Category: evidence

Realistic possibilities for Parliament post-specials (all two of them)

You, like me, may be wondering what will change in the parties’ seat numbers when the final vote count (including the special votes1) is released on Saturday. Well, I’ve crunched the numbers, and…

Short answer: There are only two likely scenarios for how the preliminary seat allocations in Parliament will change after special votes are counted:

  1. Golriz Ghahraman (Green) is in. Nicola Willis (National) is out.
    • Winston remains king/queenmaker. A Nat-NZF government would have 66/120 seats. A Lab-NZF-Green government would have 62/120.
  2. Golriz Ghahraman (Green) and Angie Warren-Clark (Labour) are in. Nicola Willis and Maureen Pugh (both National) are out.
    • Winston remains king/queenmaker. A Nat-NZF government would have 65/120 seats. A Lab-NZF-Green government would have 63/120.

Warning: by reading any further you are entering into the spreadsheet dystopia that is Caleb Morgan Day’s mind.

Long answer: On the basis of past election results since 19992, there are only two likely scenarios for how the preliminary seat allocations in Parliament will change after special votes are counted:

  1. Golriz Ghahraman (Green) is in. Nicola Willis (National) is out.
    • This is what will happen if the special vote results are like what they’ve been most MMP elections in NZ.
    • On this scenario, A Nat-NZF government would have 66/120 seats. A Lab-NZF-Green government would have 62/120.
  2. Golriz Ghahraman (Green) and Angie Warren-Clark (Labour) are in. Nicola Willis and Maureen Pugh (both National) are out.
    • This is what will happen if the special votes are like what they were like last election.
    • On this scenario, a Nat-NZF government would have 65/120 seats. A Lab-NZF-Green government would have 63/120.

The spreadsheets to back this up:

Preliminary, final, and special vote %s for the four main surviving parties (plus “other”), 1999-2017:

The important figure is “% diff”. This is how much better or worse a party does on special votes than it did on the preliminary count: ie its relative special vote performance.

specialvotes1

What would happen if the special votes act like five “average” scenarios:3

The five “averages” are:

  • mean of past special vote performance (1999-2014),
  • median of past special vote performance (1999-2014),
  • each party having the same special vote performance as what they did in the election where they got the closest to their 2017 preliminary result (different elections for different parties),
  • each party having the same special vote performance as what they did in the 2005 election, which was arguably the most similar to the 2017 election, and
  • each party having the same special vote performance as what they did last election (2014).

specialvotes2

What would happen if each party did as good as it’s ever done before on special votes, and its rivals did as badly as they’ve ever done before:

Note that each of these still only produces the two basic scenarios of seat numbers.3

specialvotes3

There are a few other technically-possible scenarios, but all would be surprising.

First, the spreadsheets!

What it would take for each of these scenarios to come true:

Figures in bold involve a party doing better or worse than it’s ever done before. I’ve tried to approximate the most likely way for each scenario to actually happen.

specialvotes4

Then, the text summary that doesn’t really deserve the term “summary”! In order of likeliness (to my mind), here are the other technically possible scenarios:

