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Posts tagged ‘National Party’

A growing swing to the left in the special votes

The Greens and Labour have been doing increasingly well in the special votes, and National increasingly poorly.

I did a projection, based on the 2011 results, that the Greens probably wouldn’t pick up the extra seat they often do from special votes. But I didn’t call it a prediction, partly because I didn’t intend it to be, but also because the numbers had the Greens only narrowly missing out on that 14th seat. So if the Greens had pushed just a tad further and made it over the line, I wouldn’t have been surprised. I said it was going to be close.

As it happened, it wasn’t close. The Greens had nearly 5,000 votes to spare.

Party Preliminary Projected final Project vs prelim Actual final Actual vs project Actual vs prelim
% Seats % Seats % Seats
National 48.06% 61 47.36% 61 -0.69% 47.04% 60 -0.33% -1.02%
Labour 24.69% 32 25.11% 32 +0.42% 25.13% 32 +0.02% +0.44%
Greens 10.02% 13 10.52% 13 +0.50% 10.70% 14 +0.18% +0.67%
NZ First 8.85% 11 8.54% 11 -0.30% 8.66% 11 +0.12% -0.19%
Māori 1.29% 2 1.38% 2 +0.09% 1.32% 2 -0.06% +0.04%
Act 0.69% 1 0.69% 1 -0.00% 0.69% 1 +0.01% +0.00%
UF 0.22% 1 0.21% 1 -0.00% 0.22% 1 +0.01% +0.00%
Conservative 4.12% 0 3.93% 0 -0.19% 3.97% 0 +0.04% -0.15%
IM 1.26% 0 1.39% 0 +0.12% 1.42% 0 +0.03% +0.16%

To be more specific: The Greens saw their 14th seat shoot not just past National’s 61st, but also past its 60th, to become the 119th quotient. This meant the Greens had room to spare: 4,873 votes less (with no redistribution) and they would’ve stayed on 13, or National would have needed 21,836 more to get to 61. (This is more than the ~18,800 “votes per seat” because National also has the 120th quotient.) For comparison, my projection had the Greens needing 1,139 more than projected to pick up a 14th seat.

Changes in context
What happened? I suggested there were reasons why the specials might swing further left in my projection post:

  • The number of overseas voters doubled this election compared to 2011.
  • Some universities had on-campus polling booths, where a lot of students would have cast advance special votes.

Further on the second point, as Jonathan Marshall suggested on Twitter, unlike 2011’s, this election was during the university semester so more students would have been outside their electorates in the first place.

But I certainly didn’t expect any combination of these effects to add to 5,000 more votes for the Greens alone, so I suspect there’s something else. Also, those reasons are just speculation. For all we know, it could even be related to migration patterns (including domestic migration), though I don’t know that those have actually been changing. The full statistics that the Electoral Commission will release in about two weeks might offer a bit more insight, but it’s hard to discern.

A growing swing since 2008
Beneath this swing, there might be an underlying trend. The Greens have traditionally done well on special votes, of course. But they’re doing increasingly better on specials than they used to, at least since 2008. (I couldn’t easily find preliminary results for 2005.)


The first set of columns is the special vote percentage divided by the preliminary result (so < 1 means a drop), and the second set is the difference between the specials (not total) and preliminary result in percentage points.

Now, take the sparklines with a grain of salt. The scales aren’t consistent between cells, and they each only have three data points anyway.* Also, the two sets of columns are just different measures for the same phenomenon, so the fact that it happens twice adds no weight. (I did both while trying to find a more consistent predictor of special vote impact, and couldn’t.)

But they do broadly indicate an improving trend for Labour and the Greens, and the opposite for National. And the trend isn’t small. In 2008, National lost 0.52 points from specials; this year, they lost 1.02 points. The Greens have gone from gaining 0.29 points to 0.67 points. One seat’s “worth of votes” is roughly 0.83 per cent, a bit less if you allow for wasted votes.

