Legal Beagle by Graeme Edgeler

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Legal Beagle: Election 2017: the no threshold hypothesis

20 Responses

  • Christiaan,

    Such a shame not to have TOP in this parliament 👎🏼

    Portugal • Since Dec 2006 • 121 posts Report

  • Josh Petyt,

    This has been my position for many years now. I do not agree with NZ First on many of its positions and the Conservatives gave me the willies but for their supporters to be denied representation based on the threshold is blindingly undemocratic.

    Japan • Since Apr 2014 • 45 posts Report

  • Paul Campbell,

    And Winston would still hold the balance of power

    Dunedin • Since Nov 2006 • 2623 posts Report

  • Nick Kearney,

    It's the result based on the lists filed with the EC of course. I suspect if there wasn't a threshold more parties would be formed, and therefore more parties represented in parliament.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 73 posts Report

  • Craig Young,

    Sorry, but I have to disagree with this. The Conservatives were basket cases- they self-destructed (almost) only a year after they came close to the five percent threshold. Allowing a lower threshold is a recipe for political instability and until recently, I would have said that it excluded extremist outfits from entry to Parliament. Granted, things might have been more interesting had the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party popped up without a threshold, but we would risk the protracted shenanigans that one witnesses in Italy and Israel, neither of which have thresholds either. If one wants greater diversity of parliamentary representation, might I suggest that they should have voted for a Single Transferable Vote electoral system instead of MMP?

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 573 posts Report

  • simon g,

    On the one hand, we have a post like this, which analyses the numbers and adds to the sum of public information.

    On the other hand, we have a piece like this on Stuff, which pretends to analyse the numbers but manages to ignore all votes falling under the threshold.

    One of these people is paid to do this. I hope it's Graeme.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 1333 posts Report

  • linger, in reply to Craig Young,

    I don’t agree that a low threshold necessarily increases instability, nor that a high threshold prevents instability, nor that stability itself should be allowed to trump all other considerations.
    (i) We will never know whether the Conservatives would have imploded that fast if they’d got into Parliament. We only know that, freed of all responsibility, they were free to do so without any consequences.
    (ii) You’re assuming that all parties getting into Parliament over the 5% threshold are inherently more stable. On the evidence to date, this seems unlikely. It was not true of the Alliance (10% in 1996), nor United Future (6.7% in 2002), nor ACT. It is unlikely to be true of NZF post-Peters. Even the Greens have recently demonstrated the potential for personal disagreement to disrupt a party, though I believe they will prove more durable than the others.
    Hence the high threshold is not a protection against instability; rather, the high threshold demonstrably acts to shrink small parties under the threat of votes being wasted, and thus increases instability of personnel, at least from one term to the next, if not in the middle of term when such parties split. In the long run, your argument prioritising “stability” is an argument for only a two-party state, at best.

    Tokyo • Since Apr 2007 • 1944 posts Report

  • Jason Kemp, in reply to Nick Kearney,

    I suspect if there wasn't a threshold more parties would be formed, and therefore more parties represented in parliament.

    I agree. Removal of the threshold would change voter behaviour. One recommendation back in 2012 was to drop from 5% to 4% - maybe that is part of the answer. Not complete removal but a different %

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 368 posts Report

  • Sacha, in reply to simon g,

    One of these people is paid to do this

    And one of these people is supposedly a professional journalist.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19745 posts Report

  • Nick Kearney, in reply to Craig Young,

    But the Cons are only a extreme party you don't like. You shouldn't be permitted to choose a democracy you like.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 73 posts Report

  • Kevin McCready, in reply to Paul Campbell,

    You misunderstand MMP. Winston merely gets media attention and this silly line that he holds "balance of power" because he doesn't announce intentions until after everyone else. Greens also have "balance of power" if you want to run that line.

    Auckland • Since Jun 2013 • 119 posts Report

  • izogi, in reply to linger,

    It was not true of the Alliance (10% in 1996), nor United Future (6.7% in 2002), nor ACT. It is unlikely to be true of NZF post-Peters. Even the Greens have recently demonstrated the potential for personal disagreement to disrupt a party

    I'd suggest that both National and Labour have also had plenty of their own implosions and scandals of one form or another. The only difference is that they tend to be of the "too big to fail" variety. No matter what happens, certain tribes of voters will keep electing them. Scandals eventually get dusted under the rug, since it's inconvenient to remember one's own scandals when you're too busy trying to point out all the faults in everyone else.

