Sunday, July 26, 2015

Reporting poll results under MMP

This topic has been on my mind for quite some time and has been discussed at length on Twitter. Under MMP, is it useful to present National vs. Labour anymore? The electoral landscape of New Zealand is not only multi-party but multi-tiered between the party vote and the electorate vote. The Māori Party, United Future and ACT wield considerable power based on their electorate support that is disproportional to their overall party support. I do not think this is a bad thing per se. If you are a good electorate MP or if you are of some use to the governing coalition, then so be it. This is the way our electoral system is currently set up. However, the problem is that National basically monopolizes 'the right' in party vote and no other party on 'the left' has that capability. 'The left' is far more fragmented in terms of party allegiance. I, for one, think this is a good thing for the left. People who identify with 'the left' have choices and there is also far more robust policy discussions. The Greens and New Zealand First are formidable ‘opposition’ parties and when taken their support into account the wedge between the Government and the Opposition is much smaller.

This morning Radio Live tweeted the following:

This is a factually correct tweet but ultimately useless under MMP. Let’s take last night’s complete poll results for instance –
National: 47%, Labour: 31.1%, Greens: 11.4%, NZ First: 8.4%, Conservatives: 0.7%, Māori: 0.6%, ACT: 0.5%, UF: 0.1%

When comparing National vs Labour, the numbers for the left seems grim indeed. So let’s rearrange them differently:

*The reason I have Conservatives as “irrelevant” is because not only are they not in Parliament, it is unclear whether they would fall under “opposition”. They seem to be ideologically aligned to the right but at the same time seem to run on a platform of “opposing” the government.

The numbers look extremely different and not as grim one might add. Now, many will say that it is not fair to put NZ First with the “opposition” when they a) would not necessarily want to work with the Greens and b) could potentially end up in coalition with National. This is a fair point. However, I deliberately do not call it “the left”. I call it "the opposition" because my assumption is that if folks are choosing New Zealand First, they have a problem with the current government, its policy agenda, and/or its leadership. Even if we take out NZ First from the "opposition", the fight seems to lie in roughly 10% of the electorate rather than the roughly 20% when presented as National vs Labour. 

Next year, we would have had the MMP electoral system for 20 years. There are folks who vote in NZ elections who have never voted under (First Past the Post) FPP, including yours truly. The National vs Labour narrative is wholly useless to us once we take into account strategic voting in Ōhāriu, Epsom and Māori electorates as well split votes in places like Wellington Central. There is no democratic efficacy in this kind of reporting and I believe that our established media should reconsider the way they report poll numbers in the interest of democratic principles. 


  1. Radio Live may have tweeted that, but I note that your approach is how the poll was reported on 3 News: something along the lines of 'it all comes down to Winston'.

    1. Yes and I've noticed that the actual polling company's are starting say Labour/Greens coalition etc. This is a good change. My comment is more general and when journos speak on TV (for example) it's hard not compare Labour vs National as the two major parties especially in the context of 2-party systems that are so prevalent around the world.