Posts Tagged ‘polling’

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.

State of play

Posted: September 11, 2017 in elections, New Zealand
Tags: , , ,

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.


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%.

Well, it’s a little too early to tell yet, but there’s an interesting development in this month’s Colmar Brunton poll, that if the next poll bears it out, could be a bit of an own-goal for Labour. Please excuse (or skip, at your leisure) the following horse-race analysis, I know we get a bit much of that style of discussing the election in general, but this is an angle I haven’t seen much from coverage. (as usual, I’m more cautious than average on drawing conclusions from single polls, but this one is such a sharp uptick that I’d be surprised if it didn’t mean anything)

This is the first poll after Labour’s Māori caucus announced they’re not going to give themselves a Party List parachute.

Māori are very accustomed to being able to split their list and electorate votes in many electorates, from that time that NZ First swept the Māori electorates, to the birth of the Māori Party, to the endorsement of Hone’s split into the Mana Party, it’s basically a tradition now that many, if not most, Māori electorates will have a likely option for vote-splitting. It was looking like Labour was strategically thinking about trying to lock the Māori Party out of parliament using a high-risk strategy that called the bluff of vote-splitters, because their public protestations that they’ll work out a deal with whoever’s in government doesn’t tell people what they’ll actually do if they’re the party that gets to decide between National and a Labour-Green coalition. (you can see her stick to the line that she’ll work with either type of government at the end of this interview, which you should listen to anyway as she has a fair point about unconscious bias in policing) That refusal has lead to Labour’s point of view that they need to be treated as a potential National Party support party and fought against hard, which makes a certain amount of sense, especially when Labour sell themselves as hard electorate-based campaigners who respect local politics.

But it looks like, maybe, if the next poll or two bears it out, that Labour’s strategists underestimated how much people want to vote-split, as the Māori party got a big boost in their Party Vote standing after the announcement, almost to the threshold in fact, with the Māori electorates wanting a local Labour MP deciding that maybe they’ll think about giving their Party Vote to the Māori Party given that way they’ll actually get some more Māori voices in Parliament from their list vote. Yet another example that we do understand tactical voting under MMP reasonably well as a country, if not perfectly. If this poll were to reflect the election result, the Māori Party would in fact be in that position to decide which type of government they wanted, at least assuming New Zealand First rules out working with National after the election. (that assumption is the only scenario that the Māori Party would ever get to decide)

So, if this bump is real, and they can grab a quarter again as much support by the election, the Māori Party might become a genuine fifth party in New Zealand politics, and have secured a future above the threshold that no longer relies entirely on the Māori seats, assuming they can keep it. They’ll probably want to get their hands on an electorate again too in this election, just in case, but Labour have now handed them an argument for the Party Vote of voters on the Māori roll: “give Labour your electorate vote if you have to, but there aren’t enough of our people on their list, so vote for us with your Party Vote and you get two for one.”

Interestingly, this growth in the centre didn’t really hurt Labour too much, (less than a percent, and this is the first time since 2016 started that Labour is over 30% in two consecutive polls, so they’re definitely climbing) if it did come from their vote, they’ve made up most of the change in reductions to National, the Conservatives, and TOP.

It also complicates figuring out who’s government if Labour and the Greens can close the gap with the government by growing another 2-3% or so, as a Māori Party that’s threatening to cross the threshold might be able to act as a real alternative in coalition talks to New Zealand First, which would potentially create the space for the first all-progressive coalition since the Alliance imploded, or it might be a requirement that there be a four-way arrangement between Labour, the Greens, New Zealand First, and the Māori Party in order to change the government. This would lead to a very different dynamic in the elections and the politics than might be expected.

It also appears that regular pre-election polling has now arrived given that we’ve gotten three whole polls in March, so this will be really good in terms of telling what’s going on politically and whether policies and rhetoric are having an effect or not. We’ll likely be getting at least two polls a month every month from here on given that Colmar Brunton also published a One News poll in February, too. While I think assuming current polling is going to lead to a certain type of election result is the bad type of horse-race analysis, analysing polls can be useful if you keep track of what political events happen between polls where interesting changes in trend happened. We’ll see if this turns out to be one of them, I’m inclined to think it will be, but again, two or three polls establish a trend.

