Archive for the ‘democracy’ Category

So, we now have a government in principle1, with New Zealand First choosing to enter minority coalition with Labour, supported by the Greens. Peters has said he understands that the deal offered to the Greens is a confidence and supply agreement, and the numbers I’ve heard are 4 ministers inside cabinet for NZ First, a parliamentary under-secretary2, and 3 ministers and an under-secretary for the Greens. The leadership team will likely be Jacinda Ardern as Prime Minister and Winston Peters as Deputy Prime Minister, although he hasn’t yet confirmed that role.

The TV news is making a big deal that National was the plurality winner, and for the first time isn’t part of the governing arrangement despite that. Our government has always had a constitutional requirement that only needed a majority of seats in the House to secure the treasury benches and the premiership, and that’s what the new Labour-New Zealand First coalition looks to have secured. This is really no big deal, and given that we have recently re-endorsed MMP, people will simply have to get used to the idea that any group of parties that gets over 50% gets to be the government, as it’s not going to change any time soon. I do expect there are some that will take some time to get used to the idea, but it might as well be now, because I expect it to happen again a few times before FPP thinking dies off.

New Zealand First are likely to be looking at areas like regional development, housing, primary industries, immigration, and education in terms of their policy areas of interest.

The Greens are currently holding a Special General Meeting online (better for the environment, more convenient for delegates) to vote on whether they will accept the deal negotiated with Labour, (the various branches having already had discussions on what sorts of agreements we favour, and then instructed their delegates) however the worst likely option is that they might ask for some adjustments before approving the deal3, if they don’t simply approve it outright. The party will seek a full consensus if possible, rather than resorting to the 75% vote that is the minimum requirement to pass a deal, because that’s an important part of party culture. They have officially confirmed to members via email that they are discussing the deal right now, and Jacinda has committed to not interrupting that process.

The offer from Labour, according to Winston, is likely to be a confidence and supply agreement, and this has now been confirmed by James Shaw, who says this is an ideal level of seperation and involvement for the Greens’ first time in government and given the election result. What does that arrangement mean for the Greens?

Well, firstly, it’s approve confidence and supply, or let National govern. Abstaining would give National a majority of one in terms of the remaining votes and thus afford them the support of the house, and Winston appears to have made locking the Greens out of coalition part of its deal, so it’s the only realistic option. There is a valid option to walk away from an agreement and just let National govern if the Greens feel that Labour is abusing their position, so the commentary by some in the media that the Greens have “nowhere else to go” is just wrong, they simply don’t want to go with their other option if they can avoid it. Besides, Labour will want to have the Greens on-side in case there is an option to ditch New Zealand First in three years time.

Secondly, it means more flexibility to criticize and question the government, exempting them from collective responsibility for cabinet decisions, which New Zealand First won’t have, while still giving them access to ministerial positions that can be left out of cabinet, which might include responsibilities like Minister for the Environment, for Climate Change, for Social Development, or for Transport. The ministers appointed outside cabinet would still have ministerial responsibility, so the Greens will need to be careful about which areas they accept ministerial portfolios in, as they will technically be responsible for not just all government policy in that area, but also the operation of those ministries, so they will ideally want any ministers be appointed in areas where they’ve achieved siginificant policy gains or policy alignment with Labour in terms of which ministries they take up. The Greens apparently know which portfolios they have been offered, but are waiting for Labour to announce their entire cabinet before they confirm them.

It’s likely to also include policy concessions, although perhaps not as much as going into full coalition, as that extra independence from the new government will have to come at a price.

This arrangement is not the same thing as the previous arrangements that the Greens have had in the last term of the Clark government or after they crossed the floor over the GE issue, as they will actively be supporting the new government, and in that case they were actually completely on the cross benches. It will be more akin to the relationship between the National Party and the Māori Party last term, but with a stronger junior partner who will be needed to pass any legislation that National doesn’t agree with Labour on. (This also means that Green ministers would be in a similar position to what the previous Māori Party minister was, where they would be asked questions in the House during Question Time, but they would be in a more powerful position where Labour couldn’t sideline them by going to other parties for votes very often, as their only option is getting National onside)

It’s worth noting that although technically parties with a Confidence and Supply agreement are not part of the government proper, even though their ministers are considered part, so if one of the co-leaders is not given a Ministry, they’d be in a position to be openly critical of government policy, and the other could still hold the government to account on areas not related to their portfolio. Of course, reporters or the public never made that distinction in the past, so it’s relevant to see whether they can be convinced that there is a difference between C&S and coalition this time.

A lot of party members have argued that staying at arms-length of a government that needs New Zealand First’s support to sideline the National Party and ACT is probably a good idea, and to be honest I can’t quite disagree. The Greens will likely be transparent about whose idea confidence and supply was is that is indeed the nature of the offer they got, and will be careful not to ruffle feathers while doing so.

While this may not be the ideal government all of us wanted, it will also prevent an almost-unprecedented four-term National government and relieve the pressure on people who are reliant on the state for support, or medical care, or education, and who have been suffering under an under-funded public sector.

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Every election, I do a report on disenfranchised voters. I thought I’d give you a preview with the preliminary results before the final count comes out soon.

disenfranchised votersThe good news is that it’s currently down on 2014. We’ll see if that remains the case after specials, which can favour smaller parties.

This is largely due to Conservative voters flocking to National, which to be honest, may have something to do with the fact that they were under-threshold in the first place, so it’s not exactly Rainbows and Sunshine.

The red slice of the donut graph is voters for the Māori Party and TOP, who had both earned multiple list seats but whose voters were disenfranchised due to our overly high 5% threshold.