  1. Labour gain not one but two seats from National (Green also still gain their seat from National).
    • This is somewhat unlikely. This would require National to do 25% worse on specials than on normal votes. The worst they’ve ever done is 16.86% worse, so this would be a surprise, though National are trending downwards in their special vote performance. It would also require Labour to do 25% better on specials than on normal votes, and the best they’ve ever done is 14.16% better. This is more likely to happen, as Labour are trending upwards in their special vote performance, and they’ve probably taken some Green voters this time.
    • On this scenario, A Nat-NZF government would have 64/120 seats. A Lab-NZF-Green government would have 64/120.
  2. The status quo: nothing changes from preliminary results to final results.
    • This is unlikely. It would require the Greens to do only 15% better on specials than on normal votes. The worst they’ve ever done is 38.2% worse (in 2011). However, they didn’t do that much better (43.37%) in 2005, which was arguably the most similar election to this one. It’s also possible that the Greens’ usual special vote effect will be largely swallowed up by Labour and TOP this time.
    • On this scenario, A Nat-NZF government would have 67/120 seats. A Lab-NZF-Green government would have 61/120.
  3. National retain all their seats, and the Greens gain their one from Labour instead of from National.
    • This is very unlikely. It would require National to do equally well on specials as on normal votes, and the best they’ve ever done is 2.23% worse, in 2002. Each election since then they’ve done at least 10% worse. This scenario also requires Labour to do as badly on special votes as they did in 1999, ie doing 4.87% worse on specials than on normal votes. Each year since then, Labour have done better on specials than on normal votes, and this has been trending upwards.
    • On this scenario, A Nat-NZF government would have 67/120 seats. A Lab-NZF-Green government would have 61/120.
  4. New Zealand First gain one seat from National (Green also still gain their seat from National).
    • This is very unlikely. It would require New Zealand First to do equally well on specials as on normal votes, and the best they’ve ever done is 1.71% worse, in 1999. Every other election, they’ve done at least 15% worse, and they’re trending downwards in their special vote performance. Finally, to balance out the numbers, it requires “Other” to do 70% better on special votes than on normal votes. We can’t rule this out because TOP are an unknown quantity, but TOP are less than half of the “Other” votes, so to push the overall “Other” figure up by this much, they’d have to do even better than the Greens’ amazing 2002 special vote performance.
    • On this scenario, A Nat-NZF government would have 66/120 seats. A Lab-NZF-Green government would have 63/120.
  5. The Greens gain two seats from National (Labour don’t gain any).
    • This is very unlikely. It would require the Greens to do 110% better on specials than on normal votes. Only once have they come remotely close to this (2002, when they did 85.52% better). All other elections they’ve done 38-55% better. This scenario also requires Labour to do as badly on special votes as they did in 1999. As discussed under #3, this is unlikely. Finally, to balance out the numbers, it requires “Other” to do 65% better on special votes than on normal votes. As discussed under #4, this would be amazing.
    • On this scenario, A Nat-NZF government would have 65/120 seats. A Lab-NZF-Green government would have 63/120.
  6. New Zealand First gain one seat from Labour (Green also still gain their seat from National).
    • This is extremely unlikely. It would require New Zealand First to do even better on specials than on normal votes, and as discussed under #4, even doing equally well is unlikely. It would require Labour to do even worse than they did in 1999, and as discussed under #3, it’s unlikely they’ll even do equally badly. Finally, to balance out the numbers, it requires the highest TOP/Other vote yet. As discussed under #4, this would be amazing.
    • On this scenario, A Nat-NZF government would have 65/120 seats. A Lab-NZF-Green government would have 63/120.

You’ll notice that on both the likely and the unlikely scenarios, NZ First always has the balance of power. (Unless the “teal deal”4 the media are frothing at the mouth over comes to pass. And it won’t.)

By the way, here are some other scenarios which are so impossible that I haven’t even bothered spreadsheeting them:

  1. NZ First lose a seat.
    • Actually I did spreadsheet this one (see the comments section). This is extremely unlikely, because even on their worst precedented special vote performance, NZ First still get almost 7.5% of the effective party vote, and 9 is 7.5% of MPS. They’d have to do a LOT worse than ever before on special votes to be rounded to 6.67% of the party vote for 6.67% of MPs (8 MPs). And by “a LOT worse” I mean unrealistically worse (see the comment for the deets).
  2. TOP cross the 5% threshold.
    • This would require TOP to more than double their party vote from the preliminary count to the final count. I.e. it would require them to get more votes from the 15% of special votes than from the 85% of normal votes.
  3. ACT get a second seat.
    • This would require ACT to more than double their party vote from the preliminary count to the final count. I.e. it would require them to get more votes from the 15% of special votes than from the 85% of normal votes.
  4.  Any other parties make it into Parliament as a result of a change in an electorate vote result.
    • Howie Tamati and then Te Ururoa Flavell (both Māori party) are closest to achieving this, but they’d have to get at least 60-70% of the electorate special votes. Ain’t gonna happen. Marama Fox (Māori party), Hone Harawira (Mana) and Raf Manji (independent) are even further away, no TOP candidates even came close to second place, and Damian Light (United Future)… well, it seems cruel to even link to his results.
  5. Any other electorate seats change hands.
    • I can’t be bothered crunching the numbers, but the closest seat was Ōhāriu and it’s unlikely Brett Hudson (National) would win on specials as the specials tend to favour Labour and disfavour National. There aren’t any seats where the Labour candidate is close enough to have a hope of knocking out the National candidate on specials. Winston Peters isn’t close enough either. And even though Metiria Turei did the best of any Green electoral candidate, she wouldn’t even catch up if she won every single electorate special vote 😦

Don’t say I didn’t warn you about that spreadsheet dystopia.

