Posts Tagged ‘2017 election’

State of play

Posted: September 11, 2017 in elections, New Zealand
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A little bit of technical catch-up.

I have updated my metapolling data for 2017 to include the election season thus far. The results are as follows:

metapoll119National: 41.5% ±3.05%
Labour: 39.6% ±3.03%
New Zealand First: 8.8% ±1.75%
Greens: 6% ±1.47%
TOP: 1.6% ±0.77%
Māori Party: 1.5% ±0.75%
(Assume 2 electorates won)
ACT Party: 0.3% ±0.15%
(Assume 1 electorate won)
United Future: 0%
(Assume 0 electorates won)

Projected seats: 121
Majority requires 61 votes.

As this average stands, New Zealand First does most likely look to narrowly hold the balance of power if nothing changes, however that’s not entirely the reality of the situation, as I’ve stated before that polls are like taking a series of still pictures and using them to describe the motion of a dancer or a race. We have to consider possibilities like whether we could be viewing from a bad angle that makes the wrong racer appear to be in the lead, that perhaps one racer is behind but is rapidly gaining ground, or of course, to go to our other analogy, that the motion is so fast that we’re missing parts of the dance between polls. This is why looking at both averages and individual polls is important. That last one we won’t be so concerned about at the moment, given that the only large event that’s happened recently is Joyce’s now thoroughly-debunked claim of a gaping fiscal hole in Labour’s budget. Instead the hole was under his feet this entire time, and no other significant political events appear to have abbutted this one so it’s unlikely we need to worry about conflating two different causes for changes in polling. We’re not in a situation like where Metiria Turei and Andrew Little both resigned so close to each other it and it was difficult to tease apart the effects of one event from another.

metapoll119moeThe first thing we need to look at is the margin of error.

To the left is a nested donut chart, my traditional form to show MoE visually. The inner ring, as labelled, represents a best-case for potential left-wing coalitions assuming every party is out by the maximum MoE on their individual votes, and also the worst-case for parties that might consider a right-wing coalition. (As the balance has shifted to Labour in polling and NZF is considered undeclared, I have moved them to National’s bloc for the purposes of determining their size) The outer ring is the same scenario for the parties needed for a right-wing coalition. As you can see, we’re perched between on one side, a disaster scenario where the Greens are out of Parliament, NZ First are the kingmakers, and the left needs them and the Māori Party to work together to form a government, and on the other side, a dream team with an outright Labour-Greens majority and a friendly Māori Party potentially inside the coalition if Labour wants to secure extra votes in case it needs to hold by-elections this term, or ready to step in for help on conscience votes where NZF and National might be aligned and Labour might suffer defectors.

The other way to look at margins of error is to simulate elections using numbers generated within random ranges that reflect the margin of error. This approach is even better than simply looking at the two most extreme scenarios, as you can simply evaluate the number of seats to see which blocs can form governments in each simulation, rinse and repeat several times, and calculate probabilities based on the frequency of each outcome from there. I’ve actually started on this as well, (there is a LOT of copy-and-paste tedium to build a spreadsheet to do this. My current simulation runs 10 full MMP elections based on manually inputted electorate win probabilities (we have at least one electorate poll for all the critical races other than TTT and Nelson, even if none of those polls seem to be hugely reliable, but it’s better than assuming who will win) and party vote polling shares, with threshold cutoffs included) and under this metric we tend to have about 9:1 odds that New Zealand First is the kingmaker, using the results from my metapoll average. (the minority report being a Māori Party decision between Labour+Greens and National+ACT+NZF. I’ll get back to you more on this with more exact probabilities on social media once I’ve got my model built to simulate 100 or 1,000 elections at once, but for now I’m just running ten simulations ten times and doing the arithmetic mentally to get an impression of the odds) It’s main limitation is that it currently can’t handle small parties winning multiple electorates.

cb6-9-17

The other thing to consider is the direction of travel. As you can see to the right, the latest released poll by Colmar Brunton actually shows that the trend is towards the Māori Party, and not New Zealand First, being the potential Queenmaker. (I gendered the word this way because they have been clear that their members are indicating a preference for coalition with Labour, although it will require a formal post-election consultation with members as per their rules, so they are still open to working with National if they are not the deciding vote, and Labour’s preference isn’t completely in the bag)

I expect the average will soon start showing this as the overall expected outcome too, as I run a harsher formula to cut off input from old polls during election season, where I square the overall result of my weighting factors instead of just multiplying them all. (It’s still counting a couple of old polls back in June for a fraction of a percent, so it’s not unreasonably strict. I do this because there are far fewer polls run outside of election season) This is in addition to one weighting factor being towards polls closer to election day.