If I were in the National Party, I’d be concerned about this trend. As it stands, National is generally expected to lose a seat to the Greens on specials. But the Greens are getting increasingly good at this, and are picking up the seat even when the numbers suggest the increase won’t be enough.

For people who like numbers, here’s the spreadsheet I used for these calculations: Special vote impact projection 2014. It’s an extended version of the projection spreadsheet I posted earlier.

*Although there are only three data points, they are reliable since they are true by definition, not a sample. (Turnout is interesting for other reasons, but it’s the final result that matters here.) I’d be more worried about short-term circumstances giving the illusion of a long-term trend. The value of adding anything before 2005 might be questionable though, since the situation a decade ago might lose relevance to today.

The minimum swing needed in the special votes for the Greens to steal that seat

A 4.6-point swing in specials relative to preliminary, about 0.6 points more than my projection, would get the Greens a 14th seat at National’s expense. But even less might be sufficient.

I think a projection, which I posted yesterday, is more useful information that the “minimum required swing” calculations that I did for the 2011 election. But if anyone is interested in knowing exactly what the Greens need to clear the bar, here is that spreadsheet I did in 2011, updated with 2014 data: Required changes in special votes to steal seats, 2014 election.

I won’t go through all the various possibilities. If you’re curious, feel free to do that yourself using the spreadsheet. The situation that is most interesting, because (other than no change) it’s most likely, is where the Greens would pick up a 14th seat in exchange for National’s 61st (and absolute majority).

The Greens would need to swing +4.60 points in the special votes alone (not total votes), relative to the preliminary count, to take a seat. I have them projected to swing +4.05 points, so this isn’t unrealistic.

Here’s the catch: In the preliminary results, Labour has the 120th quotient and National the 119th. This means that Labour would lose a seat before National. So they need to gain a little to make sure it’s National, not them, who loses the seat. This isn’t hard: they’re 561 votes away (relative to an assumption that specials are distributed identically to preliminary), or +0.19 points. My projection has them well ahead of this.

So the “minimum change required” situation has both Labour and the Greens taking from National. You’ll notice in the table below that the Greens don’t actually need National to lose as much as it did in my projection: -4.79 points, not as much as my projected loss of -5.58 points.

In terms of absolute votes, this is a swing of 1,648 relative to my projection. I said in my last post that 1,129 votes more would suffice. The assumptions behind these figures are different. The projection margin (1,129) assumes that the Greens only gain votes, and no-one loses any, i.e. it’s likely to be an overestimate (not by double though—the equivalent National loss is 5,058). The “minimum required” swing (1,648 relative to projection) assumes that all other parties perform in the specials identically to the preliminary result. Historically (and hence in my projection) most left-wing parties do better in the specials at National’s expense, and these help the Greens too. So this is also likely to be an overestimate, probably more so.

So really, the most important hope for the Greens to hang on to is that they will perform about 0.6 points, or maybe (depending on what else happens) even just 0.35 points, better in the special votes than the 2011 swings might imply.* As I said in my last post, it’s certainly possible, but it’ll be very close. If I were Steffan Browning or Maureen Pugh, I’d have a very nervous two weeks ahead.

Party Preliminary Projection Special required Change on prelim Change on projection Total required Change on prelim
National 48.06% 42.48% < 43.26% -4.79% +0.79% < 47.47% -0.59%
Labour 24.69% 28.10% > 24.88% +0.19% -3.22% > 24.71% +0.02%
Green 10.02% 14.07% > 14.63% +4.60% +0.56% > 10.59% +0.57%

* My projection applies the 2011 preliminary-to-special swings multiplicatively, not additively, to the 2014 preliminary result. A full method description is in the post describing the projection.

Projection of special votes for the 2014 election

On my projection for the 2014 special votes, based on the 2011 impact, the Greens will miss out on a 14th seat by a whisker and National will retain its outright majority. Maybe.