Footnotes

  1. The Electoral Commission estimates that there will be about 384,072 special votes (about 15% of total votes). I’ve estimated that 90.77% of these will have a valid party vote, as was the case in 2014. (In 2005 it was 92.55%, in 2008 92.78%, and in 2011 92.26%. I couldn’t find the figure for 1999 or 2002. The Commission hopes this number will be higher this time because they think they communicated better about the need to enrol in advance or enrol at the same time if placing an advanced vote. However, I chose the most conservative estimate.) This produces an estimate of 348,603 valid party votes from the special votes. 
  2. I couldn’t find 1996’s preliminary results. 
  3. You may notice that the totals under “% special” and “% final” don’t actually add up to 100%. In practice, on most of these scenarios, at least one party’s special vote performance (e.g. TOP, included as part of “Other”) would have to be higher than what is listed for the scenarios to actually be possible. 
  4. I’m pretty sure I came up with this phrase first. I’m not just a spreadsheet nerd, I’m also the kind of nerd who comes up with the kind of rhyming pun that journalists love!  

 

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The evidence says TOP have no hope

BOTTOM party.png

 

The Opportunities Party leader Gareth Morgan has come out swinging against the polls, which unanimously report his party polling nowhere near the 5% threshold. He basically says they’re fake news because they (mostly) only poll landlines. He predicts TOP will actually get between 5% and 10% of the party vote and make it into Parliament.

TOP pride themselves on being an evidence-based party. So it behooves us to examine the evidence behind Gareth Morgan’s suggestion that TOP have a real chance of winning representation in Saturday’s election.

 

Question: Has any party ever achieved what TOP is trying to achieve?

Short answer: No.

Long answer: Only one party has ever won representation under MMP in New Zealand without a sitting electorate MP from a sitting party. That sole exception is ACT, who had several prominent former Labour and National cabinet ministers. That happened in the first MMP election, when everyone and their mum voted minor party.

Not many parties have won representation under MMP in New Zealand, whether through the 5% threshold or local seats. Only one MP has ever won representation for a party that didn’t have an MP elected in 1996 for one party or another: Hone Harawira, for Mana.

Most of the small parties that have won representation have done so via a local seat (Māori, Mana, Progressive, United, ACT, and NZ First have all coat-tailed in). Only 7 parties have ever reached 5%: National, Labour, the Greens, NZ First, ACT, the Alliance, and United Future. The last three have all failed more times than they’ve succeeded and have basically shriveled away to nothing (or, worse, to David Seymour). Scores of parties have failed to reach 5% OR a local seat: the Conservatives, Christian Heritage/Coalition, Legalise Cannabis, Destiny, Outdoor Recreation, Future, etc.

 

Question: Does the polling suggest TOP have a chance of reaching the 5% threshold?

Short answer: No.

Long answer: No. TOP have never exceeded 2.5%—half the threshold—in either the Radio NZ or the Stuff poll of polls. From information publicly available, their highest poll results are 3% and 3.5%—both on polls leaked from Labour’s internal polling. Most polls have had TOP between 1% and 2%. And their polling isn’t improving—if anything, it’s getting worse.

 

Question: Might the polling be wrong?

Short answer: Anything is possible, but TOP reaching 5% would require polling error on an unprecedented scale.

Long answer: It’s possible that the polls are wrong. It’s difficult to poll correctly and some error is inevitable. In 2014, in the week leading up to the election, NZ First polled 6.6% on Fairfax-Ipsos (they actually got 8.66%), the Greens polled 14.4% on 3 News-Reid Research (they actually got 10.7%), and the Conservatives polled 3.3% on Herald-Digipoll (they actually got 3.97%).

But polling averages and patterns are more reliable than individual polls. And even the famous polling underestimations of Brexit and Trump were basically within the margins of error. Both outcomes were considered less likely than the alternative but not out of the question. TOP cracking 5% would be way beyond the margin of error and completely bizarre.

Even with the errors cited above, polling averages in NZ in 2014 were reasonably close to the final results. The issue of many polls being landline-based is well-known, but also well-known to the polling companies themselves, and they have ways to correct for landline misrepresentation (and their relative accuracy last election shows they do pretty well at it). No party shot up to more than double its polling average on election day. If this happened for TOP, it would be polling error on an unprecedented scale.

 

Question: NZ First unexpectedly came back in 2011; could TOP do something like that?

Short answer: This situation isn’t comparable to that.

Long answer: In 2011, NZ First shot up in the polls after Winston capitalised on the Teapot Tapes scandal. Before TeapotGate, NZ First were polling only a bit better than what TOP are polling now. After TeapotGate, their numbers shot up. In the last set of polls before the election, they were above 4% in every poll except Reid Research (generally an inaccurate poll), and at 6.5% on Roy Morgan. They actually got 6.59%. It’s also worth remembering that NZ First were an established party who have never polled below 4% in any election since MMP begam.