In terms of the modelling approach, going off CB’s numbers (which is roughly the direction where I expect the trend to lead us) we seem to have something like a 45/40/15 split in likely governments. In order, those numbers represent: NZF kingmaker, Māori Party queenmaker, outright Labour-Green government.

This is good news, and reason to feel optimistic. We just need a little more hard campaigning to push those Green, Māori, and maybe Labour Party numbers up a bit more in order to reduce the probability that Labour actually needs Winston, and we’ll have a strong progressive government. Ideally, we want that NZF kingmaker chance well below 20%.

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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.

(more…)

So, I’m noticing, again, that people aren’t very up on the combination of maths and political speculation that you’ll need to understand who’s likely to form the next government.

Firstly, let’s be clear, there are only three parties parties in Parliament right now who have either clearly commited to who they’ll support or for whom it’s obvious despite the fact nobody’s bothered to ask them. Of course David Seymour/ACT will support National. The Greens have been very clear they have committed to support Labour to change the Government. And Peter Dunne/United Future, while they have worked with Clark’s Labour Party, will of course support National ahead of them given half a chance.

Naturally, Labour and National will lead their respective blocs, so if you’d like to count that, there are five parties who you can safely vote for knowing what sort of government they’d support.

There are a couple of things that are unclear. Mana will of course be more likely to support a Labour government if voted back in to Parliament, however will likely be on the outside of any arrangement if Labour is actually governing, so the uncertainty there is in whether people are willing to forgive Hone for his willingness to work with Kim Dotcom. Given that the Māori Party have stood aside and essentially endorsed him, however, he’s not discountable. I wouldn’t be surprised at either a Mana or Labour win in Te Tai Tokerau.

I won’t speculate on the odds of Dunne losing Ōhāriu at this stage, other than to say both Labour and Peter Dunne need to be taking that electorate deadly seriously, especially as I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a significant chunk of it who are fans of neither of the two likely candidates. They will need to reach out to supporters outside of their usual base to win, which is presumably behind Peter Dunne’s hilarious inability to find fonts that support macrons.

This brings us to the two wildcards. Firstly, the Māori Party, who have said they will make a reasonable attempt to work with whoever’s in government, but haven’t talked at all about what happens if they decide the next government. While they’ve most recently been in a non-coalition support arrangement with the National Party, there’s no real certainty that they would support them over Labour. In fact, the List party they best align with on the issues is the Green Party, so if we’re going purely on policy, they might well support Labour. With Tariana Turia’s retirement from the party, the historical disagreements with Labour could be a lot less of an obstacle to doing a deal. In my models, I’ve assumed they will be open to working with governments of both stripes, but I consider them a reverse UF- in that I slightly suspect they will prefer a Labour government if it’s their choice, although I don’t have any hard evidence to back that speculation.

And then there is New Zealand First, who like the Māori Party, haven’t publicly chosen sides yet, and don’t even have the excuse that they still intend to work with both parties, as they’re currently sitting on the opposition benches, collaborating quite nicely with Labour and the Greens. They look like they’re set up to change the government, but they have pulled a switch on their supporters this way before back in the first MMP government. Have they learned their lessons from that? Nobody knows.

Lastly, there’s a little election system maths to consider. The number of overhang seats will be important in this Parliament, as National will need to win a similar percentage of the Party Vote to last election to stay in power, which was already a bit of an ask with John Key at the helm instead of Bill English. They’ll also want a bit of padding, as no government has ever won a by-election under MMP, so if any of their MPs resign, they’ll likely lose a seat.

If all the minor parties win seats, that’s likely to be three overhang seats in Parliament, meaning the “magic number” becomes 62/122-123, not 61/120-121. There’s also a credible chance of an independent upset in Ilam, which would have the weird effect of not changing the number of seats in Parliament at all, but rather robbing whoever would normally have won the 120th list seat of their extra MP. That’s likely to be either National or the Greens, depending on how close the Greens end up getting on their last MP allocation, or on an outside chance it may be Labour. (it’s highly unlikely to be the Māori Party, as small parties generally get allocated their seats way before the end of the process) For those not aware, essentially there’s a divisor formula that goes through and outputs a number for each party with Party Votes, and every one that’s over the threshold or has an electorate gets thrown into the formula. Whoever’s number is the highest gets the first seat, and then their divisor is recalculated on a less friendly basis, and the next-highest number gets a seat, for 120 iterations. Independent MPs are the only disruption to this process- small parties simply get their electorates as overhangs if they don’t qualify for a list seat on the basis of their Party Vote. While Raf Manji is likely to vaguely support National, he does represent a wildcard in terms of who loses a seat to him, and it’s actually as likely to hit Labour or the Greens in the face as it is to cause disruption to a National government.

