socio-economic groups are not politically literate”

      Cos everyone loves being called stupid. #winning

  4. greywarbler 4

    An initiative to commend and support”?

    Dozens of young people turned out in Auckland on Monday night to debate the merits or otherwise of voting.
    About 70 people attended the panel discussion “Why Vote” hosted by Radio New Zealand website The Wireless.

    Among the crowd were people from RockEnrol, an initiative to encourage young people to vote.

    Campaign director Laura O’Connell-Rapira said fewer than half of those aged 18 to 29 voted in the last election and many do not understand why they should, or even how it works.

    See Radio nz young initiative. The Wireless.

  5. The Real Matthew 5

    I think the only safe explanation for the missing million is that Politics is not a high priority in their lives and they don’t think political parties have a large effect on their lives.

    I’d say the missing million probably have a fair point.

    • That’s a bit of a cop out. The direction and ideology of our government has a significant effect on people’s lives, especially those who are most vulnerable (and we know that non-voters tend to be poorer and/or less academically educated.)

  6. Jenny 6

    People vote because they become interested in politics.

    In previous times when New Zealand was heavily unionised, the main gateway into politics for many people was through involvement in the union movement.

    Another gateway into politics for many others was the civil protest movement, Vietnam war, anti-apartheid, anti-nuclear, environmental issues both local and national and for Maori, things like land struggles. ’75 Land March, Bastion Point, Raglan golf course, and most recently foreshore and seabed.

    It is after becoming involved in and interested in these movements that people begin to look at the wider picture and think about the importance of their vote.

    There used to be a saying in the union movement that went something like this, “Those who are fighting Left will vote Left”.

    Therefore voting Left, or even voting at all, depends on people’s involvement in extra-parliamentary politics.

    What does this mean for the leaders of national Left political parties like Labour and the Greens?

    Just as Right politicians need to be seen hosting business breakfasts in parliament and attending Measure of the Boardroom meetings held at the Northern club and Realtor Conventions, (held everywhere)

    Left politicians must be seen to be on the picket lines, or at protests, or at least be seen to be supporting such popular Left civil political campaigns.

    And to some extent they have been, David Cunliffe has attended, and spoken at protests against the TPPA and GCSB abuses.

    And David Cunliffe has come out acknowledging Maori grievance over the seabed and foreshore, (a government attack on Maori treaty rights the necessary precursor to government opening up the S&F to massive extractive technologies like deep sea oil drilling and seabed mining without having to deal with Maori legal challenges citing treaty rights.)

    There needs to be more of this.

    Left politicians must openly support campaigns against the National Government’s state house privatisations and forced clearances and demolitions. Name tag; Hone Harawira, and to a lesser extent Phil Twyford. The Labour Party needs to get more openly involved in this struggle.

    (Particularly as this movement has just won a recent victory against the eviction and demolition of the house of protesting state house tenant)

    For Green Party MPs in particular they need to be seen on the protests against Denniston and Mangatangi, name tag Catherine Delahunty; (and that’s it)

    The Labour Party’s greatest electoral successes have been when they have been in the forefront of such campaigns. The huge protests against nuclear ships were largely organised through Labour Party LECs.

    And in the ’30s the Labour and union movement were almost one and the same.

    There is a conveyor belt between Left movements and the Left vote. The left vote slumps when Left parties become remote from such movements.

    The Greens are talking about joining a government that will support mining Denniston, just watch the speed at which the Greens disappear from the political landscape.

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