The orange slice is ACT voters, whose 0.4% of the vote has been rounded up to a whole seat. While not quite as bad as actual overhang seats, it’s not exactly good that we’re overcounting a party that can’t even make it to 1/120th of the vote.

The yellow slice, or “nanoparties,” is every both below 0.83% and not in Parliament, so arguably those that legitimately shouldn’t be there anyway because they haven’t earned a seat.

Not a pollster was stirring, not even Patrick Gower’s pet mouse.

Okay, enough of that silliness, I have been too busy to write detailed thoughts on politics, but I HAVE been busy graphically explaining even more of the state of play on social media.

We now appear to have had the two final polls of election season, thus I feel relatively confident giving you the average results and the final results of the two major New Zealand polls. (Unlike some, I believe Roy Morgan is roughly as reliable as Reid Research’s/Newshub’s poll and Colmar Brunton’s/TVNZ’s one, it’s just done so infrequently that it’s not sufficently up to date now to be of use)

cb 19-9-17Let’s start by comparing the base seats we would expect to see in both of the major polls.

The Colmar Brunton narrowly paints Peters below the Party vote threshold. (until you consider the margin of error, where he potentially comes back in with a 52.3% probability over 2,000 simulations) I’ve been pretty strict that I haven’t assumed the Greens will win Nelson or that NZF will retain Northland, as the polling shows a small but significant gap in Nelson, and Northland was taken from the Government in a by-election. I imagine Peters rr 20-9-17is capable of winning it on his own merits now as he is an incumbent, but assuming those things without a poll to back it up makes me very uncomfortable, and nobody polled Northland or Ilam this election, and these could reasonably be assumed to be key electorates. This scenario is a hung Parliament, assuming it is dead-on, (and of course, it won’t be) but once you factor in the margins of error, there are probably a lot more ways for a left-wing coalition to win than a right-wing one, as there are more ways for them to have been underestimated, if Peters did end up losing his electorate and below threshold.

The Reid Research poll shows Peters’ party in coequal status with the Greens, and likely required for either side to form a coalition. If NZF abstains in this scenario, National can then govern, but every bill would require either NZF support or at least the Greens to cross the floor. That’s a very unstable arrangement, meaning either a National-NZF or Labour-Green-NZF coalition would be required if this poll is bang on.

But again, that doesn’t really give us the full picture. Let’s look at margins of error:cb 19-9-17 moe2
rr 20-9-17 moe

These double-ring graphs, or nested donuts, show us the bounds of each coalition arrangement. A coalition can govern if they make it past the bottom centre of the inner or outer ring. As no coalitions pass the centre in both rings, nobody is expected to govern outright. I have placed a stronger NZF in National’s bloc because that generally favours them more in forming a government, but they have of course expressed no clear preference, so should be viewed as a wild card. These scenarios are all four of them highly unlikely. In reality, the edges of the margin of error are so far out from normal statistical polling that lining them all up together like this is even less likely than the poll itself being rogue and some of the results being outside of those margins. To get a better idea about what these polls mean, we need to run simulations.

cb 19-9-17 sim

These graphs represent a lot more obscured work than the other two, which are just me plugging single-poll stats into the override column on my averaging spreadsheet.

The Colmar Brunton one represents 400 simulated elections, and what share of them each grouping “won.” I omit ACT from the National scenario’s name, but they are there in some of the outcomes. (I do allow for a rr 20-9-17 simchance for ACT or the Māori party to lose electorates, and even for Mana to win Te Tai Tokerau)

And the appalling circle of black doom on my right is a collection of 1,000 simulations, (I made it easier to do more as I went along) of which precisely four are too small to show and rounded out of the results, with 2 Māori Party governments showing up on the very edge, and 2 “crossovers” where either the Māori Party must work with National and NZF and maybe ACT, or NZF must work with Labour, the Greens, and the Māori party and maybe MANA, or one of the two has to abstain in order for Parliament not to be hung.

metapoll 21-9-17I have a healthy amount of skepticism about the changes to Reid Research’s poll methodology and the addition of online panels. While the two last results were superficially a bit similar, both the one-off Horizonpoll and Reid Research have been friendlier to National and New Zealand First than the other polls. It’s difficult to fairly compare Horizon without past results, but taken with its commonality with the two most recent Reid Research polls in showing either National or New Zealand First at unexpectedly high

metapoll 21-9-17 moeSo that covers the last two polls. The average is, as you’d expect, somewhere between them, with a little weirdness thrown in from using the older polls to moderate them a little bit. When looking at the average we should consider the trend of the most recent polls, which both agree that Labour is dropping a bit, National is not as high as the two latest polls suggest, although maybe higher than the average does, that the Greens are rising, however they are in sharp disagreement about whether NZF is rising or falling, however not to the level where we can be sure the reality isn’t simply that they stayed still or rose very slowly from 6% to, say, 6.2%.

I went a bit overboard for the simulations and did 2,000, just to be really sure, so there should be a fair approach there to decently representing the probability of what kind of Parliament we see after Saturday’s count comes in. I don’t pretend to know for sure exactly how the specials will bump things once they’re counted, but they have in the past tended to lose National a seat and gain the Greens one, and many young people registered during advance voting, which was newly available this year, and cast special votes at the same time, which might suggest that Labour will also start doing well in the specials.

metapoll 21-9-17 simWhile it’s often said of the minor parties that NZF routinely underpolls and Greens routinely overpoll, this is not exactly true. What tends to happen is that NZF has an upward trend that may be explained purely in lag between the poll and changes in attitude of voters on election day, while the Greens are usually in a downwards trend on election day that might also continue. This year, NZF had been in a downwards trend until the very last poll, and the Greens were in a consistent upward trend, although all three big polling organisations disagreed as to how much. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see NZF poll at somewhere around 5-6%, and the Greens poll between 7-8%, but it’s possible that the saying really is true and we will see the reverse trend.