I crunched some numbers to project (I didn’t say “predict”) the impact of special votes. I suspect most of you will just want to know the answer, so I’ll cut to the chase first, then give a bit of analysis, then give a bit more details, and I’ll talk about my method fourth.

Special votes include, among other things, overseas votes and votes cast for a different electorate to the polling place location. They aren’t counted on election night; they’re just set aside for the full count released two weeks later. And they’re not normally representative of the vote as a whole. Historically, special votes have favoured the Greens significantly—they have often picked up an extra seat from it, as they did in 2011.

The most fundamental assumption I make is that you can use the 2011 impact of the special votes as a guide to the 2014 impact. Some other minor assumptions will become apparent in the method description at the end.

Basically, on my projection, the results would stay the same. The Greens will get closer to a 14th seat, but because on the preliminary results they only just got their 13th one, special votes won’t propel them far enough for a 14th. However, they will be tantalisingly close, moving their 14th seat to the 121st quotient.

Party Preliminary results Projected final results Gain/loss
Votes % Seats Vote % Seats
National Party 1,010,464 48.06% 61 1,136,155 47.37% 61 -0.69%
Labour Party 519,146 24.69% 32 602,304 25.11% 32 +0.42%
Green Party 210,764 10.02% 13 252,394 10.52% 13 +0.50%
New Zealand First Party 186,031 8.85% 11 204,919 8.54% 11 -0.30%
Māori Party 27,074 1.29% 2 33,134 1.38% 2 +0.09%
ACT New Zealand 14,510 0.69% 1 16,685 0.70% 1 +0.01%
United Future 4,533 0.22% 1 5,098 0.21% 1 -0.00%
Conservative 86,616 4.12% 0 94,357 3.93% 0 -0.19%
Internet MANA 26,539 1.26% 0 32,826 1.37% 0 +0.11%
Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party 8,539 0.41% 0 10,894 0.45% 0 +0.05%
Ban1080 4,368 0.21% 0 4,992 0.21% 0 +0.00%
Democrats for Social Credit 1,609 0.08% 0 1,983 0.08% 0 +0.01%
The Civilian Party 906 0.04% 0 1,035 0.04% 0 +0.00%
NZ Independent Coalition 895 0.04% 0 1,023 0.04% 0 +0.00%
Focus New Zealand 677 0.03% 0 774 0.03% 0 +0.00%

I project the Green gain to be 0.50%, and the National loss to be 0.69%. In a lot of cases, this can be enough to win and lose a seat, respectively: one seat is roughly 0.8% of the vote (0.83% if you ignore “wasted” votes), so it’s easy to imagine that another 0.5% might push you over.

But in this election, it wouldn’t be enough. The reason is that, in the preliminary results, the Greens only just made their 13th seat: it was the 118th quotient, i.e., the 118th seat to be allocated. National, on the other hand, has some room to slack before losing a seat—in fact, it would have picked up the 121st quotient, if there was one. In effect, the Greens would need to pick up to nearly a “whole seat” worth of votes to pick up seat number 14.

In my projection, the Greens nearly get there, but not quite. They move their 14th seat from the 127th quotient to the 121st. So if there was one more seat in Parliament, it would be theirs. And they’re very close: with 1,129 votes more (all other vote counts staying the same), they would steal the 120th quotient from National. Conversely, if National had had 5,058 votes less (all other counts staying the same), they would give up the 120th quotient to the Greens.

What does this mean?
In practice, what this tell us is not necessarily that Steffan Browning won’t make back in at Maureen Pugh’s expense. It’s that he might—but it’ll be very close. Certainly, the Greens shouldn’t be expecting another seat from specials, like they could in 2011.

There are, however, reasons to believe the wind might blow in the Greens’ favour. Firstly, advance votes were way up on previous elections. This was partly due to a concerted effort from parties to promote advance voting this election, and (I think) more so from the left than the right. Now, ordinary advance votes are counted on election night. But special advance votes—which include votes cast in advance outside the voter’s electorate—are not. And, as @annagrammatiste pointed out to me on Twitter, a lot of those special advance votes will have been cast at universities, some of which had advance voting booths on campus this year. University students, on average, lean left.

