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How to complain about Heather du Plessis-Allan’s racist comments

Women's_Mau_leaders_and_committee_in_front_of_octagonal_Mau_office_ca_1930_-_AJ_TattersallSome leaders of the Mau, a non-violent movement for Samoan liberation from harsh colonial rule by New Zealand. The New Zealand police killed eleven protestors at a Mau demonstration in 1929. 

 

What were her racist comments?

Some items from Mediawatch (Radio NZ) about radio host Heather du Plessis-Allan’s racist comments:

Broadcaster stands by Pacific Islands “leeches” claim (16 Sep 2018)

Mediawatch Midweek: 12 September 2018 (12 Sep 2018)

Media go OTT on PM as RNZAF VIP (9 Sep 2018)

 

How to complain:

The official process to complain to the Broadcasting Standards Authority is here. You have to complain to Newstalk ZB first, and then they have to respond within 20 days. If you’re not happy with your response you can escalate it to the BSA.

You can complain to Newstalk ZB either on their website here, or by filling out this BSA form and posting it to Newstalk ZB.

Here are some tips from the BSA about effective complaints. I wish I’d read this before I submitted my complaint.

 

The details you’ll need:

1. Station name, programme name, date, and time.

It is important to get these details right. ZB are using imprecise details as an excuse not to respond to complaints.

The station name is Newstalk ZB. The programme name is Wellington Mornings with Heather du Plessis-Allan, and it’s on at 8:30am to 12 noon on weekdays.

My best guess for the date of the first programme is Monday 4 September (as Mediawatch says it was the same day Barbara Dreaver was detained). My best guess for the second programme where she doubled down on her comments was Tuesday 12 September, because Mediawatch talked today about “last Tuesday”, but if it was Tues 5 Sep they could have covered it last week. I have asked Mediawatch on Twitter for confirmation of these dates, or – even better – for the full audio.

 

2. Precise details of what was said.

I suggest getting this from listening to the excerpts on the Mediawatch episodes. If I get the full audio, I’ll post that here.

 

What your complaint needs to say:

Your complaint should explain why the broadcast breached at least one of the eleven standards listed in the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice. There are some tips here about what each standard pertains to.

 

An example you can use (my complaint):

I just wrote this off the top of my head, and I would probably write it differently if I had read all the tips before writing it.

Nonetheless, it’s an example, so it may save you some time. (If anyone else has any examples, please let me know.)

Anyone is welcome to copy this as they wish for their own complaint. I don’t mind if you adapt it or not. No need to ask for permission or to cite me.

 

Which standards do you think were breached?

Standard 1 – Good taste and decency
Standard 3 – Children’s Interests
Standard 5 – Law and Order
Standard 6 – Discrimination and Denigration
Standard 8 – Balance
Standard 9 – Accuracy
Standard 11 – Fairness

 

Why do you think the programme breached those standards?

Please note that my complaint is both about the original broadcast from Heather du Plessis-Allan and also about the following Tuesday’s broadcast where du Plessis-Allan defends and stands by her comments. I have attempted to distinguish the two broadcasts in my below comments where practical.

Standard 1 – Good taste and decency. “Current norms of good taste and decency should be maintained, consistent with the context of the programme and the wider context of the broadcast.” Heather du Plessis-Allan said that the Pacific Islands (referring to independent countries and territories of Aotearoa New Zealand) “don’t matter”, asking rhetorically “what are we going to get out of them”, with the implied answer from her following comments being that we get nothing, as “they are nothing but leeches on us”. She also made other insulting comments about certain societies and people in them, as outlined in more detail below. This type of insult to entire societies breaches current norms of decency, as demonstrated by the widespread worldwide outrage earlier this year at US President Donald Trump’s comments referring to countries as “shithole countries”. du Plessis-Allan used a synonym for “shithole countries”, namely “hellhole” for Nauru. She also made similarly insulting and sweeping claims, such as referring to these societies as “nothing but leeches on [NZ]”, referring to “welfare sponging” in relation to some NZ citizens’ rights to superannuation in NZ territories, and suggesting in the following Tuesday’s broadcast Niue does not contribute anything to its own upkeep but that New Zealand aid is “funding all of Niue”.