Overall, it’s likely to be a close election, and there is a small possibility of Labour eking out a government if the polls haven’t been underestimating them and their potential partners, but it will need a large shift back from New Zealand First’s apparent recent gains if that is to be the case.

To everyone who hasn’t yet enrolled to vote, or is not yet sure they’re enrolled, you have until your nearest advance voting place closes to enroll, or until midnight if you want to enroll online and then cast a special vote on election day. (this may be easier if you are working and your advance voting place does not stay open late, as your employer is legally required to give you a reasonable amount of leave to vote if you work on Saturday)

Good luck voting on election day. Due to our weirdly restrictive laws, I won’t be able to post anything too political until polls close, (I can currently tell you that I voted both ticks for the Greens, assuming you didn’t ask me before I told you, but I couldn’t have said that on election day!) even though New Zealenders overseas almost certainly will be taunting us on social media, and an amount of us comparable to the combined support of the Labour and Green parties added together have already voted despite us advertising, exhorting, and persuading them throughout the entire period. Presumably before the next election, we may need to think about putting some light restrictions on the advance voting period that aren’t there now, and lifting many heavy restrictions currently on election day, especially the bans from individuals who aren’t candidates talking to each other on social media.

Another final thing that bears amplifying is that some people have reported Electoral staff are giving incorrect information to Māori voters, telling them there are certain independent Māori parties they can’t vote for if they’re on the general roll, (they are not allowed to even discuss what parties you might vote for, and the only time they should talk about whether you can is if they’re reassuring you every party on your ballot is a valid choice) or trying to give voters on the Māori Roll ballots for a general electorate, or failing to identify voters on the general roll and so assuming they are not enrolled at all, or directing them to put the correct ballot for their electorate in the wrong ballot box for a different electorate. That last one is a small error, as it is generally rectified when a polling place’s ballots are counted, as counters confirm all ballots do belong in the box they were submitted to, and simply move them to another pile if not. But the first two errors could potentially persuade voters to change their party vote or disqualify their vote altogether, which is a Really Big Deal. Anyone who might be identified, correctly or incorrectly as Māori, will hopefully be aware of what their correct electorate is, which roll they are registered on, that like everyone else they don’t need ID or an easyvote card in order to vote, and that once you’ve confirmed you have the ballot for the correct electorate, all options in each column are valid to be ticked once.

Good luck to everyone who hasn’t yet voted. Your Party Vote is the more important of the two to how Parliament shapes up, but your electorate vote is also relevant, especially if you live in any of the Māori electorates, in Ilam, Northland, Nelson, or Epsom, with those last two being three-way races. Ilam could return an independent, Northland could retain Peters, Nelson could see the second ever Green electorate MP, and while Epsom has a healthy lead for David Seymour, he is by far one of the worst MPs in Parliament, and if he wasn’t being thrown a safe seat by national repeatedly, would likely be gone by now.

I talked yesterday about what is the most urgent electoral reform in New Zealand, which is to dramatically lower the Party Vote threshold, preferably all the way to about 0.8%1

Kiwis have a recent tradition of liking electoral reform. We have a real streak of fair play about us, from wanting a more liberal and egalitarian society generally, to voting for smaller parties just to “keep the buggers honest.” We not only put national elections on a mostly-proportional MMP system, but we also implemented STV wards in some cities on local councils and for DHBs, and even an IRV2 vote for mayor in a couple places, too.

I attempted to canvas some party positions on social media yesterday, however I haven’t yet had any replies. The only electoral reform announcement we had recently was an old labour policy to implement the MMP review’s recommendations of a 4% threshold and removing the electorate lifeboat provision3. I will come back to this if I get some replies, so unfortunately I don’t have any concrete proposals from this election to talk about, but I will instead give you some ideas about where we could head in the future, while still keeping the best aspects that we as a country seem to like about MMP.

Electoral reform is a tricky thing to talk about, as to be really honest about it, you need to keep a mind to Rawls’ Veil of Ignorance in considering it4. I am being consistent in saying this, because although it’s currently the Greens and TOP facing a polling result near the threshold, we have had parties I dislike (more than TOP) facing that before and I have clearly said the threshold is wrong every election that has happened. The specific ones I am thinking of are New Zealand First and the Conservatives, but there was also a Christian party back in the day that merited a single list seat but didn’t get it. So let’s ignore for a moment what specific parties that would benefit from these proposals, and talk about Making MMP better, or even Transitioning From MMP to something even better.

Treat independents as overhang seats

Right now, there are different rules for Independent candidates winning an electorate, and parties that win more electorates than their Party Vote entitles them to list seats for. (I’ll call them “overhang parties” from now on) Currently, only those overhang parties get overhang seats.

Independents remove the 120th (and then 119th, and so on) list seat from Parliament right now. It hasn’t been a problem yet, because we haven’t had any independents in Parliament that haven’t simply split off from other parties since MMP, but I’m coming back to propose systems that will make them more attractive to elect, so this might be relevant if we go for those reforms, and besides, it’s simply daft to have different rules for each of them when our system to date has delivered for many more overhang parties than it has independent candidates winning electorates. And in terms of picking which rule we should use in both situations, I think it makes sense to use the rule whose results are easier to predict- it’s much easier to know what happens to parliament if we add an overhang seat than if we remove a list seat, and it actually violates proportionality less if add an extra seat, too.

The only good reason not to add overhang seats is if you’re worried that there could be so many that it drastically inflates the number of MPs and swamps the proportionality of Parliament. Right now, there is no indication that this is a serious worry.