    Wellington • Since Jan 2007 • 1142 posts Report

  • linger, in reply to izogi,

    Yes indeed. National of course has even been marketing itself explicitly on its "stability" as opposed to any option relying on negotiations between different parties. This is of course a big fucking lie, on several levels: (i) the last few National governments have actually relied on such negotiations; and (ii) National had internal disagreements and scandals, but managed to keep them mostly hidden from and soon-forgotten by the media because they continued to be in power.
    It is amazing how having power enhances a party's stability (perceived, and actual, as a ministerial salary is quite an incentive not to show disagreements with other members).
    So would the Conservatives have fragmented if they'd been in government? Maybe not; but we don't know, because the threshold prevented it.

    How about other possible minor parties?
    Getting 1-2% of the vote, with no threshold, would make for 1 or 2 representatives. It is just about impossible for a 1-representative party to split or show internal disagreement, so it is hard to see how allowing those in would increase party-internal instability.

    By contrast, for a party to get over 5%, it almost always has, firstly, to gather a critical mass of support from a number of smaller groups that don't necessarily agree with each other; and secondly, if they are successful, to bring in a long tail of less experienced and less competent members. This is not a recipe for stability; quite the reverse. (See Alliance; UF; ACT.)

    That leaves bloc stability (e.g. for the purpose of forming a coalition government). That must depend on integrity and flexibility of negotiators ... just as it does at present.

    Tokyo • Since Apr 2007 • 1944 posts Report

  • izogi,

    In any case, if the main concern is that small parties can't function reliably enough (something I disagree with), it's not as if there aren't still options that would help make the system fairer.

    eg. At least give voters some form of alternative vote, so we can express where we want our vote to go if the primary choice doesn't reach the threshold. Having that would do much to resolve the dilemma voters face when trying to decide if a vote for the option they really want will end up hindering the eventual government they're hoping for, and it'd help minor parties to reach the threshold if they're not having to compete with people's doubts about the electoral system.

    The fact that we have a situation where parties can legitimately tell voters that they'll risk wasting their vote if they vote for what they really want, is shameful. Even if people can't elect their first choice, we should be aiming for as few wasted votes as possible.

    Wellington • Since Jan 2007 • 1142 posts Report

  • Bruce Ward, in reply to izogi,

    The fact that we have a situation where parties can legitimately tell voters that they'll risk wasting their vote if they vote for what they really want, is shameful.


    Nelson • Since Jul 2011 • 33 posts Report

  • Paul Campbell, in reply to Kevin McCready,

    You misunderstand MMP. Winston merely gets media attention and this silly line that he holds “balance of power” because he doesn’t announce intentions until after everyone else. Greens also have “balance of power” if you want to run that line.

    Actually my point was that with the numbers shown above any realistic ruling coalition would still need Winston to form a govt just like they do today (for example I don't consider Nats+Greens as a realistic coalition that would actually happen)

    Dunedin • Since Nov 2006 • 2623 posts Report

  • izogi,

    Obviously, voters would behave differently if there was no threshold

    This is an important consideration, I think. It's hard to predict what would really happen with no threshold or a lower threshold. There'd be a much greater incentive for new parties instead of trying to work inside an existing party. So we might see multiple new parties in parliament that've sucked votes from the likes of Labour's and especially National's traditional voting blocs with all their conflicting interests.

    That's not an inviting situation for the traditional National and Labour establishment, which is probably why Judith Collins immediately binned the MMP review instead of enabling it to start a real discussion that could have ended in improving MMP.

    Wellington • Since Jan 2007 • 1142 posts Report

  • Dennis Frank,

    I'm sympathetic to the diversity perspective, and confident the ALCP would have prospered under MMP with no threshold since cannabis users passed the majority here some years ago according to polls (albeit that many would have voted for established parties for other reasons).

    Proliferating sectarianism is the downside: last count I saw christians had globally subdivided into more than 4000 sects. Or was it 40,000? Anyway voters would probably be more restrained due to the disincentive of wasting their votes on the diminishing returns of proliferation. But the clamour for air-time would irritate many!

    Whilst it seems a shame that the Maori Party & TOP have been relegated, they now have the opportunity to demonstrate resilience and durability. I was one of the 7% of the electorate who voted for the Greens in 1990 under FPP, and promptly joined them to help make them successful. If a party has brand authenticity likely to resonate with a significant portion of the electorate, it ought to consolidate.