Secondly, estimated overseas votes doubled in this election, from 19,500 in 2011 to 38,500 in 2014. Overseas voters are known for being particularly Green-heavy.

Without those reasons, I would have said that it’s more likely that the seat allocations will stay put, but not enough to put money on it. But these weaken that likelihood. My instinct is that it probably won’t be enough, but objectively, I’m not really sure. It’ll be super close.

That’s basically the gist of this post. If you like voting systems, read on.


Some more detail
To dive in a little deeper, here’s a quick primer on how the Sainte-Laguë method works. This is the method used in New Zealand to proportionally allocate seats. The easiest way to think of it (in my opinion) is that you allocate the seats one by one, to the party with the highest “quotient” at the time. Every party’s initial quotient is their total number of votes, so the first seat effectively goes to the party with the most votes. Then, every time you allocate a seat, you divide that party’s total votes by their next divisor to get their new quotient (leaving the rest untouched). The first divisor for each party is 1, then it goes 3, 5, 7, and so on. You repeat till you’ve allocated all 120 seats.

How are quotients relevant? Well, here are the quotients near 120 for the preliminary results:

Quotient National Labour Greens NZ First Māori ACT UF
118 8350.9 8240.4 8430.6 8088.3 5414.8 4836.7 4533.0
119 8350.9 8240.4 7806.1 8088.3 5414.8 4836.7 4533.0
120 8215.2 8240.4 7806.1 8088.3 5414.8 4836.7 4533.0
121 8215.2 7986.9 7806.1 8088.3 5414.8 4836.7 4533.0
122 8083.7 7986.9 7806.1 8088.3 5414.8 4836.7 4533.0
123 8083.7 7986.9 7806.1 7441.2 5414.8 4836.7 4533.0

As I said, the Greens got the 118th quotient, and won’t pick up another one until 127. National’s getting quotients more often because it has more votes, and the gap between dividing by 121 and 123 is “smaller” than between 25 and 27 (Greens), so to speak.

Here is the same for my projected results:

Quotient National Labour Greens NZ First Māori ACT UF
118 9547.5 9560.4 9347.9 8909.5 6626.7 5561.7 5098.4
119 9547.5 9266.2 9347.9 8909.5 6626.7 5561.7 5098.4
120 9389.7 9266.2 9347.9 8909.5 6626.7 5561.7 5098.4
121 9237.0 9266.2 9347.9 8909.5 6626.7 5561.7 5098.4
122 9237.0 9266.2 8703.2 8909.5 6626.7 5561.7 5098.4
123 9237.0 8989.6 8703.2 8909.5 6626.7 5561.7 5098.4

The Green’s 14th quotient is just 41.8 away from National’s 61st. So we find a rudimentary “margin” for the Greens by multiplying this difference by the 14th divisor: 41.8 × 27 = 1,129. For National, we use the 61st divisor: 41.8 × 121 = 5,058.

Okay, now for the exciting part. (Heh.) There are lots of ways to do this projection; Graeme Edgeler has one that basically gives the same outcome. This is how mine works.

I took the preliminary results for 2011 and subtracted them from the final results to get the “special vote addition”. I use quote marks because it’s not actually all special votes: it also includes votes cast at polling places with fewer than 6 votes (these aren’t counted on election night) and any corrections. But anyway, I compare the preliminary percentages to the “special vote addition” percentages, by division, to get a “multiplier” for each party. This multiplier represents a relationship between the preliminary votes and the special votes for each party.

I apply this multiplier to the preliminary vote percentages for each party in 2014. If a party didn’t contest the 2011 election, I just use 1 (i.e., no adjustment). Now, after doing this, the percentages won’t add up to 100, so I scale them so that they do.