Standard 3 – Children’s Interests. “Broadcasters should ensure children can be protected from broadcasts which might adversely affect them.” Whilst in the following Tuesday’s broadcast, du Plessis-Allan suggested that her comments were about the countries and their leaders, rather than the individual people in Aotearoa or in the islands, she also referred to individual people, such as people who live in New Zealand and then move back to Niue or other NZ territories with pension portability. Other comments in the original broadcast seemed also to refer to people, such as talking of “leeches” which is an insult that is typically applied to people rather than countries. (Other comments were more clearly about countries, such as calling Nauru a “hellhole”.) It cannot be reasonably claimed that no Pasifika children listening to the broadcast would take du Plessis-Allan’s comments as insulting to them as people, by reducing them to “nothing but leeches” who offer no benefit to New Zealand. It cannot be reasonably denied that this “might [have] adversely affect[ed] them”.

Standard 5 – Law and Order. “Programmes should not actively promote serious antisocial or illegal behaviour, including violence, suicide, serious crime and substance abuse.” Whilst not included in the list of examples, racism and/or xenophobia towards Pasifika peoples is serious antisocial behaviour. The programme actively promoted resentment towards Pacific Island nations as being nothing but “leeches” who “do not matter”, except, apparently, insofar as we should be upset at funding them.

Standard 6 – Discrimination and Denigration. “Broadcasters should not encourage discrimination against, or denigration of, any section of the community on account of sex, sexual orientation, race, age, disability, occupational status or as a consequence of legitimate expression of religion, culture or political belief.” “‘Discrimination’ is defined as encouraging the different treatment of the members of a particular section of the community, to their detriment. ‘Denigration’ is defined as devaluing the reputation of a particular section of the community.” du Plessis-Allan encouraged discrimination against a particular section of New Zealand citizens, namely Nieuan, Cook Island, and Tokelauan NZers who have moved from Aotearoa back to one of these three NZ territories. She opposes their right to receive NZ superannuation, whereas she does not oppose this right for other NZ citizens who also qualify for superannuation by living in New Zealand for the requisite number of years. du Plessis-Allan also encouraged, and indeed engaged in, denigration of a section of the NZ community (Pasifika people in NZ and its territories) and a section of the global community. She devalued the reputation of this section of the community by saying they do not matter, and that NZ does not get any benefit from them, because they are “nothing but leeches” on NZ.

Standard 8 – Balance. “When controversial issues of public importance are discussed in news, current affairs or factual programmes, broadcasters should make reasonable efforts, or give reasonable opportunities, to present significant points of view either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest.” du Plessis-Allan brought into the public conversation a controversial issue of public importance, namely whether the Pacific Islands have any value or whether they are “nothing but leeches on us” that “do not matter”. While I have not listened to every Newstalk ZB broadcast since then to see what other views were aired, I am not aware of significant effort from Newstalk ZB to present other significant points of view on this issue of public importance.

Standard 9 – Accuracy. “Broadcasters should make reasonable efforts to ensure that news, current affairs and factual programming:
• is accurate in relation to all material points of fact
• does not mislead.” “The requirement for accuracy does not apply to statements which are clearly distinguishable as analysis, comment or opinion, rather than statements of fact.” du Plessis-Allan made factually inaccurate comments, such as that “the Pacific Islands are nothing but leeches on us” that New Zealand does not benefit from these nations (despite many economic and other benefits to New Zealand, according to various official reports and statistics), that Niue is entirely funded by New Zealand, and that Nauru is a “hellhole”. She also gave a misleading impression of the rights of people in NZ territories to receive NZ superannuation if they qualify for it by having lived in NZ for the requisite amount of years, by portraying this right as “welfare sponging” and as an unfair imposition on New Zealand, without clarifying that this is the same right as that enjoyed by other NZ citizens who qualify for superannuation. These comments could be construed as statements of analysis, comment or opinion (and therefore exempt from this standard), but in later broadcasts she insisted that the “hellhole” description of Nauru was “factually correct” (she used the purported factuality as a defence of her right to make the comments).