There is no indication of any one-off event that’s going to shoot TOP up in the polls. (In fact, the Gareth Morgan Attention Meter has been at dangerously low levels for weeks and has now dropped to zero.) It’s still theoretically possible that such an event could happen in the next four days, but TOP would have to rise further and faster than NZ First did to crack 5%.

 

Question: Could TOP win a local seat?

Short answer: There is no evidence to suggest they will come close to winning any local seat. Morgan might have had a chance, but he isn’t standing in a local seat.

Long answer: In a “major campaign shift” after voting already began, TOP have started pleading for local votes in 13 seats, as an alternative route to representation as the hope of reaching 5% slips away. But it’s too little, too late. Winning a local seat when you’re not one of the big two parties is extremely difficult. It takes a concerted effort, not a last-minute plea for Grant Robertson’s votes.

Anyway, there’s no polling evidence (or any evidence) indicating that any TOP candidate has any hope of winning any local seat.

This is a good time to remind ourselves that no new party has ever won a local seat (or any seat) without a sitting MP or some high-profile former cabinet ministers. Gareth Morgan could have been the first exception to this, because he has a high profile and a lot of resources. But for some reason he declined to stand in a local seat—he’s a list-only candidate.

 

Question: Is this a good year for a minor party to achieve the never-before-achieved?

Short Answer: No—on current polling this will be the worst MMP election ever for minor parties.

Long answer: No, this is not a good year for a minor party to try to achieve the never-before-achieved. Before Jacinda took over, it might have been. But now, it’s looking like the worst ever year for minor parties since MMP began. On the latest figures, only about 16.5% of party votes will go to minor parties:

major and minor party votes

 

Question: Couldn’t a vote of support for TOP’s policies still help those policies come to fruition, even if TOP don’t win representation?

Short answer: Maybe, but you’d have to really prefer TOP’s policies to any other party’s policies for this vote of support to pass cost-benefit analysis.

Long answer: Sure. This could be the case—indirectly, if a decent party vote makes other other parties more likely to adopt TOP’s policies, or makes TOP more likely to come back next time with a more evidence-based electoral strategy. If you do the Spinoff’s Policy tool, you may find that you greatly prefer TOP’s policies to anyone else’s policies.

If you think TOP’s policies are so much better than the policies of any other party that you’d do more good by giving a symbolic vote of support to TOP’s policies than by helping your second-favourite party maximise their representation, then by all means vote TOP.

Or if you want to do a protest vote against the six parties that actually will get representation, by all means vote TOP.

Or if (for whatever reason) you can’t morally justify voting for any of the six parties that will actually get representation, by all means vote TOP.

Or if you believe it’s your civic duty to vote for your favourite party, strategy be damned (and if your favourite party is TOP), by all means vote TOP.

I’m sure there are plenty of reasons you might want to vote TOP. But if you think they have a realistic chance of getting into Parliament, you’ve left evidence behind. TOP-esque policies are more likely to actually be implemented in the next three years by the Greens, which is one reason I’ve party voted Green.

As for you, you should do what you want with your vote, even if it’s a principled unstrategic vote or a protest vote. I just don’t want people voting under false misconceptions. I wrote this blog because I believe “TOP have a realistic chance of winning representation this election” is a false misconception, according to the evidence available to us.

 

Question: So what should TOP do if they want to get into Parliament?

Short answer: Campaign for electoral reform and be more tactical next time.

Long answer: Here I’m switching into my opinion on effective strategy rather than sticking to the evidence. But for what it’s worth, here’s my opinion:

TOP should devote their considerable resources for the next 3/6/9/12/15 years to campaigning to make our electoral system more democratic. For example, by campaigning to lower the blatantly anti-democratic 5% threshold and/or introduce instant run-off voting for local seats and sub-threshold party votes. This would remove the spectre of “vote wastage” that places a near-insurmountable burden on new and small parties like TOP. It would be good for them and good for us. And it worked for Rod Donald with campaigning for MMP.

Next election, if TOP want to run again, they should do extensive research working out which local seat would be most open to electing Gareth Morgan as their local candidate. And they should stand him there. They should door-knock this electorate like crazy, poll it heavily, and widely publicise any positive poll result all around the country to build the impression that they’re a safe party vote, due to coat-tailing. By doing this they could help make it a reality.