Switch electorate votes away from FPP

MMP as we know it now is essentially a hybrid of two political systems, a Closed List system for the Party Vote, and 16x(1+ratio of North Island population to South Island population6) FPP electorate contests that can let people vote in candidates that might not be placed in winnable positions on their party’s list, or just guarantee smaller parties make it into Parliament.

While there’s no precedent for doing so, we could absolutely switch to IRV, STV, RV, or RRV for candidate votes in the medium term, or just because we like having MMP and want to make it better. Let’s go through them in three batches, as IRV and RV are the single-winner cases of STV and RRV and only need to be mentioned for their differences.

Such a system would technically no longer be MMP, (in fact, there’s no name for Closed List hybrids with anything other than FPP yet, so we’d get to invent it) although mostly it would function the same way.

The case for Single Transferrable Vote

STV would give us larger electorates, probably with 3 to 7 winners in each one. You would likely want to set a quota of at least two electorates for the South Island, and set a maximum of at most 55 electorate seat winners.

Each voter ranks as many candidates as they like when voting, but must write at least one number on their ballot to cast a valid vote5. When counting the votes, a “quota” is set to determine winners, an example quota is: 1 / (number of winners) + 1. So a three-winner electorate would require a candidate to win a quarter of the vote, assuming there are more than three valid candidates. (if there are only 3 or less, they are all automatically elected)

Then the votes are counted in rounds. Any candidate over the quota is elected immediately, and a new round begins. If no candidate is elected that round, the least popular candidate is eliminated.

In every subsequent round, the eliminated candidates have all their votes with lower preferences redistributed, and all votes with no valid lower preferences that can’t be redistributed are removed from the total. If a candidate was elected, a similar process is followed whereby their excess votes above the quota are fractionally redistributed. (ie. we look at where every vote for that candidate would have gone if they had been eliminated, and apply that as a ratio to their excess votes only)

We keep going through rounds until we have enough winners or we’re down to our last winner needed and only two candidates are left, in which case the most popular one with redistributed votes included wins the last seat.

STV is good in that your vote will, for practical purposes, likely count for at least one winner as long as you’ve ranked more candidates than there are available seats. It is largely immune to vote-splitting, although technically it can happen in certain edge cases. It’s also very hard to strategically vote in STV, as you would need hyper-accurate polling and a very close race in one of the rounds for it to be worthwhile.

But it has problems with expressiveness, complexity, and counter-intuitiveness: For instance, ranking every candidate and putting the ones you don’t like near the bottom can actually help candidates you ranked near-to-last, but it’s not obvious that you shouldn’t do this. Instead any candidate you don’t want to help, you should leave off the list.

Secondly, your vote becomes more effective if your list is longer. This isn’t obvious until you consider the fractional redistribution- that is, people who know what every single candidate is like and can list them all in order are more likely to effectively utilise the bonus of fractional redistribution of their vote. This means that the votes of high-information voters literally count for more, rather than simply figuratively counting for more where there’s an opportunity to vote strategically, so it kind of makes up for its relative immunity to strategic choices.

Thirdly, STV has some odd effects where ranking a candidate higher under certain circumstances can cause them to lose. It’s a result of its round-by-round tallying system. It’s also too complicated to be practically counted by hand, (arguably not a problem in terms of budget or practice, but really we should have a voting system where a winner can be declared even during a power cut) and you can’t provide provisional results. In short, it doesn’t get early results out very easily.

Having larger STV electorates would likely mean that each electorate would have at least one National and Labour winner, and we’d likely have a fair amount of Green and NZ First electorate winners, too. It would be harder to campaign for each electorate, but easier for more diverse winners to be picked. This would likely be good for non-Māori minorities as well as for smaller parties.

The case for Re-weighted Range Voting

RRV, or Re-weighted Range Voting, like STV, is a system designed for multiple winners, and it also uses rounds to determine its winner, although in a more limited way. You would likely want to set similar electorate sizes and quotas as for STV.

When voting, you would put a number in an arbitrary range (such as between 1 and 9, or 1 and 99. There are minor differences based on what range you select- eg. odd numbers without 0 let you evaluate a candidate as average, and larger ranges are more expressive, but more difficult to count, than smaller ranges) next to as many candidates as you wish, with higher numbers being better. It’s a more expressive system, because technically any number below average allows you to vote against a candidate, marking them as sub-par.

Some variations also take special consideration of candidates with no number next to them, or allow you to mark a cross next to them to indicate you’ve deliberately not voted for them. In those variants, you’re essentially saying you don’t know a candidate well enough to evaluate them. If plenty of people evaluate them anyway, that candidate’s rating is considered for winning a seat, but if a certain threshold of people don’t, say 75%, then they’re removed from consideration, so that you don’t get just a few enthusiasts electing an obscure candidate.

When the votes are counted, the first round proceeds as in normal Range Voting: An average is calculated for each candidate, and the candidate with the highest average (assuming they’re not disqualified for too few voters evaluating them) wins the first seat.

However, after this, each unique combination of votes is re-weighted according to a criteria. (there are several, each one effectively a different electoral system. The one I find most useful is “divide by distance above average,” so I’ll discuss it specifically from here)

In the second round we come up with a weighted vote for all candidates according to the criteria. In this specific example, everyone who voted for the first winner has all their remaining choices de-weighted, based on how enthusiastic their support for that winner was. (in 1-9 votes, this would be everyone who rated the winner 6 or above.) The next winner is selected based on the average of the weighted support, so that you don’t just get a tyrrany of the majority. This tends to spit out candidates proportional to popular support, but it also advantages compromise candidates, too. A candidate that everyone rates as 7/9 is much more likely to be a winner than one that 60% of voters rate 9/9 and 40% rate 1/1, because they’ll average out to somewhere around 6/9. Range voting works well this way because it penalizes controversy in balanced electorates, (other than of course, natural inclination away from boring politicians that penalizes centrists in general) but rewards it in unbalanced ones.