As usual, I refuse to entertain preferred Prime Minister as a metric, so I won’t be discussing developments in that polling, as it’s so unscientific as to be wholly divorced from predictive power, it’s mainly just there as red meat for journalists. (a job that could be achieved while still providing a useful political metric either by doing approval rating on the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition, or simply by closing up the question so that people can only answer with actual Party Leaders, as nobody has ever made it to PM without being a Leader too)

So, the first post-resignation Roy Morgan poll came out today. (this is of course the only regular poll in New Zealand at the moment, and it’s not even run by a New Zealand firm…)

Their analysis is somewhat on-point, although I’d be very cautious about attributing the good performance from Labour to the by-election or the resignation, rather those seem reasonable explanations for National’s slump. Even though this is a dramatic change from the last poll that would usually make it suspect of being a rogue1, it follows dramatic political events and moves in the expected direction, so I believe Roy Morgan deserve the benefit of the doubt on this one that their poll is probably on-trend.

Roy Morgan doesn’t show the results in terms of seats in Parliament, you may be interested as to what the poll indicates if it’s bang on. (NZF holding the balance of power, with National and Act having a couple extra MPs compared to Labour and the Greens) But that’s a little superficial, as polls don’t really work that way.

What a poll does is give you, 19 of every 20 tries, a range within which we expect each party to perform. As such, I need to introduce you to a rather odd type of graph to show what the RM is really telling us. This graph is a “doughnut hole,” or essentially a way to compare two pie graphs that show different scenarios or results from different time periods, but with the same categories.

On the inside, we have the leftmost Parliament we can expect. On the outside, we have the rightmost Parliament2 that this Roy Morgan poll indicates we could have got if an early election were called.


If a general election were held back on the 11th, Parliament should lie somewhere between the results shown in those two rings. That is, we could possibly get either a Labour-Green coalition that can flex between the independent Māori Parties and NZ first for support, or a National-Act coalition that can flex between the Māori Party and NZ First for support, or we could end up with a result where Winston is kingmaker if the result is somewhere between those two scenarios. As the first two scenarios are literally the most extreme ones, we should expect that the likeliest thing this poll indicates is that the blocs are pretty evenly balanced at the moment, (even though Labour and the Greens are polling lower, they may be in a position to have more friends on their side, too) but that New Zealand First will decide who governs unless New Zealanders tip in one direction or another.

If this RM is a valid starting point for the new trend with Bill English as Prime Minister, then the race has essentially started in a dead heat. It’s possible that future polling will show a difference, (I’m waiting for a poll other than Colmar Brunton and Roy Morgan to show up to give us some better data)


I’m sure we’re going to see some very excited pollsters looking to be the first to compare Bill English and Andrew Little. (It’s probably going to be Colmar Brunton in first, as they’re the only ones who have been regularly running polls, but I expect the leadership change will prompt the bit players to show up suddenly)

In advance of that, (because saying it afterwards doesn’t have the same impact) and as someone who is frequently on record as saying that polling is relatively accurate1, I would like to remind people that Preferred PM almost literally means nothing. Almost the only important part of NZ polls is the party vote question, which actually has some reasonable predictive power for the general election.

Preferred PM also doesn’t do a particularly good job of predicting who will be in Government, (most PMs lose the Treasury benches while still being more popular than the other person, because a PM is usually more popular than their party as a whole) rather it’s more an indicator of whether a leadership coup is likely for either the Government or the opposition. The only time it generally means anything is if the Leader of the Opposition actually overtakes the PM during the election campaign and stays consistently ahead, in which case, we would expect a change of government because that’s a Big Deal.

It’s also a metric that behaves a little differently for left-wing and right-wing leaders. The Left tends to not be very keen on uniting. (which, fortunately, is actually an advantage under MMP, so long as all your parties are over-threshold or winning an electorate) The Right loves it, so long as they view their leaders as successful, so even if you restricted answers to actual leaders of political parties, (which pollsters do not, it’s an open question, hence why Helen Clark kept showing up even after she was long gone) you would still likely get a bunch of people saying they want Winston Peters or Metiria Turei or even Hone Harawera to be PM, wheras even Bill English’s previous preferred PM polling leading up to his disastrous loss was still higher than Labour’s has been in opposition.