Standard 11 – Fairness. “Broadcasters should deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to in any broadcast.” “If a person or organisation referred to or portrayed in a broadcast might be adversely affected, that person or organisation should usually be given a fair and reasonable opportunity to comment for the programme, before the broadcast.” du Plessis-Allan did not deal fairly with the Pacific Island nations (both nation-states and territories of New Zealand), their governments, and their people, when referring to them as “leeches” and saying they “do not matter”, saying that Niue is entirely funded by New Zealand, and saying Nauru is a “hellhole”. I am not aware of Newstalk ZB giving these people and organisations “a fair and reasonable opportunity to comment for the programme”.

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I don’t fully know how to feel so here’s some graphs

The day after the election I said “I’d be extremely surprised if it doesn’t turn out to be National-NZ First.” Well, I have the pleasure (I think?) of being able to say again: I was wrong.

I’m not entirely sure how I feel yet.
(I guess I’m happy? We’ll have to wait and see the content of the agreement and what the govt actually does. I hope the Greens demanded a lot and got it (this looks promising but we don’t have details or confirmation yet), and that Winston emphasised the 1/3 of him that’s like Sanders rather than the 2/3 of him that’s like Trump. There is real hope of climate action, more paid parental leave, faster minimum wage increases, reversal of the step-backwards pay equity law, adequate funding for health especially mental health, more support for students and some free education, repeal of national standards and charter schools, more affordable housing even if limited crackdown on speculation, adequately funding a full superannuation system in the future with the taxes future retirees are paying now, less poverty in families where adults are in paid work, and maybe even some benefit rises/humanisation.)

So instead of reactions or analysis I thought I’d do what I do best and make a couple of graphs.

Here’s the first one. It compares the votes received by the parties that ended up making up the government with the votes received by other parties who (a) managed to make it into Government and (b) plausibly might have banded together to form a government.1

votes for govt bloc vs alternative blocs

The takeaway from this is:

  • The 2017 government represents a majority of votes as well as a majority of seats. Under FPP, the government hadn’t represented the majority of votes since 1951. And even under MMP, governments don’t represent a majority of party votes every time (five times out of eight so far).
  • The alternative bloc (National & NZ First) would have been an even bigger majority: it got 1.29% more party votes than the bloc that formed the government. But this isn’t new. In 1996, the alternative bloc (Labour & NZ First & Alliance) got 4.42% more party votes than the bloc that formed the government. Both times NZ First chose what they thought was the best government bloc, not the biggest government bloc.
  • As I argued in my last blog, MMP creates monarch-maker situations more often than FPP because it more accurately reflects how people vote. As Winston pointed out in his reveal speech, neither National nor the Labour-Green MOU succeeded in winning a majority and king/queenmaking themselves. This left NZF able to make up a majority with either side. A lot of people don’t like kingmakers—especially when they’re people we don’t like, and especially when they don’t choose how we’d like. And I get it. But First Past the Post was worse. It artificially advantaged major parties and leads to disproportionate situations like 1978, 1981, 1984, and 1993 where the opposition bloc won more votes (often substantially more votes) than the government bloc but didn’t get the all-important majority of seats.

Here’s the second graph:

govt gender makeup

The takeaway from this one is pretty obvious.

Footnotes

  1. This means I’ve excluded other parties who might have liked to be part of a government bloc but they didn’t make it into Parliament (TOP, Conservatives, Christian Coalition, Legalise Cannabis, Values, sometimes Social Credit, sometimes NZ First, etc.). I’ve also excluded parties where it’s not plausible that they might have worked together: e.g. ACT with National and NZ First this time (they wouldn’t have been needed or wanted). I dunno if it’s plausible that Social Credit might have gone with Labour in 1978 and 1981 and National in 1984 because I don’t really know anything about Social Credit, but I’ve erred on the side of “who knows—maybe”. If we removed Social Credit from the numbers, the opposition blocs would be reduced. But still, in ’78 and ’81, Labour won the popular vote but National won a majority of seats. 