We keep re-weighting the votes based on the number and degree of support for winners, then picking a new winner until all the vacancies are filled. The weighting for the third and subsequent rounds is based on whether your original rating for a candidate was above average, not if the currently weighted value is above average.

This has several good effects:

  • The re-weighting algorithm incentivises you to be brutally honest about how much you support each candidate you think is likely to get elected, as you get “punished” less for a compromise candidate being elected, and not at all if you vote someone as average or lower. It arguably doesn’t punish you from exaggerating your support for a candidate you want/expect to win in the last round, however.
  • Compared to other RRV criteria, there is no perverse incentive to rate all candidates you dislike as 1s, which happens if your criteria includes increasing the weight of votes below the average, or decreasing the weight of all votes above the minimum.
  • How you evaluate one candidate has no direct effect on other candidates in the first round.
  • You can rate two candidates exactly the same, unlike in STV where writing duplicate numbers invalidates your list from that point on.
  • You can express the difference in your support between several candidates by having larger jumps between your ratings than a listed vote would allow, unlike STV where missing a number invalidates your list from that point on.
  • The winners will be proportional to both the reported enthusiasm of voters and their popularity with voters, making “displeasing nobody and pleasing nobody” a losing strategy.
  • There is no inherent advantage to rating more candidates, so the system respects low-information voters and treats them equally.

It also has some bad effects, mostly shared with STV:

  • It’s difficult, although not as practically impossible as with STV, to calculate the winner by hand.
  • Polling places have to report a count of each unique combination of votes, and as counting is done in rounds, you can’t release provisional results.
  • There is a disadvantage to rating more candidates above the average, as you become statistically more likely to have included the winner of an extra round before you get to the last round. (however, if you have good reason to believe that a candidate won’t win until after the candidates you most prefer, then the risk is lower in providing an honestly positive vote) This disadvantage becomes more prominent the larger the number of vacancies is in your electorate.
  • It makes electorates larger in compensation for giving you multiple winners.

The case for single-winner variants (IRV and RV)

Mostly, the case for single-winner variants, where we keep something like the current system, is the case for smaller electorates. You are more likely to capture communities of interest outside of large cities, and less likely to end up with large conglomerations of regional New Zealand.

Also, Range Voting is possibly the best single-winner system that exists, and unlike RRV, most of its disadvantages are arguably advantages. (ie. votes can count for less, but only if you decide to vote honestly in the mid ranges instead of voting 1s and 9s. It’s vulnerable to strategic voting, but basically turns into Approval Voting, also better than FPP, when that happens. (Approval is basically ‘tick as many candidates as you like’) It’s also not proportional, being a single-winner system)

I’m not a big fan of IRV, as in edge cases it’s actually possible for the candidate you ranked first to lose when they would have won if you ranked them second. (this is due to some oddity in the order of elimination being relevant. RRV  suffers to this problem to a lesser degree as a system that also uses rounds, but it doesn’t really effect the final round of tallying, and arguably if you manage to get all your strongly preferred candidates elected, you no longer care about diluting the weight of later votes, and STV suffers from this problem in full force, as well) If we’re using a single winner system, it should really be RV.

Couple a move to a proportional electorate system with some tough love for micro parties

If we choose STV or RRV, our electorate choices should also be proportional, giving us a compromise between national proportionality and regional proportionality.

If we chose one of the multi-winner systems, we could reasonably require party-affiliated candidates to have their party meet the threshold to be eligible for election7. This would discourage de facto independents like Dunne or Seymour from running as “small parties” in order to get more media attention, and instead paint them as the local curiosities they are. It would also incentivise parties like the Māori Party to contest both the Party and electorate vote, making it a dangerous strategy to shoot for too large an overhang. Coupled with a lower threshold and reforms of the rules for independents, and this would actually be a reasonable move, rather than the punitive one that simply removing electorate lifeboat provisions would be. It would also allow us to elect genuine independent candidates without disrupting the proportional allocation of list seats.

Adjust the South Island Quota

If we’re keeping single-winner electorates, we probably need to adjust the minimum number for the South Island soon, as we’re arguably closing in on having a number of electorates high enough that Labour might start getting overhangs if it gets a low result, and the two largest Party Vote parties shouldn’t really risk winning overhang seats. If we’re forming multi-winner electorates, we’ll need to adjust it anyway, because we’ll need to include language about both the number of electorates and the number of winners the South Island should get.

One way to do this is simply to say that the proportion of electorate seat winners in the smaller island out of North and South should be equal to at least their proportion of total voters when the boundaries are set, but that there shouldn’t be a disparity of more than, say, 25% of that ratio.  Then set a minimum and maximum to electorates in general- say that there should be no less than 40 electorates, and no more than, say, 55. This sets the rules in a way that works no matter what the demographics of each island are. (although it does seem unlikely that the North Island will ever have a smaller population, it’s not impossible that we get a large volcano erupting or something that drives people south) It also slightly over-represents the location where less people are, which seems fair so long as it’s only slight, given that they are still likely to get geographically very large electorates with disparate values.

Ditch electorates altogether and replace them with another way to directly vote

This one’s my favourite, but I think it’s a long shot, as New Zealanders are irrationally attached to their idea of “their local MP” thanks to decades under FPP. It might be practical once I’m old and everyone is more attached to list voting than they are now.

I talked about the list part of MMP being a “closed list” system. There is, of course, a perfectly proportional system with a built-in accountability method that’s still based on Party Voting.