Averages, intentions and inequality: more Key trickery

median vs mean

Graph from latest Household Incomes in New Zealand report; yellow and pink annotations are mine

John Key is being a Spurious George again. In explaining why he’d love to cut taxes for (mostly) the rich, but just can’t afford to yet…

Key pointedly said that when National took office the average wage was $47,000 a year but had risen to around $55,000 today, and was expected to climb to $62,000 by 2017. This was creeping towards the top tax bracket, where salary earners pay 33c in the dollar for earnings over $70,000.

“I don’t think it was anyone’s intention that someone on the average wage would be paying the highest marginal tax rate in New Zealand,” he said, echoing arguments National has been making in private for months.

Well, Mr. Key, it also wasn’t anyone’s intention for the incomes of the rich to rise so much faster than those of the poor, pushing up the average (mean) income to a level less than 30% of people reach. (Actually it was some people’s intention: right-wingers who think inequality is a good thing)

Key is trying to give the impression that the average (mean) income is the income earned by the person in the middle. But mean doesn’t measure the middle of the people, but the middle of the money; and of course the money is weighted towards wealthy outliers at Mr. Key’s end of the spectrum, who push the average up with their exponentially higher incomes.

A far more useful statistic is the median income: the amount that half the people earn more than, and the other half earn less than. This truly represents the average Kiwi. The median individual income is almost exactly $30,000 p.a. – just under the middle of the third-to-top tax rate band.

It’s actually getting more and more misleading to portray average income as a reflection of middle-income earners: As inequality worsens, the “middle of the money” (average income) is moving further and further from the “middle of the people” (median income). My eye makes it less than 10% difference in 1980, up to about 25% now:

Mean and median over time

Graph from latest Household Incomes in New Zealand report; yellow and pink annotations are mine

It’s also worth noting that the increased average income Key mentions has accrued almost entirely to above-median earners:

income changes recession and recovery

Graph from latest Household Incomes in New Zealand report; yellow and pink annotations are mine

Another problem with mean income figures is they hide inequalities like these and portray a boon for the rich as a boon for everyone.

I do agree in principle with indexing tax-rate thresholds (in fact, all thresholds… *cough*student loan repayments*cough*) for inflation, but Key’s trying to use that principle as a smokescreen for more tax cuts to the rich, spinning this as a release for the average NZer from crippling over-taxation, which is not true on any level whatsoever. Taxpayers between the median and mean incomes actually pay the lowest proportional tax:

Salmond Fig 8-2-01

Graph from Rob Salmond; yellow and pink annotations are mine

And in the context of a supposedly progressive tax system it’s the rich who are really best off:

“At very low incomes, New Zealand’s taxes are a little above the OECD average … But for high incomes, our overall “tax wedge” … is the lowest in the developed world.

Our tax system asks too much of those with little, and too little of those with much.”

This would only get worse under National’s proposed 2017 tax cuts.

In any case, if Key is really worried about too many NZers in the top tax bracket, there’s an obvious solution: Implement a new top tax rate(s) for the super-rich, like most similar countries have:

income taxes NZ aust
income tax UK france
income tax US

Soooooooooo: whatever people’s intention about who should be on the top tax rate, it’s clear John Key’s intention in referring to the mean income, rather than the median, is to mislead (or perhaps he simplify misunderstood statistics in a conveniently misleading way, as with child poverty at the last debate). Sadly he’ll probably largely achieve that intention.

Student politics + evidence vs. inequality

SPD U Can be part of the solution

I’m somewhat embarrassed to say that 5 1/2 years after graduating from the University of Canterbury, I’ve got myself embroiled in student media/politics again. But this time, instead of contributing to Pun Network News or trying (unsuccessfully) to bring down the UCSA status quo, I’ve responded to a face-palm-worthy Canta article defending inequality. I take aim at all-too-common, evidence-free, essentially religious arguments for inequality and capitalism. You can read it here.

I’m not embarrassed to have my article appear in a new alternative publication, Counta, set up by a group of students fed up with the anti-intellectualism and political illiteracy of mainstream student politics/media at Canterbury at the moment. Counta were happy to publish the response when Canta declined.

I’m also not embarrassed to say I was inspired to respond by a lot of evidence and research suggested by friends in MarxSoc, which enabled me to put together a well-researched response I’m pretty happy with.

So, although there’s plenty of disturbing, disappointing and depressing stuff happening in student politics at Canterbury, there’s also some encouraging signs in informed student resistance, and awesome groups like Students for Participatory Democracy, FemSoc, MarxSoc and UC POLS. These groups make me want to get embroiled in student politics again. If you’re at Canterbury (as a student or a staff member, like me), I recommend you check them out.