The next part is the complication. The preliminary total vote count includes informals (ballots where you can’t tell who they voted for); obviously the sum of parties’ votes don’t. And the preliminary special vote estimate (I take the figure that includes overseas votes and fewer-than-6 places) includes ballots that might later be ruled invalid, because the statutory declaration wasn’t completed correctly or something like that. So I use 2011 ratios of preliminary to final counts to project how many valid special votes there will be in 2014. It doesn’t end up making much of a difference (0.4%), but hey, I wouldn’t know unless I tried.

The last step is to use the projected special vote percentages and the projected valid special vote count, to project the “special vote addition” for each party, add those to the preliminary count and that’s the projected result.

If you get excited by numbers like I do, here’s the spreadsheet I used to figure this out: Special vote impact projection 2014. The actual Sainte-Laguë stuff is in a different spreadsheet, but I’ve pasted the borderline quotients into that spreadsheet.

Oddities in MMP submissions

I’ve just been flicking through submissions received to date by the Electoral Commission on the MMP voting system.  Most suggestions are quite sensible—even ones I disagree with—but there are some bizarre claims made by a few:
(I’m only picking on political parties in this post.)

National Party: electorate seat threshold
The National Party is one of few to support retaining the one electorate seat threshold.  They say that abolishing it would be “unworkable in practice”, since it would necessitate “greatly increasing the risk of overhangs or reducing the list allocations of other parties”.

Neither is necessary: we can just say that a party missing the 5% threshold should get its electorate seats, as currently, but what would have been its list seats now just go to the parties next in line to get a seat.  The details are non-trivial but possible.  (I explain how it would work in my submission.)  Compared to the status quo, overhang is the same and the list allocations of other parties increase.  Workable, easily.

The Conservative Party also made this mistake, saying that if the one electorate seat threshold is abolished, we would have an overhang of 6 seats.  We could design the system like that, but it’s not hard to just keep Parliament the same size while reallocating “coat-tailers” to other parties.  (In 2011, there were actually no coat-tailers, so it would have made no difference.)

NZ First: the overhang anomaly
NZ First advocates introducing a 4% threshold for parties who win one electorate to gain additional list MPs.  (The status quo is no threshold.)  That’s all well and good, except when they say “this threshold… would go a long way to eliminating the likelihood of the overhang anomaly”.

This was probably just a proofreading oversight.  But their proposal wouldn’t have any impact on overhang.  Overhang parties never have list MPs (since electorate winners took all their seats), so the question of receiving additional list MPs doesn’t really bother them.

ALCP: representing cannabis users
The Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party criticises the 5% threshold as leading to the people “not being properly represented”, which is well and fine.  But their evidence is that “not one single MP is standing up for the cannabis consumers who represent 16% of the adult population”.  Given that 16% is greater than 5%, this seems odd.  Maybe these cannabis users just decided they had more important ways in which to spend their vote?

ACT: the thresholds
The ACT Party supports the 5% threshold to “limit and rationalise voter choice” and “assist with government formation”.  It’s unclear how, but presumably by preventing too many minor parties from messing things up.  But they go on to say that the one electorate seat threshold should be retained because it “allows more votes to count”.  It’s unclear how this reconciles with their support of the 5% threshold, which renders many votes useless.  It’s also unclear why they think waiving the threshold for electorate-winning parties has “contributed towards stable government formation”, while waiving the threshold for other parties would detract from it.

The ACT Party goes on to say that most advocates for abolishing the one-seat threshold do so for partisan reasons.  The ACT Party, which in both 2005 and 2008 had “coat-tailers” on their Epsom victory, has more incentive than any other party to advocate its retention.  They were also scant on reasoning of their own, largely conceding that the thresholds are arguable, “arbitrary” or “subjective” judgements and deferring to the 1986 Royal Commission, which didn’t actually explain why they proposed for the threshold to be waived for parties winning a constituency seat.


Impressively, both the Greens and the Labour Party managed to avoid any internal inconsistencies in their submissions, or at least ones that I could pick up.