It’s called, appropriately, “Open List.” The open part comes from the fact that while parties still provide their lists of candidates, you’re actually allowed to vote on them directly as a voter even after the internal selection processes have been finished. Currently, the Greens let members vote on their list, but they’re the only party that does it, as there simply needs to be some sort of “democratic process,” according to the law. In practice, this means you can simply have the party leaders choose their own delegates, and the delegates vote on candidate selection, which is just a roundabout way of doing backroom deals.

You can get variations on this system, based on how you handle list voting, for instance, you could leave ordering the candidate lists entirely up to the voter, and you could handle voting on them using any multi-winner system. (my two preferred options are listed above, RRV and STV) You could have the lists voted on as a primary, then hold a second-round general election with just a simple party vote, allowing low-information voters to skip the first round while still being heard in the second, or you could have a recommended list order from every party, and let people adjust it based on their votes on election day if they like.

You would likely still have candidates representing local regions, but it would be an informal arrangement, where parties genuinely have to campaign about issues popular in large enough regions to get moved up the list, rather than the arbitrary electorate boundaries we have now.

In Summary

To be clear, my interests in electoral reform are:

  • Make representation more proportional in all senses. (ie. give fair numbers of MPs to each party, have roughly 50% of MPs be women, and representative numbers of various races, and from various regions of New Zealand. Obviously, there’s a bit too many things going on there to balance those factors with also electing the best qualified candidates, so we’d expect a little variance. That’s okay, so long as that variance is both up and down. Historically, it’s just been down for every group except men, Pakeha, and recently Māori)
  • To provide avenues for smaller parties with popular ideas to grow into larger parties, so long as doing so wouldn’t adversely effect quality of government
  • To remove barriers that discourage people from voting. (We are already mostly good on this front, we just need to consider what effect reforms will have on voter interest)
  • To reduce the influence of rules that override the decisions of voters whenever doing so doesn’t adversely affect good media coverage of politics.
  • To ensure that geographically disparate ideologies that are still a significant portion of the population get fairly represented in Parliament.

I think, with the possible exception of giving some tough love to micro-parties, that all of these suggestions don’t contradict any of these goals, and generally meet multiple of them. I would love to hear feedback.

I think an Open List is the best way forward for all of these, but I can’t see New Zealanders supporting it just yet.
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Strap on your jetpack and leave, apparently. Andrew Little painted himself into a corner, commiting an unforced error by admitting he “offered to resign.” (but didn’t “offer to resign”) This is the sort of unprofessional slip-up we’ve come to expect from Andrew Little, but listening to his interview, you can tell he was trying to inartfully say that he laid his head on the chopping block for accountability and nobody decided they wanted to pick up the axe.

Politics editors all over the country were likely set to run a whole weeks worth of “will he should he” resign stories, and Little has done a strangely brave thing by simply pre-empting that discussion with an actual resignation. It’s a bit of a gamble: it brings back the “Labour is constantly changing its leader” criticism which Little had, largely, killed off during his tenure. On the other hand, he was looking very embattled, and his communications strategy clearly wasn’t working. I’m no comms manager, but even I could see that he was making amateur mistakes in interviews and taking punches when he didn’t even need to be in the ring. You could tell his heart was in it, but Little was dog tired.

I actually discussed last night what should happen after that interview, and said that whoever was responsible should quit, assuming it wasn’t Andrew Little. Well, apparently someone had the same first part of that thought.

But here’s the good news: Jacinda is now leader, and she’s set up in another Mike Moore type situation, except hers is a little easier to climb out of, because whatever your criticisms of Labour recently, it’s not in as dire a state as it was after Rogernomics. She seemed confident and at ease. She oozed confidence even when the media threw recent polling in her face, something that always tripped up Andrew Little. “Are you going to tell me I can’t?” she fired back to questions of Labour’s credibility to lead the government at 24%, and suddenly the adversarial nature broke slightly. This is not a woman to be trifled with, whatever your criticisms of her. She communicated with the media genuinely, effortlessly, and with humour. She looked like a leader, and as Clark has shown, Labour voters like a brainy woman in charge. I haven’t always been firmly on team Jacinda, but her press conference was impressive. She’s said she’s going to take stock for 72 hours, then start coming back with any changes needed. The Māori Party has already reached out, and new deputy Kelvin Davis1 managed to be reasonably graceful in saying he would listen but he wanted them to do better than they’d done under National, which is the height of reasonableness given that they were trying to engineer a Mana/Hone Harawira win in his electorate.

Metiria’s welfare announcement made me feel like the Green Party has turned a leaf, inspiring the base and pulling in new voters to the Green Party. Seeing Jacinda’s first moves as leader, ironically, I’m beginning to feel like stepping down as leader may end up being one of the best things Andrew Little could have done for the campaign, as desperate as it could be painted. Labour now has room to make the rhetorical turn it has desperately needed for months. It’s only 6-8% to go before the coalition equals National in the polls, and the under-covered story in recent polling is that National is still leaking support.

For the first time I can look at both opposition parties and feel like there are genuine messengers at the helm who are effective and getting things done. It is uphill from here, but I’m cautiously optimistic. We’ve all known Jacinda was being groomed for this, and after Clark, expectations on what it means to be a woman leading the opposition or the government are high. But so far, Jacinda seems to be smashing through the glass ceiling perfectly well, and I can’t speak for anyone else, but I didn’t even find myself comparing her to Clark, which is high praise, because I constantly did so with Goff, Shearer, and Little. I look forward to seeing how she handles the campaign.

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I return, not with a wholly original take, but rather with an important rebuttal of one Martyn Bradbury.

A little context: This is a man who, once upon a time, was someone I looked up to. (Back when radio was still a thing and he ran a youth talkback show) Politically our opinions have diverged a lot while we both retain the same core philosophy. We both agree that large political institutions aren’t working for regular people and we both like inspiring radicals who want to end those problems, like Bernie Sanders or Jeremy Corbyn. I remain a Green, wheras I’m not sure Martyn has ever really decided if he believes in any particular political party, as I recall him supporting just about every Party to the left of United Future at one point or another, and it tends to be based on whichever one is opposing the current target of his indignation.