What are the important takeaways?

  1. It’s very likely that whoever governs after the election will need 62 seats, as I don’t consider it a serious likelihood that both Dunne and Harawira will lose their electorate votes.
  2. If National wants to govern, they need those 62 seats without the Māori Party or New Zealand First, if at all possible. It’s entirely realistic that the National Party could win 59 seats for themselves but lose the government because they only have two seats worth of solid friends, and both the less predictable parties decide to swing Labour’s direction. Likewise, Labour will want a situation where they can narrow the margin enough that they have a choice between New Zealand First and, say, the Māori and Mana MPs, so that he’s not forced into too much of a pro-nationalist agenda, but such a situation looks rather unlikely at the moment without National seriously dropping the ball, or Little scoring some serious body blows on English that he just hasn’t gotten a chance to do yet.
  3. It’s highly likely that New Zealand First will decide who gets to govern based on current polling, if it holds accurate, and if events don’t shift too fast for our sporadic polling to measure accurately. The chance of National governing without them is pretty slim, although it’s now within the realm of reasonable probability. I expect the recent trend back to National to have arrested with the announcement of Jacinda Ardern as deputy, but we’ll see if that eventuates. I also expected that the dip on English becoming PM would become a trend, and that hasn’t eventuated yet, possibly due to poor capitalisation on his weaknesses on behalf of Andrew Little, but again, this is where Jacinda will actually serve very well as deputy: she’s far more persausive with the emotive argument that the Government is failing people than King was, even though Annette King was a highly effective MP and debater, she doesn’t have Ardern’s charisma.
    1. Relevant to Ardern, it’s rather hilarious that the media is now openly speculating on whether it causes a problem for Labour if she overtakes Little in popularity. The answer is no. That’s a great problem for Labour to have, and it’s likely she would want to do further work before even considering the No. 1 spot in her party, so expect for that to happen at some stage and for Jacinda to endorse Little as leader even when she’s more popular than him. Being the most popular isn’t always a qualification to be leader, and that is why people have to put themselves forward as candidates first. If it’s ever a serious issue, Labour will vote on whether she gets to take over, like you would expect, although of course, they’ll tilt the odds in favour of their caucus’ vote for some bizzarre reason.
  4. If you’re giving your party vote or electorate vote to the Māori Party, you might want more information about what their plan is if they’re in a position to decide if Bill English stays Prime Minister or not. They’ve already said they can work with Labour, but would they prefer to? Nobody knows at this point, and the largely vacuous excuses for political journalists we have atm haven’t got the nuance yet that they need to ask a very specific question about this and see if the answer will change or not. (There are real political journalists out there who absolutely would understand this nuance, but they’re never given the job of interviewing or moderating party leaders for this sort of question in a format that significant numbers of NZers watch)
  5. Pushing for Raf Manji to win Ilam is only particularly relevant if National wins back the government again, and his vote becomes relevant for key legislation. (not that in principle I object to Gerry Brownlee being sent a message, or Christchurch having a bit more power in Parliament, those are good things, it’s just unlikely to move the electoral calculus in favour of changing the Government) It’s actually far more relevant to National whether O’Connor stands a chance of unseating Peter Dunne and whether Hone wins Te Tai Tokerau, as unlike the MP he is unlikely to support the National Party.
  6. As before, Preferred Prime Minister is a huge irrelevancy in polling and deserves to be replaced with favourable/unfavourable polling for the PM and the Leader of the Opposition, as the open-ended nature of the question prevents it from being useful as a gauge of whether the leader is an actual drag on either of the biggest two parties, and the lack of data as to whether it has any impact at all on the Party Vote means that experimenting with different metrics is a great idea, in case anyone who actually polls is listening.

So, with Bill English and Paula Bennett now anointed by the National caucus as our new leaders, the pre-campaign is now off to its start. In the drivers’ seat, we have the man who lead National to its worst-ever loss, and beside him probably the second-most despised woman in National’s caucus, which is more of an achievement than it sounds because Judith Collins.