Don’t blame MMP for bad king/queenmakers

Where there’s voting, there’s a Deciding Vote

There’s a lot of focus on how much power Winston Peters (i.e. NZ First) currently has in coalition negotiations. He can choose which of Bill English or Jacinda Ardern is Prime Minister, and he’ll probably get some generous policy/baubles concessions from whichever one he chooses.

A lot of people seem to be saying it’s MMP that gives Winston this power. It’s obvious why people would say this: he’s had this power twice in our eight MMP elections, and he never had it under FPP. Still, I don’t think it’s the whole truth.

Rather, I think kingmakers/queenmakers (or, in general, people with a lot of power because they hold a deciding vote) are produced by the practice of making decisions by voting.

For example: in practice, the most contentious legislative matters in the United States of America are currently decided by one person: Supreme Court Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy. He was appointed by Reagan, but he’s more left-leaning than the other four Republican-appointed justices and more right-leaning than the four Democratic-appointed justices. So he’s often the deciding vote when the justices vote along broadly partisan lines. For example, he allowed same-sex marriage to be legalised, and he could also strike down partisan gerrymandering.

Of course, he’s not literally deciding by himself: it takes a majority vote to make a decision. However, where majority rules, whoever finds themselves in the position where they can tip the majority one way or another decides what the majority that rules is.

Of course, voting is not the only way things can be decided. In consensus-based decision-making, decisions are reached in much messier but more democratic and empowering ways. In dictatorship, decisions are made by one person or party,  not because they find themselves at the centre of the people’s preferences like Winston or Anthony, but because because they’re in power and people are following them instead of resisting or supplanting them.

But when there’s voting (e.g. the votes that happen in Parliament, as well as the votes for who will be the members of Parliament in the first place), there is what we can call the “deciding vote”. And it’s inevitable that whoever holds the deciding vote has a lot of power: the people on either side of the decision can try to motivate them to vote the way they want. This is especially true when it’s clear who holds the deciding vote and when it’s concentrated in the hands of just one person or party (e.g. Kennedy or NZ First). But even when it’s unclear, parties from either side can still speculate about what the deciding voters are likely to want. This is why political parties try to win the centre over to supporting them.

What determines who has the deciding vote is who has a vote and how they’re willing to use it. Who’s made up their mind to support one side in a vote, who’s made up their mind to support the other side, and who’s undecided. A voter among the undecideds who can make or break a majority with their vote has the deciding vote.

Sometimes the deciding vote is held by just one party/person, and it gives that party/person a lot of power. For example, on the US Supreme Court, if four justices have decided to vote against gerrymandering and four have decided to vote for it, Anthony Kennedy has the deciding vote all by himself. But if four justices have decided to vote against gerrymandering and only one has decided to vote for it,1 the remaining four justices share the deciding vote among themselves: any of them can decide to kill gerrymandering.

 

The Deciding Vote in government formation: the King/Queenmaker

A “kingmaker”/”queenmaker” is someone who holds the deciding vote on who will be Prime Minister. If we directly elected our Prime Minister/government, the deciding vote would be held by members of the general public. It wouldn’t be clear who held it, and it wouldn’t be concentrated in one person’s/party’s hands.

But in parliamentary systems, we don’t elect a PM/government; we elect a Parliament. The members of Parliament elect a PM/government by voting to support the government in votes of confidence and, usually, supply.

So the deciding, king/queenmaking vote is held by an MP or some MPs. (This is the case in all parliamentary systems, not just MMP systems.)