    ACT seems to have proven that durability is possible without authenticity - with another party link providing a life-support system. Roger Douglas probably thought founding the party on the mutual-interest basis shared by consumers and taxpayers was a good idea since there are plenty of both, but voters seem not to have believed that ACT was genuinely representing them on that basis. ACT reps have jointly trashed their brand, making it toxic to voters. Authenticity is the lesson to learn.

    New Zealand • Since Jun 2016 • 292 posts Report

  • tussock,

    Oh, it's such a long story, but here's a summary in a comment. (1.4 first divisor, because) alt.history of no threshold!

    1996: Christian Coalition (5) and ALCP (2) were discarded, National + NZFirst loses majority, leaving either National + Christian or Labour + Alliance choice for NZFirst. Winston went right because negotiations were simpler with one party, and then the Shipley govt. happened.
    National 41, Labour 35, NZ First 16, Alliance 12, ACT 8, Christian 5, ALCP 2, United 1.

    1999: Christian Heritage (3), Future NZ (1), and ALCP (1) are discarded. No great change, Labour + Alliance + Green majority cut to 8 from 24.
    Labour 48, National 37, Alliance 10, ACT 9, Greens 6, NZ First 5, Christian 3, Future NZ 1, ALCP 1, United 0+1.

    2002: Outdoor Rec (2), Christian Heritage (2), Alliance (1), and ALCP (1) are discarded. Interesting government, Labour + Progs + United majority cut from 4 to 0, but there's a pile of centre parties to play the issues on, probably Outdoor Rec give them back the 4 seat majority.
    Labour 50, National 25, NZ First 12, ACT 9, United 8, Greens 8, Progressive 2, Christian 2, Outdoor 2, Alliance 1, ALCP 1.

    2005: Destiny NZ (1) is discarded. No change in Labour + NZFirst + Green majority, the seat went to National. Most likely, many more minor parties would still exist without the threshold, ALCP, Alliance, Christians, likely splitting both wings a bit more, though National recovering the racist vote helped them anyway.
    Labour 50, National 47, NZ First 7, Greens 6, United 3, Māori 3+1, ACT 2, Progressive 1, Destiny 1.

    2008: NZ First (5) is discarded. Boom. National + ACT + United Majority cut from 2 to 0. Māori Party or NZ First needed for a majority, and National + NZ First + Māori are a majority. Very different first term for the National party government most likely, probably no way to bolt together a Labour government.
    National 55, Labour 42, Greens 8, NZ First 5, ACT 5, Māori 3+2, Progressive 1, United 1.

    2011: Conservative (3) is discarded. National + ACT + United majority lost, many options exist for National majority on bills, but NZ First is the most likely option I can see for government.
    National 57, Labour 33, Greens 14, NZ First 8, Conservative 3, Māori 2+1, Mana 1, ACT 1, United 1.

    2014: Conservative (5) and Mana (2) are discarded. National + ACT + United majority lost again. Again, almost certainly National + NZ First government, give or take for that having been the government previously and how that affects voting.
    National 57, Labour 30, Greens 13, NZ First 10, Conservative 5, Māori 2, Mana 2, ACT 1, Unitied 1.

    2017: TOP (3) and Māori (1) are discarded. Maybe Mana still exists after being a voice for the left in government, who knows, maybe some party survives in the centre instead of the constant implosions outside parliament. Probably the swing left gives us a Labour + Green + NZFirst, though a National + NZFirst government only lost four seats. Again, speculative depending how people actually vote.
    National 54, Labour 45, NZ First 9, Greens 8, TOP 3, Māori 1, ACT 0+1.

    Basically, we get right wing neoliberal governments because of this, and always have. Winston has also played the "I'll go with the biggest party" card a few times to try and eliminate the competition from the centre, and I'm not sure that works for him if there's no threshold to help kill them off.

    Since Nov 2006 • 611 posts Report

  • Dennis Frank, in reply to tussock,

    A similar historical analysis has today been published here:

    Worth considering this from the author: "voters appear to treat the threshold as a measure of viability. Below this, the risk of a third party losing their seat seems to deter voters: if the party’s electorate is lost, a party vote for them will be wasted. This may be a recognition that winning electorate seats are a tenuous position for third parties, as they depend on the candidate winning cross-over support from voters of different parties... the difficulty of getting into parliament, and of sustaining their support if they can’t crack 5%, helps explain why 2017 saw the fewest third parties ever under MMP."

    New Zealand • Since Jun 2016 • 292 posts Report

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