What will be interesting in the upcoming preferred PM results is how many people simply answer John Key because they don’t follow politics. I expect John Key will fall off the preferred PM polls faster than Helen Clark did, but he will probably show up at a significant level for at least the next two.

So, even if Little outperforms English in the next Preferred PM poll, remember:

  • That’s only important if English is actually enough of a drag on the Party Vote to bring Labour into fighting distance of forming a Government.
  • A lot of people won’t be able to name Bill English unprompted just yet, even if they think he’s not doing badly.
  • There won’t really have been time for more than an initial impression, and it’s actually more important how the trend shows up over time. (ie. whether Little and the Opposition in general start gaining ground over time)

And likewise, if English outperforms Little, that doesn’t even necessarily mean he’s on his way for a win, just that he hasn’t immediately lost all of National’s former support. There’s still a possibility that his support will trend downwards if people want to give him a chance but don’t like what they see as time goes on.

This is also why Bill English rather smartly has ruled out commenting on the timing of the next election until next year, as he will want to see not only how National is polling immediately after the transition, but he’ll want to see whether the government’s poll numbers, both in internals and public polling, are moving up or down. If it’s down, expect an early election, if it’s up in early polling, expect to wait.


Hi again to everyone, I’m not dead, I’ve been working on fiction writing and some other things ahead of political blogging.

I thought I’d step back into blogging, possibly very temporarily, to talk about a recent poll from Curia, noted push-poller and National Party satellite operation. The poll is commissioned by the liberal (and I carefully use the word “liberal,” because some of their members are prominent right-wingers) organisation New Zealand Republic Incorporated, who advocate for Parliament to appoint a New Zealand head of state. (as opposed to the Prime Minister appointing a Governor General) I may have mentioned in the past that I am an enthusiastic Republican, (in the sense of not wanting a Monarchy) but I should also mention I’m not actually involved with NZ Republic Inc in any way because I disagree with their approach.

Curia are not a particularly ethical or reliable polling operation in my opinion, but they do generally put an extra effort into their polls that don’t relate to National Party policies to make them fair, so it’s likely that any errors in this poll are genuine errors rather than biases.

The short version of the results: A plurality1 of New Zealanders support a specific option for becoming a republic for the first time ever, and a majority2 support some method of becoming a republic. That’s about 44% for directly electing a President, and 15% for Parliament appointing one through a vote in the House of Representatives. (that second method being the one NZ Republic favours)

This raises a few issues. The first is: is this a sustainable groundswell for republicanism? It’s a bit too early to tell, but at the risk of revealing myself to be living in a liberal bubble like Red Peak supporters did3, I think it actually could be. (especially with effective campaigns that represent multiple voices) The flag referendum was a fiasco, but I think it really did make some kiwis realise they aren’t as attached to the Monarchy as they thought, they just want a better process to be followed and to be presented with real options that they’re enthusiastic about before they go ahead. It also didn’t help that left-wing voices were largely left out of the debate, and it ended up essentially being between right-wing liberals and conservatives from both wings, with left-wing liberals generally opining that the whole thing was a waste of time. If right-wing liberals want to push for a Republic, they’re going to need left-wing liberals not just theoretically onside, but also with some degree of enthusiasm for change.

Secondly: What sort of republic do we want, and do we need some more complicated safeguards to get it?

Well, I think this poll makes it clear for the first time how New Zealand would like to move forward. They would like Presidential elections if we form a Republic. There’s an argument to be made that that’s because a lot of them don’t know the upsides of Parliament appointing someone, (and there are upsides, most of them being “they’re more likely to use their powers as reserve powers because it could create a constitutional crisis for an appointee to overrule elected representatives”) but I expect that’s not the case. I expect New Zealanders actually want more power for voters, not less. And that’s okay. There are ways to make a directly elected president work, and they would likely not be too expensive on top of current government costs. (Maybe $1.5-3 million extra a year because we’d need to allow for extra ballots and counting, some public funding for the candidates, and maybe some education about how to vote for President, if we chose a system other than FPP, which we should. By comparison, royal visits can cost the taxpayer up to $1million each, which I hope we would stop funding under a Republic, and in both systems we pay the cost of Government House and a salary to the Governor General/President, so we’ll call those a wash)

Nobody is talking, fortunately, about an American-style strong executive President, which would replace Cabinet in our government, and have powers like the ability to declare war, deploy police, and generally mess around with the operation of the civil service to an even larger degree than ministers do. That system has huge problems and it’s better we avoid them, and I think both Republicans and Monarchists are agreed on that fact.