In a way there’s always a king/queenmaker, because there’s always a deciding vote on who the Prime Minister will be. When one party wins a decisive victory in an election, they win the deciding vote, and they get to king/queenmake their own leader. In 1999 and 2002, Labour won the deciding vote; they got to decide how to make up a majority from among the Alliance, the Greens, and United Future. In 2008 and 2014, National won the deciding vote; they got to choose how to make up a majority from among ACT, United Future, and the Māori party.2

It’s only in close elections where neither the left nor the right wins a decisive victory (and when left and right parties aren’t willing to form a grand coalition) that the parties in the centre become king/queenmakers. They get to decide whether to create a centre-right majority or a centre-left majority. And they get to choose which of the two major parties will lead the government and provide the Prime minister.3 And I think I’m OK with that.

When the king/queenmaker is just one party, it gives that party a lot of power. E.g. NZ First currently, or in 1996.

When it’s a group of parties, the power they have is reduced by being shared and requiring coordinated action. For example, technically United Future, the Māori party, and NZ First were joint kingmakers in 2011: if all three had joined Labour and the Greens they could have made Phil Goff Prime Minister with a one-seat majority. But they weren’t willing to do that. Instead, two of them kingmade John Key.

Similarly, Winston is often referred to as the kingmaker in 2005, but technically to kingmake Don Brash, he would have had to bring the Māori party on board too. And that was not going to happen.

 

Why is NZ First currently the king/queenmaker?

Currently NZ First is the sole king/queenmaker. This is because of which parties won seats and who they’re willing to support in government. There are essentially only four parties, and three have essentially made up their minds which way to vote about who the Prime Minister should be. So that leaves the fourth party with a monopoly on the deciding vote.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Germany (whom we copied MMP from) also recently had an election, but they had six4 parties cross the line. If NZ had more parties represented in Parliament, the kingmaking power would be shared amongst various parties (e.g. TOP, Māori, or even the Conservatives might have been able to make or break governments). This is one reason I support eradicating the undemocratic 5% threshold. When the left, the right, and the centre are all dominated by one party each, those three are more likely to find themselves the sole king/queenmakers.

Germany also have more of a tradition of parties being willing to form coalitions across the left-right spectrum. Until this year’s election, Germany was governed by a grand coalition between their equivalents of National and Labour. But their equivalent of Labour have pulled their support. So now it looks like they’re going to have something roughly equivalent to a National-Conservative-UF-ACT-Green coalition to keep the Alternative for Germany (the closest thing to the Nazis in Germany since the Nazis) out of power.

If a “Teal Deal” was a real option in NZ, the deciding vote would be shared by NZ First and the Greens: Either of them could kingmake Bill English, or they could decide together to queenmake Jacinda Ardern. However, a Teal Deal isn’t a real option in NZ right now—for very good reasons. So NZ First are left as the sole king/queenmaker. (This is presumably why National supporters want to promote the possibility of a Teal Deal: to weaken Winston’s power, as well as Labour’s).

 

When a party with 0.22% of party votes was the kingmaker and nobody seemed to mind

It’s not often noted in these discussions, but actually even before this election, a minor party held the deciding vote. Moreover, it was a tiny party with only one MP (and 0.22% of the party vote at the previous election): United Future, aka Peter Dunne.

After National lost the Northland seat to Winston Peters in the 2015 by-election, National lost the deciding vote to Dunne.5 In practice, Dunne usually used his deciding vote to support the National-dominated government. However, on some matters he sided with the parties to his left. For example, he (and all other parties except National and ACT) supported Sue Moroney’s bill to extend paid parental leave to 26 weeks. Dunne’s vote was the 61st vote that allowed the bill to pass its second reading. However, then-Finance Minister Bill English implemented a financial veto to stop the bill becoming law. This means Dunne and the Māori Party effectively voted both for and against this bill: while voting for the bill, they were also voting to support the National government in confidence votes, and therefore allowing National its financial veto power.

 

When this power is a problem, and how it can be addressed

People generally don’t like it when the king/queenmaker is a small party (especially a small party they don’t like); they prefer it when it’s a big party (preferably the big party they like).