On the other side of the aisle, Andrew Little can’t help but being pleased by the news of who he’s up against. (And I imagine Annette King and/or Metiria Turei are keenly eying Paula Bennet’s seat for 2017…) With Labour taking back the Wellington Mayoralty from a Green-aligned independent, (basically by default, as no Green was running, and Wellington is basically the most left-wing liberal place in the country right now) and it winning the latest by-election in what was essentially a straight contest between National and Labour, Little probably feels resurgent right now. And that’s a dangerous feeling.

There is an opinion piece on the Herald that is just close enough to being right on this that it’s worth linking. Heather correctly points out that while English is a record-breaking loser, (performing even worse than Labour has during its constant leadership struggles) he lost to an ascendant Helen Clark coming off her first term. Little might have the chops to be Prime Minister, but he’s no second-term Clark just yet. (and hopefully, he won’t try to be- while Clark was a successful Prime Minister, she set a precedent as PM that has infected the Labour Party with careerists who are unwilling to step aside and accept a renewal. Little needs to be his own type of leader if he’s to succeed) This is still an election Little can lose, even though English makes even Little’s off-days look vibrant and interesting by comparison.

Heather is wrong to say that Labour can’t snag some of the fleeing National voters who will, inevitably, leave the party fold after Key’s resignation. In fact, I suspect Labour will likely get a 1% bump even without trying from the news, as there were many Key supporters who had come from Labour’s tribe and supported Labour values. At least some of those people will look at their options and conclude that now is the time to re-enter the fold as Labour supporters. It could even be more than a 1% bump if Little can come up with an appealing positive vision for Labour heading into 2020. But Heather is absolutely right to imply that much of the loss from National is likely to either head towards NZ First or simply into the non-voter pile, at least in the next couple of polls.

Speaking of polling, all the 2016 trends before now are essentially out the window. (And we’ll have no way of knowing if the recent surge for National after a slow trend towards Labour and the Greens for much of 2016 was temporary or semi-permanent, as we’re now all expecting a noticable falloff in the Government’s polling this month anyway) We are looking at a different government now, no matter how much National wishes to maintain continuity. Heather is wrong to keep bashing Labour over the head with recent polling. We should be waiting and seeing where they poll after Key’s resignation in terms of looking at horse race results, and those numbers aren’t going to be out until we’re well into the holiday season, so there’s really no room for numbers-based reporting until then.

Nick Legett’s defection, seen by mainstream pundits as somehow a reflection on Labour, really says a lot more about what a centrist sell-out Nick Legett is, and why Wellington so soundly rejected him. He belongs in the National Party, and always did as far as I’m concerned. Good riddance to bad rubbish, the Left doesn’t need pretenders taking up space in its ranks, and National needs more moderate liberals to adjust to the new political consensus John Key has forged, where National can no longer win by selling themselves as a purely right-wing party. John Key’s political legacy, arguably, is ceding the war to the Left in order to win the battle: a concession that conservative right-wing governments in an MMP era is asking too much of a liberal, centrist electorate.

Heather’s also wrong to take issue with Little’s comments about “not knowing what the centre is.” He’s actually being reasonably savvy here- Centre voters love to be talked about in terms of being politically unlabelled, defying the conventional wisdom, and being just ordinary people. In its full context, Little was actually pandering to the centre while simultaneously saying he’s not trying to and managing to sound honest at the same time. By the standards of new-millennium kiwi political rhetoric, (hint: those are pretty low thanks to our former Prime Minister, and his predecessor wasn’t exactly one for rhetoric even though she was an excellent politician) this was practically masterful.

Little should also know that the advice to go hard for the centre is bad advice. Labour performs its worst when it’s self-conscious about where it is positioning itself. If it wants to be the nexus of a left-wing government in 2017, Little will need to lead Labour towards its own electoral identity, one with a populist appeal to working and struggling New Zealanders, that can plausibly say it will do better for ordinary kiwis than National. It should be picking policies that resonate with Labour’s identity, not because they think they will sell well to the centre. If Cunliffe showed anything positive about New Zealand politics, it’s that people are willing to be persuaded to policies they disagree with if they’re told how they’ll benefit the public, and that the electorate does have respect for politicians who will tell them things like they are.

Little doesn’t necessarily need the politics of the Centre to win, although he’d be wise to keep a big tent. He needs a politics of honesty and integrity. There are missing and demotivated voters out there who have been waiting to hear a left-wing message from Labour too, and if Little can get them without scaring away the centre as well, then his confidence may not be misplaced.