But in addition to his occasional forays into conspiracy theory and poorly founded political opinion, Martyn has now signed up for the “unite or die” philosophy on voting in trying to get people to change the government. While it is good to have him off the TOP cheerleading bandwagon now that he’s checked up on them and realised they intend to sit on the cross-benches rather than actually try to change the government, as usual he’s going about trying to convince people in entirely the wrong way. Those of you who have read other posts know my firm conviction that your vote is yours to decide what to do with, (even if I don’t like that decision, or even if you decide not to vote) and that neither parties nor pundits should be trying to bully anyone into giving it away to someone they’re not comfortable voting for, rather their duty is to earn your vote.

For a supporter of Sanders and Corbyn, Bradbury hasn’t got that left-wing movements tend to change governments by inspiring people. Left-wing voters want to fall in love with an idea, it’s right-wing voters, steeped in authoritarian values, who are more responsive to fear as a motivating force, which is why they’ve united around National and successfully turned out in large numbers whenever it’s looked like Labour is going to beat them enough with their tired, uninspring policies to get back into government. It of course doesn’t help that Labour has had a serious case of too many chiefs, but that’s a discussion not directly relevant to this post.

Bradbury is calling for people to “get over” their distaste with Labour’s tone on immigration, (and yes, it’s the tone, not the policy itself, that is the problem: voters are still looking at them like they’re trying to ape NZ First, because quite honestly, that seems to be the intention) and vote for a party that will change the government anyway, and dismissing all the critics as twitter liberals1. That’s a terrible pitch.

Firstly, if you want a party that’s left-wing but doesn’t hate immigrants, you have one choice that we’re sure will make it into Parliament, and that’s the Greens. They have an unabashedly pro-immigrant policy, but they also make a concession to the reality that the infrastructure necessary to support the amount of immigrants that want to go to Auckland will need some time to build up after National’s neglect, and so immigration settings will probably need to be a bit more selective2, while still having a policy that supports the rights of the new kiwis that are already here and the ones we plan to let in. You can also cross your fingers and party vote Mana, but personally I wouldn’t recommend the risk that until you’re sure Hone is coming back.

Yes, the Greens haven’t been out there tooting a liberal left-wing radical trumpet. This is a deliberate campaigning strategy they have been maintaining for several terms now, despite being just as liberal and just as left-wing as when Sue Bradford thought she could win the co-leader race. (and yes, many Greens would still welcome her back if she wanted to come) The fact is that running a moderate campaign that focuses on popular liberal and environmental messages has worked for the Greens, so they’re playing nice with Labour while focusing on the areas that have worked for them in the past, and trying to differentiate themselves from New Zealand First and Labour without burning any bridges. It’s a tough balance to juggle and I don’t envy James or Metiria their jobs in maintaining it. The fact is, however, that this is still a party with a policy package that is pretty damn left wing. They unapologetically support any liberal cause you could like, and they want to raise benefits, move towards a UBI system, legalise cannabis, and you know, basically hit every populist issue that’s out there. It’s hard to get further to the left than I am, and I whole-heartedly endorse their policies for this election, and believe that their candidates are committed to them and would do everything they can to advocate those policies in government. (or if necessary, from opposition)

If you’re okay with the immigration rhetoric and subtly dogwhistling to the less racially sensitive parts of NZ and are cool with voting for Labour, great. But don’t try and bully people into being okay by telling them they don’t have options. They do. I’ve heard from enough people uncomfortable with Labour’s positioning that even if they all didn’t like the Greens, they could probably get Mana in off the list if they all co-ordinated, campaigned, and voted for them.

And to those in Labour who aren’t comfortable with the rhetoric but also don’t want to leave because they are doggedly loyal, or because they actually like a centrist brand of politics, or because Labour has historically been good to their Māori or Pasifika community: The criticism isn’t aimed at you, and I wish you all the best in convincing the party not to engage in racist rhetoric in the future. But until that change in rhetoric eventuates, I’m not going to recommend anyone vote for your party, even if they’re not comfortable with their other options, because you can’t earn my respect this way.

New Zealand is a nation forged by an alliance between Māori and immigrants, and only a party that knows better than to betray that constitutional principle of our country has earned any co-operation from me or people like me. And that principle that immigrants willing to come here, work hard, and honour the people of the land should all be welcome is a core part of who we are. We can say we need some time to be able to provide immigrants we welcome in with an acceptable standard of living, (and it’s okay for us to use our own definition of acceptable there, rather than “whatever will still get people immigrating here,” because we as voters are the judges of what the kiwi standard of life should be) but closing the borders entirely, or pandering to people’s racial anxieties, strikes me as a fundamentally stupid idea.

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Lots of people in politics are fans of using the political compass system to describe politics, where we distinguish politics along two dimensions when talking about political ideologies instead of conflating both social and economic policy together in different ways for each nation when we pick the two words we use to describe political parties. This is especially helpful in systems like New Zealand, where we have 7 viable political parties at the moment. (assuming you define “viability” as “getting at least one MP elected”)

Some recent discussions have made me aware that not only are some people a little less familiar with the labels that discussing politics this way requires, but that we’re also missing a few relevant terms.

traditional poltical compass

Traditional political terms have largely focused on left-right or liberal-conservative divides

Usually this splits political dimensions into the economic/class aspect and the social/cultural aspect of politics. On this blog, I general refer to the left-right economic dimension of politics, and the liberal-conservative social dimension. It’s also sometimes called a “libertarian-authoritarian” social dimension, but both of these terms imply a lot more radical and specific political ideologies than liberal and conservative do, so I’m usually a fan of those names.