What powers could we give an elected President, and what limits should we place on them? I think the powers could be very similar to the current powers of the governor general, but we could actually define situations in which we want them to be used. They could be obliged to attend ceremonial events, to sign bills into law, to determine who is appointed Prime Minister, when Parliament dissolves, and generally required to resolve constitutional crises, ideally by using one of the previous two powers. We could maybe throw them an extra power or two if needs are identified before this debate seriously becomes a thing.

What limits would we need to place on an elected president to ensure they didn’t act as a dictator? Well, firstly, I would submit that any candidate for President should not have been a member of a political party for the past five years at the time they apply to become a candidate. We don’t want an active politician in this role, and we don’t want it to be a retirement package for Prime Ministers, or a reward for party faithful. As someone who has been a member of a political party, I think this is absolutely fair. Some people will retire their memberships before running for President, and that’s well and good, as it should also to some extent cut their ties to their former parties by requiring them to quit more than a single term in advance, even if they still have political views aligned with a party. If we really wanted to enforce a seperation, we could also ban parties from endorsing presidential candidates or donating to them to campaign, but I think on the whole it’s better that we preserve freedom of speech there, as there are several ways to get around a ban, so it would just separate the pragmatists from the principled rather than prevent collusion.

Secondly, the President should be obliged to sign any bill into law that gains a 75% supermajority in the House of Representatives. This is to protect New Zealanders against a president dictating a veto despite broad political support for a bill. The President should, however, be able to exercise their own discretion on bills passed with a normal majority but less than 75% support. In practice, the governor general never exercises their reserve powers to refuse assent to bills, precisely because they’re not elected. It would have been excellent to have had an independent political voice to strike down say, that abomination against natural justice that is the Three Strikes Law, which stops judges from exercising their discretion to sentence people leniently where it’s appropriate, and outright contravenes BORA.

Thirdly, I would suggest that if an elected President dissolves Parliament, they also become a lame duck and are required to immediately (or within a very short timeframe) set a date for both a Parliamentary and Presidential election, and that Presidents may only be re-elected once. This means that Presidents that abuse their power to dissolve Parliament face an immediate referendum of the people on whether they should stay in office, and that first-term Presidents would also be potentially shortening their own term even if they do get re-elected.

Fourthly, I would consider whether the President, rather than the Prime Minister or an arbitrary legal cutoff, should have the ability to remove Ministerial responsibilities from MPs, and to eject MPs from Parliament. Right now, corrupt or scandalous ministers can only be removed by the Prime Minister. I would suggest that the President should also be able to remove Ministers in cases of corruption, unethical behaviour, or threat to democracy only, as this prevents situations like Judith Collins being a Minister because she’s too powerful in the National Party to keep her out of cabinet, despite her being provably corrupt. We should then generally expect a Prime Minister not to re-appoint ministers a President sacks, but leave the discretion with the PM to do so, and with the President to just sack them again if necessary. (It also gives the Prime Minister an incentive to quickly sack misbehaving ministers or to privately encourage their resignation, so that the PM is seen as more effective than the President in that regard, so over time Presidents should need to resort to that power less and less. It also has a nice side-effect of giving the President a legitimate reason to dissolve Parliament if the Prime Minister can’t find enough qualified and uncorrupted MPs to act as Ministers) I would also suggest that although we should keep the current threshold that allows MPs convicted to crimes with significant sentences to be automatically ejected, and that the President also be able to eject MPs from Parliament for similar reasons to removing their ministerial warrants, subject to an override by a supermajority of 75% of MPs to make sure this power isn’t abused. 75% supermajorities generally require a large amount of the opposition to cross the aisle, so the only vulnerability that would leave us with is that an opposition-aligned President decides to sack unpopular government MPs for reasons that aren’t really corruption, hampering the government’s ability to function. There could be additional safeguards placed here that allow the government to dissolve Parliament and necessitate a Presidential election if we need to prevent against that.

