Heather Roy

9 October 2020

The latest TVNZ Colmar Brunton poll came out last night showing Labour and Greens could govern comfortably together. Labour, with 47 percent giving them 60 seats (61 is needed for a majority), couldn’t govern alone. Together, National and ACT would have 52 seats if this was the election day result. This potential outcome has become a trend from recent polls and a betting man would probably be putting money on a Labour – Green coalition.

I was invited to comment on the poll on Radio New Zealand’s Checkpoint last night with Peter Dunne. Although the initial poll result looks fairly clear cut there are still a range of variables that could impact the final result on election day.

  • The poll showed 13 percent of respondents – 1007 people interviewed by landline and mobile phones – either didn’t know who they would vote for or refused to say. This has the potential to show a very different picture if they all vote.
  • The maximum sampling error is approximately ±3.1%-points at the 95% confidence level, meaning each poll result figure could actually be three percentage points more or less than the published result.
  • The poll was for party vote only. It doesn’t take into account the Maori Party is still in contention for the seat of Waiariki. If Rawiri Waititi wins the electorate it would likely create an overhang in parliament. This would mean a parliament of 121 MPs and the majority needed to govern then increases. Likewise, if National wins more electorate seats than its allocation of party vote it too could create an ‘overhang’.
  • The other confounding component is what we have come to know as “wasted votes” – those cast for parties who don’t reach the five percent MMP threshold unless they win an electorate seat.

It’s important to remember the only accurate poll is the election day poll.

I’ve commented many times on “wasted votes” and the dilemma the thought of a vote being wasted creates. It results in voters attempting to vote strategically – trying to assess the likely election outcome and usually giving their party vote to one of the two big parties, even when their preference is for a smaller party. I talked about the wasted vote scenario on air again last night because the combined poll results for NZ First, TOP, New Conservatives and Advance NZ poll were 6 percent. These votes would be reallocated on a proportional basis to the parties elected to parliament and result in a skewing of the intent of voters. This is hardly consistent with a well functioning democracy.

My daughter, on listening to my comments pulled me up. “Why are you talking about ‘wasted votes’ Mum” she messaged from overseas where she is watching the election with great interest. “No vote is wasted” she reminded me – and she is correct. We agreed referring to these votes as “unallocated” is a much better representation of what they actually are.

By calling out my inconsistency my daughter has made me think a bit harder about how to get the ‘no vote is wasted’ message across. A party vote is never wasted when it is cast. It is given in good faith and counted with the other party votes. If the party fails to reach the MMP threshold or doesn’t gain an electorate seat the vote goes into a pool which can be then considered “unallocated”. When all the unallocated votes are collated they are reallocated, on a proportional basis, to the parties who have been duly elected. If a party receives 10 percent of the total election day vote, it will receive an additional ten percent of the unallocated (or dare I say for clarity, wasted) votes. So a vote that may have been cast for small party is actually reallocated elsewhere. This is not what the voter intended.

I’ve called for the MMP threshold to be dropped completely so no vote would be wasted, unallocated or need to be reallocated. When I test this with people the usual response is they could live with the threshold being lower, say three or four percent. But most are opposed to getting rid of the threshold completely, because they say, “you’ve got to keep the crazies out”. Who are these crazies I ask? Without naming names I contend that some of those considered crazy by mainstream thinkers are already in our parliament and wider political environment.

In a democracy every view should be able to be heard. It’s what sets us apart from other political governance models. Likewise, every vote cast should stay where it was intended.  If there was an assurance a vote would stay with the party for which it was cast I believe people would vote differently and election results would be altered.

Maintaining the MMP threshold is driven by fear of unsavoury minority views taking hold.  It also suits our two old parties, National and Labour, who benefit most from vote reallocation. However a thriving democracy should have the confidence to allow everyone to have their say. Minority views can only ever get traction when the majority can be convinced of their merit. Much better that freedom of speech and association are transparent with issues being soundly debated than hidden agendas are promulgated behind closed doors and in the dark web. We’ve seen the result of this with the Christchurch Mosques massacre.                                                                                                                   

Sadly, none of the New Zealand political parties are advocating electoral reform this election. The leaders of Labour and National have said they would prefer a four year electoral term. I agree with this too, but the real flaw in our system is it allows people to vote for a party, then gives that vote to another party. That’s not cool or fair or democratic. “No Vote Wasted” is the slogan I’ve been waiting to see. Perhaps a petition is in order.

Check out my VoterTorque Election podcast series – podcasts by Simon Ewing-Jarvie and Heather Roy on the 2020 New Zealand Election.