If there was no threshold

If the five per cent threshold didn’t apply, the Conservative Party and the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party would have polled high enough to gain seats:

% Party





National Party
Labour Party
Green Party
NZ First Party
Conservative Party
Maori Party

ACT New Zealand
United Future
Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party
Other parties

* The Maori Party got 2 seats but won 3 electorates, so they keep their third electorate as an overhang seat
† There are actually 70 electorates, but Christchurch Central is currently tied before special votes, so for this count we’re just pretending it doesn’t exist.  It’s tied between National and Labour, so it doesn’t actually affect the total number of seats.

Under the Sainte-Laguë method with the threshold, National had the 117th, 118th and 120th seats, and Labour had the 119th seat.  Those last four seats would be lost.  The Conservatives, at 2.76%—higher than the Maori and ACT Parties combined—polled high enough to get the 18th seat in the allocations, as well as the 56th and 91st.  The ALCP had a close shave polling at 0.48% and picking up seat number 104 with 1,185 votes to spare (above the new 120th quotient, 8,331).‡

List candidates who would have made it List candidates who wouldn’t have made it
Colin Craig (Conservatives)—18th seat
Kathy Sheldrake (Conservatives)—56th seat
Larry Baldock (Conservatives)—91st seat
Michael Appleby (ALCP)—104th seat
Aaron Gilmore (National)—120th seat
Raymond Huo or Rajen Prasad (Labour)§—119th seat
Cam Calder (National)—118th seat
Jackie Blue (National)—117th seat

‡ In a 120-seat Parliament with no threshold, you generally need roughly 0.42% to get one seat.  The way I think of it is that you need more than half of 1/120th of the total votes, which works out to 0.42%.
§ If Brendon Burns wins Christchurch Central, he displaces Mr Huo out of Parliament and Mr Prasad into the last list position, so it would be Mr Prasad.  If Mr Burns loses, it would be Mr Huo.

This would obviously have seen the National-ACT-United Future combination fall short of a majority at 59 seats.  But there’s a solid chance that National would have considered the Conservatives a suitable coalition partner.  (They don’t agree on everything, but then, no two parties do.)  That would then have seen the right-wing group on 62 seats, still enough to govern.

Of course, even if the Conservatives were excluded here, the Maori Party’s three seats would also have been enough to give National a majority.  But that would have made life a lot harder for National’s legislative programme (as ACT and the Maori Party don’t always vote together).

Labour would have had a much, much harder time stitching up a majority, given that they would need NZ First (who said they won’t work with anyone), Mana (who Labour said they won’t touch) and ALCP (who knows?), and even with all of them (plus the Greens and Maori Party) they’d still fall one seat short.

So, no change in government and no radical change in its form, unless you count the entry of the Conservatives into a centre-right government as a big change.  (That said, at 2.76% they probably deserve those three seats.)

As for the ALCP getting into Parliament, it might scare a few people but the ALCP’s done okay before: in 1996, they got 1.66% of the party vote.  Nonetheless, 0.48% can seem like a short mandate to get 1/121st of the seats in Parliament.  If we used the modified Sainte-Laguë method, where the first divisor is changed from 1 to 1.4 but all subsequent divisors are the same (3, 5, 7, …) (as is used in Norway and Sweden) then that seat would have gone to National instead.

I used to do this exercise for fun (well, once, in 2008). It matters a bit more to me now because I’ve come to support abolishing the threshold altogether.  It matters even more with the review of MMP that will be coming up if MMP (as predicted) wins the referendum.  The change to this election result would have been relatively insignificant and I don’t like either of the parties that didn’t make it, but it makes little sense to me that a party receiving four times the vote of a party that gets one seat, should get no representation in Parliament at all.

What not to decide votes on

It’s not easy to be an undecided voter in this election.  Once in a while there’s a nudge either way, but it’s difficult to find anything compelling.  People who are convinced towards Labour or National typically base their convictions on startling misconceptions of both major parties, or on gross assumptions about the contest in general.  You can’t blame us for having such comments bounce off us.