People rightly observe that the power of the deciding vote is disproportional to the level of support voters gave that party (whether it’s NZ First’s 186,706 party votes or Peter Dunne’s 5,286 party votes + 13,569 local votes).

This sometimes makes people dislike MMP itself. As I hope I’ve established by now, the deciding vote is not created by MMP: it’s created by the act of voting and distributed by particular voters’ choices. Nonetheless, when New Zealand used First Past the Post instead, we didn’t have this situation. Either National or Labour won the majority of seats every election from 1935 to 1993, even though they rarely won a majority of votes (National only got 35.05% of votes in our last FPP election).

FPP makes it more likely that the deciding vote is held by one of two major parties for one simple reason: because it stacks the deck in favour of major parties. FPP makes it very hard for smaller parties to gain representation: the only way is to earn pluralities of support in certain local constituencies (e.g. the Scottish National Party in most of Scotland, or Rātana in the Māori seats, until they joined Labour).

FPP still doesn’t make small-party king/queenmakers impossible. In Australia in 2010, Labor and the Liberal-National Coalition won 72 seats apiece, and the sole Green MP plus three independents queenmade Labor’s Julia Gillard.6 The same year in the UK, the Liberal Democrats were (technically) kingmakers, because if they’d banded together with some of the tiny parties, they could have kingmade Labour’s Gordon Brown. In 2017, the conservative Northern Irish party the Democratic Unionist Party (1.5% of seats, 0.9% of votes) queenmade Theresa May. They wouldn’t have kingmade Jeremy Corbyn, but nobody else was going to queenmake May, so if the DUP had refused also, a fresh election would have been required. Thus, they had a lot of leverage and won a lot of concessions from the Tories.

Moreover, FPP has other problems that, to my mind, outweigh the greater risk of a small party exercising disproportionate power when it finds itself with the deciding vote. Here are three pretty major problems:

  • Under FPP, the party that wins the most votes doesn’t necessarily win the most seats. Labour got more votes than National in 1978 and 1981, but Robert Muldoon got to remain PM because National had a majority of seats. Similarly in the USA (where the electoral college votes work like Parliamentary seats in voting for the executive), the popular vote winner often doesn’t win: this is what gave George W. Bush and Donald Trump the presidency. Small parties may produce king/queenmakers we don’t like, but big parties produce PMs and presidents we don’t like, even when they only get a minority of votes.
  • Under FPP, parties often receive a large proportion of votes, but few if any seats in Parliament. Again in 1978 and 1981, Social Credit won 16.1% and 20.7% of votes, but they only got one and two seats. In 1993, the Alliance got 18.21% of votes and only two seats. Similarly in Australia, for the last three elections their Green Party has got about 10% of votes but only one seat.6
  • Under FPP, “swing states” or “swing electorates” often receive the vast majority of the attention and policy promises. This is most obvious in the US: in last year’s presidential election, 12 states received almost all the advertising and visits from candidates. The disproportionate power centrist constituencies hold is similar to the disproportionate power centrist parties receive when they find themselves with the deciding vote.

So solving the “Winston too likely to become kingmaker” problem by going back to FPP is undesirable for other reasons.

I would rather address the problem with an approach that’s desirable for other reasons: making MMP more genuinely proportional and democratic. We should eradicate the 5% threshold that lets National, Labour, and NZ First dominate the right, the left, and the centre. We should also introduce elements of preferential voting. Electorate votes should be selected by a Single Transferrable Vote, like city councillors are. And if we insist on keeping a party vote threshold, we should allow people to name a second choice, so if their first choice doesn’t make the cut, their vote won’t be wasted. These changes would make it more likely that NZ First would have to share the deciding vote with other parties in the centre. They would also make it easier for major parties to win the centre and the deciding vote, by giving them more support parties at the far ends of the political spectrum.

I’ve previously suggested that the Opportunities Party should devote their considerable resources to making MMP more democratic in these ways. Their dislike of Winston Peters and desire to strip him of his “monarch maker” powers is yet another reason for them to do so.