The original political compass site only gives us the most basic five: centrism, leftism, right-wing politics, “libertarianism,” (which in other sites is often substituted for “liberalism”) and “authoritarianism.” (likewise for “conservatism”) For a useful discussion, you really need at least nine labels for the various political positions, and if you want to get really technical, you probably want somewhere between 25 and 30 to try to translate the idea of a graph into colloquial language, even online.

It also doesn’t capture some complicated political variables that also operate on something of a spectrum, like degrees of nationalism, or of environmentalism, or monarchism-vs-republicanism, (or more generally, sovereignty versus independence, or federalism vs local democracy) etc…

Of course, every once in a while, you run into someone using a more specific political dictionary or reference that is technically correct elsewhere in the world, but places these political terms in a more regional context, when most of the political internet settles on using variations of left, right, liberal, and conservative. (sometimes substituting “tory” or “progressive” into the equation) For instance, in the US, liberalism still generally implies moderate right-wind leanings and a gradual approach to social reform. This isn’t anything inherent about the idealogy, it’s just how the democrats that call themselves liberals in the US have conducted themselves in congress. Confusingly, this old definition comes very close to neoliberalism, which is just the modern version of classical liberalism, which is not the same as generic US liberalism, which is generally in the Democratic party, and is also different to the Australian Liberal Party, which is actually to their right. To all of them I say: stop confusing people. When people use “liberal” as an adjective anywhere outside the US or Australia, it’s generally to refer to a freedom-oriented approach to social issues.

With all that confusion, we find ourselves maybe needing some extra terms, because actually we routinely do discuss all 25 spots on our 5×5 table of two-dimensional politics, and less loaded generic terms, as traditional names for complicated areas on that political graph can get you maybe 19 of the 25 really relevant areas, when really we need a full 26 terms to describe what we’re talking about, and they don’t follow any sensible system. (We need 26 because we need two terms for the middle so we can distinguish between the social and economic centre when talking generically, four names for the orthogonal extremes, (ie. right, left, liberal, conservative) four names for the diagonal extremes that mix the previous four together, eight moderate versions of the the eight previous extremes (ala “centre-left”) and another eight names for those with opinions on both dimensions but who value one dimension over the other, such as leftist liberals who value the economic politics more than social ones) The other confusing thing about using the traditional terms is that “liberal” shows up all over them with different meanings. Oh, and we can’t use the term “social” for conservatives, because they hate that word too.

Here’s what I’ve come up with:

generic political compass

Here we have a systematic approach to generic political labels. I have used the word “clutural” to describe people with more socially-oriented politics for international portability. I’ve stuck with “moderate” for the four extra diagonal centrist positions, because mixing “left” or “right” with “centre” in a larger term sounds stupid. The hidden 26th term is that “moderate” refers to social centrism, and “centrist” to economic centrism, re-using the distinction between British terminology for economic dimensions and American terminology for social dimensions that people already engage in. Most sucessful centrists are really only centrist in one of the two ideologies in order to fill a political gap elsewhere, so arguably there are also “conservative centrists,” “left moderates,” “liberal centrists,” etc… that can replace terms like “centre-left” if you prefer.

And yeah, the “circle” around the outside full of liberal-leftists and right-liberalists are a little confusing, I admit, but it could catch on as a way to describe the “north by northeast”-type directions on our political compass. I also considered terms like “right-conservatist,” for the lower half of the graph, but at that point it began to sound silly, as “liberalist” at least sounds like it should be a word, so I left out the quicker alternative names on the bottom half of the chart. (for the short names in the x-by-xy spots, whichever part is first is the one the emphasis is on, so if liberal is first, it’s cultural, and if left or right is first, it’s economic) Feel free to talk about conservative leftists and conservative rightists though instead of cultural left- or right-conservatives, those actually sound like words.

Under these generic terms, you actually have political-compassy ways of describing some more complicated political idealogies. Neoliberals are Right-liberalists. Tories are Right-conservatives. Greens are Left-Liberals. Neoconservatives are Conservative-leftists. Libertarians are (normally) right-liberals, or maybe sometimes they’re Liberal-rightists, and Left-liberatarians are Liberal-leftists, which is what the old Whigs of their day roughly were.

In the New Zealand  political parties context, here are my estimations:

  • Labour are centre-left. (or, if you prefer, a coalition of leftists, liberal-leftists, left-liberalists, and economic left-conservatives that generally average out to somewhere between “centre-left” and “moderate left-liberal”)
  • National are a coalition of right-wingers. (including right-liberalists, and both types of right-conservatives)
  • ACT is a single right-liberalist who nobody takes seriously.
  • United Future is centre-right.
  • The Māori Party is the hardest to place but are probably wander between being moderate left-liberals when working with Labour to being moderate right-liberals when working with National. Somewhat like New Zealand First, they have a nationalist bent to their politics, but it is a specifically Māori one rather than a xenophobic one.
  • New Zealand first are centrist conservatives on most issues, but they can wander into left-wing and liberal politics from time to time too, as their defining political attribute is nationalism rather than economic or social politics.
  • And as everyone expects, both the Greens and Mana are both left-liberals, with the Greens having an environmentalist dimension to their politics, and Mana having a Māori nationalist one.
  • The alliance were probably left-liberalists when they were around, and ironically, the Progressive Party’s brief stint in the Clark era had them probably showing up as economic left-conservatives.

Hopefully people find these ideological distinctions helpful in discussing politics. I hope they also stop people reaching for those archaic variants on the word “liberal,” as politicians everywhere have tried to corner the rhetorical market on derivative words of “freedom.”