Legal Beagle by Graeme Edgeler

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Legal Beagle: MMP Review #1: The Party Vote Threshold

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  • Steven Peters, in reply to BenWilson,

    My understanding Ben is that you are equivocal about the one seat threshold, and not taking an unequivocal right or wrong stand. As I understand it, for you, it depends on the party vote threshold level. I am unequivocally opposed to it, for the reasons the Electoral Commission outlined - it creates unfairness and anomalies. Yes it shows National is not wanting to keep the one seat threshold on principle, but that it is in their interest at the moment. Outside of Te Tai Tokerau, a party vote for Mana is indeed a wasted vote, I would have thought.
    I see what you mean Rob.

    CHCH • Since Oct 2012 • 96 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Keir Leslie,

    The one seat threshold empowers major parties: functionally, most electorate seats are in the gift of National or Labour, and so they can control which minor parties get to take advantage of that option.

    Most seats, yes. But key seats, no. Strong electoral candidates, typically defectors, have made big differences in NZ politics. The possibility of coat-tailing encourages defection, which weakens the major parties.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10633 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Steven Peters,

    As I understand it, for you, it depends on the party vote threshold level.

    Yes, I'd trade dropping the OST for any drop in the PVT greater than 1%. Ideally, I don't agree with PVT either. But a 20% drop in the barrier to political entry for minor groups is worth a lot. A 100% drop would be fairer, the reasons for barriers are extremely weak, as I detailed in long post on this thread some time ago. They are strongly similar to the reasons for excluding women and other races from voting, in times past.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10633 posts Report Reply

  • Steven Peters,

    What is the difference between most seats, and key seats, Ben?
    Is it the possibility of coat tailing that weakens the major parties, or simply of defection, which points to the divisions within the party itself. In a sense, party defections are an indicator that we do not have a sufficient diversity of parties in the house, that can accommodate the diversity of views not only in the nation, but in political parties themselves.
    Are you saying that dropping the party vote threshold from 5% to 4% is worth a lot. It better than nothing I suppose, but not much, so I beg to differ.
    I cannot think of a single party that is empowered by the one seat threshold. If there is one, who is it?

    CHCH • Since Oct 2012 • 96 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz, in reply to Steven Peters,

    Outside of Te Tai Tokerau, a party vote for Mana is indeed a wasted vote, I would have thought

    In some ways. But unless I'm reading this wrong (which is very possible) Mana were only 8000 votes shy of a second seat.

    RAM (who were more left wing than Mana. Bunch of Trots, which is probably why they imploded) got 87,000 votes in the 2003 Auckland Regional Council elections.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report Reply

  • Steven Peters,

    When you say, Ben, you would trade the one seat electorate for a 20% drop in the party vote threshold, what level are you assuming is the level it should drop 20% from?

    CHCH • Since Oct 2012 • 96 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Steven Peters,

    Going from 5% to 4% is a 20% drop. 20% less people would need to vote for a minor party, for it to get representation. That's a substantial move. I'd rather there was no threshold at all, beyond the "have to get enough for one seat" ie 0.83%. But moving toward that is a good start. People might start realizing how completely arbitrary the value is, that it really is the "How many NZ people do we want to exclude from representation" factor, which has been steadily coming down for over a hundred years.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10633 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Steven Peters,

    I cannot think of a single party that is empowered by the one seat threshold. If there is one, who is it?

    Over the last 17 years, it has variously advantaged NZF, ACT, Alliance, Progressive, UF. The party vote threshold has also threatened the Green party with oblivion 4 times, and wiped out NZF in 2008.

    What is the difference between most seats, and key seats, Ben?

    The key seats empower the small parties.

    Is it the possibility of coat tailing that weakens the major parties, or simply of defection, which points to the divisions within the party itself.

    I'd argue that coat tailing makes defection more attractive, since it offers the chance of running a whole party. It obviously appealed to Brash, even though he was nowhere near canny enough to think that putting himself in as the Epsom candidate might be wiser for his future (and ACTs). But I'm not sure history backs me up - defection seems to have become less common under MMP. Probably because being a strong electorate MP is not necessary any more for large party success, and is a disappearing trait.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10633 posts Report Reply

  • Keir Leslie,

    In fact, of course, coat-tailing doesn't really affect defection that much. Anderton jumped ship before MMP. So did the ACT Party. So did Peters. The only defectors under MMP have failed to use the coat-tails mechanism.