 

Footnotes

  1. Gorsuch, I assume, cos he’s a dick. Though, to be fair, he’s not the worst.
  2. Shrewdly, they chose all three even though they only needed one or two, to ensure none of the three had too much power. If they’d just chosen ACT, that would have been enough for a majority, but if ACT ever considered voting against National, the deciding vote would have flipped into ACT’s hands. With three small support parties, all three of them would have had to decide to vote against National in order to seize the deciding vote. 
  3. Technically, it’s not impossible for a junior coalition partner to provide the Prime Minister. This happened in NZ in 1931: the third-biggest party, United, provided the Prime Minister, George Forbes, in their coalition government with the second-biggest party, Reform. This is a very different situation to our current Parliament, because United and Reform ran as a coalition (and eventually merged to form the National party). However, the United-Reform coalition was formed precisely because United, the kingmakers, broke away from Labour and united with Reform. In both governments, United kingmade their own leader as Prime Minister. Anyway, I’d be astonished if Winston will become PM in this case, despite what David Seymour might say. If either National or Labour/Green gave him the top job, the voters would severely punish them in three years. 
  4. Technically seven, but the Christian Democratic Union and the Christian Social Union of Bavaria are basically one party. 
  5. Technically Dunne shared the deciding vote with any other party willing to vote with National/ACT. But on questions where Dunne voted against National/ACT, it would have been unusual for Māori or NZ First to vote with them to give them a majority. I don’t know of any votes where this happened. 
  6. Australia doesn’t actually have FPP, but it does have single-seat constituencies in its lower house. They’re distributed via Single Transferrable Voting in each constituency. They almost always go to a candidate from either Labor or the Liberal/National coalition. STV doesn’t really help Green candidates get in, but it does ensure Green votes are redistributed to voters’ second choice (usually Labor candidates, it seems) instead of splitting the left vote and letting the Coalition win every time. 

 

Special votes are increasingly turning towards Labour, away from National

So the final election results are out. The results weren’t too surprising… They produced the second of the two likely scenarios I outlined in my last blog:

  1. 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.

I’m pleased to have Ghahraman and Warren-Clark in there, as they both seem like good people. They also make the Greens’ caucus 75% women and Labour’s caucus 45.65% women (but meanwhile National’s caucus is lowered to 30.36% women):

Screen Shot 2017-10-07 at 7.55.20 PM.png

Here’s how everyone did in the end (for similar numbers for previous elections, see my previous blog):

Screen Shot 2017-10-07 at 6.58.14 PM

In 2020 we could have even more seats swinging from National to Labour after special votes are counted, if the following four trends continue:

  1. Labour did their best ever on special votes: 18.91% better than on preliminary votes. Their previous best was last election, where they did 14.16% better.
  2. National did their worst ever on special votes: 21.12% worse than on preliminary votes. Their previous worst was last election, where they did 16.86% worse.
  3. There were more special votes than ever, even more than the Electoral Commission predicted: 422,094 or 16.29% of votes.
  4. This was the worst election ever for minor parties. National and Labour together won a massive 81.34% of party votes: the highest since party votes have existed:

Screen Shot 2017-10-07 at 7.21.49 PM

Meanwhile, TOP did an impressive 63.18% better on specials than on preliminary votes. Only a few parties have done better than this on specials:

  • Internet Mana in 2014 (97.58% better),
  • Mana in 2011 (77.34% better),
  • Māori in 2005 (68.76% better),
  • Green in 2002 (85.52% better).

This brought TOP up to 2.4% of total votes. This was towards the upper end of what we could have expected based on the polls, but it isn’t anything like the massive polling error that would have been required for them to crack 5%.

One fact from the final results that could give some hope to left-leaning people: The combined National-ACT vote has dropped below 45% for the first time since 2005.

Anyway, now that the final results are in, Winston claims he’ll finalise a coalition agreement within the next five days. Will he do it? Who will he go with? How productively will he work with them? Only time will tell… I can’t predict Winston Peters’ actions with spreadsheets.

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!