A good cliché, for example, is the call for “change”.  What change?  National’s policies present little in terms of “change”; they are essentially Labour’s tinkered around the edges.  Unlike the 1980s, this Labour government has done nothing radical or disastrous in the last nine years.  A National government would have no pieces to pick up, and would find hard to ditch the better of Labour’s initiatives.  Change for the sake of change must not be what decides votes: an extension of this mentality would see constant changes in government, which can stifle progress as new governments take time to settle into office.

A word that floats around similarly is “trust”.  National, some would have us believe, can be expected to abandon everything they’ve said as soon as they take office.  The tendency for core National supporters not to have realised the shift in their party’s stances notwithstanding, such accusations seem to be little but rhetoric.  Differences from the Brash era are to be expected, perhaps even welcomed.  With the election in just over a month, National’s policy releases have accelerated significantly and are making some sense.

There are other misinformed grounds.  The “anti-smacking bill” seems still fresh on some minds, the better of people having forgotten that National voted for it at its final reading.  National’s turnaround on student loans seemed more of a reluctance to revisit done decisions than an indecisive flip-flop.  Undecided voters aren’t about to cry over pre-2005 social policies when we’ve got the economy to worry about.  And what’s this about governments telling us how to live our lives?  I certainly can’t feel it.

When I mention these thoughts to convinced voters, I mostly get reluctant agreement.  Yeah, maybe there wouldn’t be much change, and yeah, maybe change isn’t always the magic word… but it doesn’t matter, I’m still voting for change.  Yeah, maybe I should examine their policies… but it doesn’t matter, I still don’t trust him.  I’m sure those who can properly reason their decision know who they are, but by and large, many just haven’t caught onto the fact that we’re deciding between different two cultivars of apple.

Perhaps, as the election campaign progresses, things will become slightly clearer.  But it’d be silly for non-traditional or non-partisan voters to have decided by now.  Both parties have moderate track records, and both will be releasing exciting plans for the future (or so we hope), and that’s what swing voters should be looking at closely whey they make up their minds.

National out of policy vacuum (finally!)

As the election draws nearer, National—as it promised—has begun to release policies.  It must be concerning, then, that National’s poll ratings have dropped again, just as sceptics are forced to reconsider their impressions of a no-policy party.

This isn’t the first time National’s policy announcements have preceded poll stumbles.  When, in September last year, National announced its policy of removing caps on GP fees, and of partial (not full) sale of state-owned assets, they suffered a similar poll backlash.  One wonders if it might be that National’s real policies are unpopular policies.

National seemed to have learnt that, though of course they knew they couldn’t survive on nothing, and released the odd “we agree with Labour” and, to their credit, an ambitious broadband policy.  John Key’s conference speech last month might not have been brimming with policy, but it must have ended the vacuum.  Labour seems to have noticed—their attacks on National have been refocused on how silly (and contradictory) they see National’s policies to be.

The election billboards so far appeal to real issues New Zealanders can feel, and will give the impression of a party in touch with its electorate.  As we have seen, though, the devil is in the detail.  Getting tough on crime is all very well, but a $50 levy to compensate victims was hardly moving.  Recognising student debt was great, but a $500 bonus to voluntary repayments was of little real value.  Their promise to reform the Resource Management Act would have intrigued many, but until they explain exactly what problems they want to solve, it can be of little impact.  Spending $1.5 billion on broadband is great, but so are the risks, and they need to explain how it won’t revert the market to a monopoly.

National has set up its image, and successfully: no ideological shift, just a pragmatic centre-right approach by pinpointing key barriers to quality of life and economic growth and rectifying them.  As the real election campaign begins, they will need to show us that their policies are credible and thoughtful enough to actually work, and that they’re not just tinkering around the edges of the status quo.

And they will need to do that without suffering poll slips like they have every other time.  Otherwise, if they announce enough policies, they might just do enough to allow Labour to take the lead.