    What the OST has done is allow one party to maintain another in a parasitic relationship, which is not, to my mind, acceptable. (And even weaker forms of this are distasteful.)

    I just don't think that the OST does enough to justify keeping it, given that various problems it has.

    Since Jul 2008 • 1452 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Keir Leslie,

    What the OST has done is allow one party to maintain another in a parasitic relationship, which is not, to my mind, acceptable.

    There's always going to be deals between parties. I'm not convinced by this point - I don't think ACT is necessarily parasitic on National. I see that they're simply strongly aligned.

    The only defectors under MMP have failed to use the coat-tails mechanism.

    United Future, 2005? Mana 2013 (I hope!)

    I just don't think that the OST does enough to justify keeping it, given that various problems it has.

    I'll give that it's a stupid hack, always was. A hangover from FPP, when local representatives actually mattered. However, now, it's the only little valve there is for parties less than 5% in size. They won't always be people I despise.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10633 posts Report Reply

  • Keir Leslie,

    Dunne, of course, didn't defect under MMP.

    ACT is parasitic on National at this point; it wasn't always, but the debilitating effect of reliance on the one seat threshold, and National's largesse in handing it a seat did it in.

    Since Jul 2008 • 1452 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz,

    Over the last 17 years, it has variously advantaged NZF, ACT, Alliance, Progressive, UF

    Beyond the electoral arithmetic, it's arguable that the coattail rule, by putting the electorate MP in a pivotal position, has caused these parties to degenerate into one-man-bands. The Progressives (latterly the Jim Anderton Progressive Party) dissolved after Anderton retired. I'm certain that NZF and UF won't exist after the demise of Peters/Dunne.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report Reply

  • Steven Peters,

    I don't see going to 4% from 5% is a drop Ben. For two reasons. 4% is the level; the Royal Commission recommended and the Electoral commission proposes as the minimum required for our MMP system to be fair and effective. 4% to me is the status quo.
    Second, the Royal Commissions 4% recommendation was based on having a one seat electorate threshold to reduce discounted (disenfranchised) voters whose parties were under the 4% threshold. The Electoral commission recommends the one seat thresholds abolition, but without reducing the party vote threshold to under 4%, as logically it should to be in keeping with the royal commission, to whom they looked for guidance. .
    Furthermore, the only parties to have received between 4 and 5% of the party vote are the Christian Coalition in 1996, (4.33%) NZ First Party in 1999, (4.26%) and 2008(4.07%). Other than it assisting these two parties , particularly NZ First occasionally, why do you say a drop from 5% to 4% 'means a lot'. In the wider scheme of things , it means very little, and is of little consequence compared to at a more meaningful drop in the party vote.
    The fact is, even 3% is a high hurdle to reach for small, new and special interest group parties. To reach 3% would require a lot more than 3% support in the electorate, as many who do support it don't vote for it for historic loyalties, or they do not want to risk 'wasting' their vote on a party who may not make the threshold.

    You are being unrealistic about the Mana Party getting anywhere near the party vote threshold (either 4% or 5%) as they gained only 1.08% of the party vote (20,000 votes) in 2011.

    CHCH • Since Oct 2012 • 96 posts Report Reply

  • Graeme Edgeler, in reply to BenWilson,

    I’ll give that it’s a stupid hack, always was. A hangover from FPP, when local representatives actually mattered.

    I'm not sure it's an FPP hangover - it was something Germany did, so we did it too (scaled for the size of our House).

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 3202 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    Dunne, of course, didn’t defect under MMP.

    He did really. MMP was approved in 1993 for the 1996 election. He left Labour in 1994, so certainly the different nature of the next election was in his mind. Though I think it wasn't until 2002 that he got in on Party votes (the famous worm), other elections he was always there on his electorate vote.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6243 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    I don’t see going to 4% from 5% is a drop Ben.

    Can I point out, it doesn't matter what you say after this if this is your lead off hitter, maths and all that.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6243 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Steven Peters,

    We basically want the same thing, Steven. I'm just prepared to say a small improvement is worth having whereas you think it's stalling something bigger. I can't really prove you're wrong, I just have low expectations for what is possible in NZ constitutional politics at this point.

    why do you say a drop from 5% to 4% 'means a lot'.

    Because it makes more effective the votes of tens of thousands of people. Also, the value of it might not be linear on the proportion of the drop, because it is, after all, a binary threshold. The impact on voter behavior could be more than past data would indicate. Things that poll around 4% might have got far less due to voters seeing no point whatsoever when their choice would get no power at all.