Fifthly, I would suggest we require all elections to be both Presidential and Parliamentary at the same time to reduce voter fatigue, and recommend setting a date towards the end of the year (perhaps a set day in September) as a fixed election date, and making that date a public holiday every year with a trading ban in place. (It could be called “Republic Day” 😉 ) A public holiday for elections is superior to the current law, as it removes the need of employees to ask for time off to vote if they work weekends, and it also gives us both the reminder and time off to think about our government and how it should work. (or just some well-deserved family time, which is equally as precious) If the President does not dissolve Parliament using their special powers, Parliament would automatically dissolve a set time before that date, (say, the second August after the last election, so that there is a disincentive to calling early elections) and the next election day would have both a Parliamentary and Presidential election. Early elections would be held under the provisions of the current law, ie. on a Saturday and employers must grant reasonable time off to vote.

The non-trading provision could also increase the number of locations that could function as polling places, as businesses could offer their premises too, allowing churches that prefer to hold Saturday services an option not to participate as a polling place without leaving communities stranded without a nearby polling place.

Those should be adequate safeguards to allow an elected President to both effectively use the current reserve powers if they need to, while still protecting New Zealand from an elected dictator vetoing everything the House passes and dissolving it if they don’t do the President’s will. (which seems to be nightmare that Monarchists warn a Republic would turn into)

There are other relevant issues as well. I’ll delve shallowly into some of the most important.

Firstly, Te Tiriti o Waitangi. (Yeah, that’s the Treaty for those of you with even less Māori than me) Now, any way that we reasonably would become a Republic should preserve the treaty. We are in fact obligated to preserve treaties that guarantee human rights under international law, so there would be a lot of pressure on New Zealand if we tried to ditch the Treaty as part of becoming a Republic. Our independence should make it relatively clear that it’s absolutely possible for what’s called a “successor state4” (in my example, the successor state is the current Realm of New Zealand) to take on the obligations of an existing treaty. But is it enough that the Treaty remain as it is?

I think any law making us into a republic needs to explicitly acknowledge the Treaty as a constitutional document, explicitly identify and protect its known principles, (some of which are defined, but like the Bill of Rights Act, some of which may not even have been identified yet, because it is living law) require participation in the Māori electoral roll to drop below 0.83% of the national population before any legislation can remove the Māori seats, (ie. make the Māori roll into a regular referendum on whether Māori wish to retain their separate seats) and guarantee Māori their traditional rights. These provisions need to be sovereign over Parliament, so that courts can if necessary strike down laws that attempt to cause new Treaty violations. This wouldn’t create any new powers or entitlements for Māori, but it would protect those rights that already exist. My understanding is that Māori as a whole are already more supportive than average of the idea of a Republic, so it’s only right that this process strengthen their rights.

Secondly, I think any law making us into a republic also needs to make the Bill of Rights Act (or BORA) sovereign over Parliament, and to outline any reasonable exceptions to BORA in law. Right now, Parliament effectively decides when it is reasonable to violate BORA, and just gets a report on where each piece of legislation is inconsistent, but can then vote away even if they’re trampling on our civil liberties by doing so. This would allow New Zealanders the option to go to the courts to obtain their rights if legislation, through either action or inaction, has become inconsistent with the Bill of Rights Act. If this had been an option, we would likely have had gay marriage a lot earlier, for instance, and it would be another safeguard against unconstitutional legislation like the Three Strikes law.

Thirdly, I think regular independent reviews of our electoral system and constitutional issues should be set up, with the power to refer issues to a binding referendum. We’ve seen from the MMP review that when changes are recommended that are inconvenient for the government, that they often aren’t passed into law. We need an option that skips Parliament to make changes in the future, so that they can’t slow things up and hope they get forgotten, or turn them into political footballs like happened with flag change. (actually the flag change is the best example yet, because it started out as a football for pop patriotism from the government, and its poor process turned it into a football for anti-government resentment for two of the opposition parties)

I intend to come back for at least a second post later on less important issues like why a republic, (that case has effectively already been made if a majority want one, but I will justify why they should later) should we codify the constitution5, how we should elect a President if we did have a public vote, what we should replace Queen’s birthday with (Matariki, oh wait now I don’t need to post that 😉 ) and anything else you or I can think of.