    I'm not sure it's an FPP hangover - it was something Germany did, so we did it too (scaled for the size of our House).

    We scaled the one-seat-threshold? What was the German threshold?

    Though I think it wasn't until 2002 that he got in on Party votes (the famous worm), other elections he was always there on his electorate vote.

    I checked back before I said "United Future, 2005", in the first place. That was the only time that UF got "topped up". Every other time, either they got only the Dunne seat, or they got over 5% (once, in 2002).

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10633 posts Report Reply

  • SteveH, in reply to Keir Leslie,

    ACT is parasitic on National at this point; it wasn’t always, but the debilitating effect of reliance on the one seat threshold, and National’s largesse in handing it a seat did it in.

    I think it was more symbiotic than parasitic. National needed the extra seat that letting ACT take Epsom provided. And of course ACT needed the electorate seat as they were never getting 5%. Of course now it looks like ACT won't even get that seat so I expect National will be fully contesting it next election.

    Since Sep 2009 • 444 posts Report Reply

  • Steven Peters, in reply to Kyle Matthews,

    'I’m just prepared to say a small improvement is worth having whereas you think it’s stalling something bigger'.

    It is indeed a small improvement, Ben, but only for middle-NZ voters (Kyle, when I say middle NZ, I don't mean it literally, like those living around the Wellington region - hope that helps).
    As I pointed out, Ben, only NZ First and the Christian party have been in that range, and only ACT has been 2-3%. When I say middle NZ, I guess I am saying white, middle/upper middle class/the rich, and older voters).
    You argue that a drop to 4 is an 'effective improvement for of tens of thousands of people' - but iI suggest only for middle NZers. I am more concerned about those outside this group who are disenfranchised, not those who emigrate from National and Labour, because of a desire to have their prejudices more brazenly articulated.

    It is an improvement in numeric terms, but in substance, it doesn't make an improvement to what the Royal Commission, and arguably the Electoral Commission, say is desirable for a fair and effective electoral system. I do not see such a paltry drop delivering much to those who don't belong to middle NZ, but it delivers a lot to those who do, because it legitimizes the continuation of the status quo. That's why the Electoral Commissions proposal should be seen for what it is, a sop, particularly in view of their additional proposal to drop the one seat threshold. Shame on them.
    You argue that 'The impact on voter behavior could be more than past data would indicate. Things that poll around 4% might have got far less due to voters seeing no point whatsoever when their choice would get no power at all'.

    I think you are relying on guess work, perhaps wishful thinking, about what 'might' happen, whereas looking at what has happened is more helpful, IMHO. Could you clarify your last sentence, for me, I don't get you point. Thanks.

    CHCH • Since Oct 2012 • 96 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Steven Peters,

    Could you clarify your last sentence, for me, I don't get you point. Thanks.

    No problem, although before I do, I'd like to clarify something else, again. We want the same things in the end. I don't think a 1% drop is all good, all that's ever needed. I just don't think it's worth nothing either. I've said repeatedly that I think there should be no PVT at all.

    So, that last point. It's not really that hard. Humans look ahead before they do things. They don't like to waste their efforts, rights, resources. Seeing that something will be wasted in one direction, they don't go in that direction. So the number found in that direction isn't an entirely reliable guide to how many people would be found there if there wasn't a waste.

    Barriers influence human behavior. So you can't really judge what the behaviour would be like after removing the barrier by what it was beforehand. A road block stops people going down a road, but that doesn't mean they wouldn't go down the road if it was open.

    Yes, if a road had been always blocked, it would be guesswork to say how much used it would be when opened.

    You claim it would only help "Middle NZ". I dispute both whether this is true, and whether it is relevant. Middle NZers are still people, they still have rights, and they can have diverse views. But the minor parties are voted for by all sorts of people. Is Mana a party appealing to "Middle NZ"? Some Christian parties are almost entirely the choice of Pacific Islanders. NORML is probably mostly supported by stoners. Maori Party is nearly entirely targeting Maori people.

    Also, the political system needs to be designed thinking of times in the future, not just now. So it's important to try to remove your own prejudices against whoever you think might be immediately advantaged or disadvantaged. That can and has all changed.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10633 posts Report Reply

  • Steven Peters, in reply to BenWilson,

    Yes I do understand that if conditions are changed behavior will change. However, the analogy you use tends to prove the point I am trying to make. If you remove the road block, more people will use the road. However, 4% is not taking away the roadblock, its just painting it in a softer colour - it is still a roadblock to minor parties, new parties and special interest groups.
    As far as representation rights go, specifically, middle NZ'rs have a surfeit of rights compared to those outside this general group, because of the 4% threshold. It is easy for them to vote for a party that represents their world view, more or less, that will gain most probably representation. You cannot say that for others who want to vote outside the Nat, Labour, Green, NZ First 'block' (ha, there's that word again!) Votes should be equal, and carry equal weight. That is the stated principle of the Royal Commission.
    I don't get the point you are making after you say' But the minor parties are voted for by all sorts of people' in para 2.

    The proposal by the Electoral commission to 'reduce' the threshold to 4% (the figure originally recommended by the RC) is not a political system 'designed for the future', as you suggest. The 4% threshold was 'designed' in 1988 by the royal commission. That's the past. And the history since has shown that they were correct that 5% would be 'too severe'. However, making it 4% is still severe, and doesn't change much for the goals that they set for the electoral system they designed back in 1988. They let us down I think in not opting for a middle figure, as for them a zero threshold was 'too low'. They should have opted for the range of 2 to-3%, if they were serious about real change, and I think they were hopeful for it. It still needs to happen, and 4% is no change at all.

    CHCH • Since Oct 2012 • 96 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Steven Peters,

    I don't get the point you are making after you say' But the minor parties are voted for by all sorts of people' in para 2.

    My point was to directly contradict your claim that the minor parties stand only for "middle NZ". That's simply completely wrong.

    The proposal by the Electoral commission to 'reduce' the threshold to 4% (the figure originally recommended by the RC) is not a political system 'designed for the future', as you suggest.

    It was designed for the future, at that point. It also didn't pan out that way. We don't have 4%, instead we have 5%. That's what happened. That's the reality on the ground. We're not living in an alternative universe, where MMP was done how the EC said. So, practically, going to 4% from 5% is a change.

    This isn't rocket science. You have to do considerable mental conniptions, and are doing them, to somehow convince yourself that 4% is the status quo. It's not, never has been, and if it did become the status quo, it would be an improvement on what we are currently living under. And I agree, it still would not be good enough. But improvement is improvement.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10633 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz, in reply to Graeme Edgeler,

    Interesting:

    President Pem Bird said the party has never ''seriously'' pursued the party vote and the article goes on to suggest they focus more on the party vote going forward.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report Reply

  • Steven Peters, in reply to Rich of Observationz,

    My point was to directly contradict your claim that the minor parties stand only for “middle NZ”.

    I don't see where I make this claim. In fact I believe the opposite.
    however this brings me to an important point. They say the study of politics, and hence electoral systems, is a 'science'. It may be good at number crunching votes and formula's, but beyond that, i have my doubts (but I digress).
    One of the flaws in the Royal Commission, and the Electoral Commissions Proposals, is their very loose use of what should be very well defined terms. Being loose with your terms leads to inaccuracies , misunderstandings, and masks the reality. Terms used in these reports such as 'minor parties, 'small parties', 'smaller ' 'new parties', 'main parties', 'large parties' and even 'extreme parties' , the latter being a particular subjective term. I think it would have been fruitful, and still would be, to set up a typology of these terms, so we all know what they may/do mean, and what we mean when we try and discuss these issues rationally - to ensure we are speaking the same language.
    I wont attempt a typology here, but off the top of my head, I see Nat and Lab as governing main parties, NF and Greens also as medium parties. Act (whose days appear numbered) and United Future are very small parties (with only one MP each).
    The Maori Party is a small party, Conservative medium (on the basis of their party vote) , Mana, very small.
    Actually this brings me to another important point. Someone mentioned that most 'new parties' were the result of MP's already in Parliament defecting from their 'parent' party (and good on them!). That is probably spot on, given the 'road block' of the party vote threshold, preventing genuinely new parties entering the parliament from outside, and not predetermined by existing political structures.
    If someone is interested, perhaps they could post a list of these defections. I cannot think of a single new party that has entered the house from outside, since MMP started in 1996, with the possible exception of the Greens.

    Regards
    Steven

    CHCH • Since Oct 2012 • 96 posts Report Reply

  • Steven Peters, in reply to Steven Peters,

    Oops - Freudian slip. I used the abbreviation above NF and was in fact meaning NZF (New Zealand First), not the (ahem)... no, I wont go there.

    CHCH • Since Oct 2012 • 96 posts Report Reply

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