What do we know, don't we know and think we know after the election night results?

The day after the night before, some things have become clear while some things remain uncertain.

Perhaps clearest is just how wrong were all those who solely attributed the National Party’s previous electoral success to “the John Key effect”. Under a new leader, ending their third term in power, National has attracted a greater share of the vote than when first elected in 2008.

That really is a quite remarkable result, which is testament to National’s success in governing over the past 9 years. Conventional wisdom tells us that oppositions don’t win elections, rather governments lose them.

If that really is the case, National has passed the voters’ test. Perhaps instead of focusing on the various “volatile” opinion poll results in the lead up to Saturday, we would have been better recalling that some 62 percent of voters apparently think that New Zealand is heading in the right direction.

Almost as clear is that despite this being our eighth election using MMP, New Zealand’s attitude to voting still reflects our previous first past the post voting experiences. Some 82 percent of voters had “come home” to the big two traditional parties on election night.

That’s basically the same proportion as supported these parties at the 1990 general election, and more than supported them in either 1984 or 1993. Even after 24 years of multi-party government, four out of five New Zealand voters still respond to the “cut out the middle man” message.

However, it is still uncertain exactly where all the various parties will end up once the final election results are announced. The Electoral Commission reports that some 384,072 special votes – 15 percent of the total cast – remain to be counted.

Given that many of these will be from young voters who enrolled late, and in light of past experience, we can safely assume that these special votes will heavily favour Labour and the Green parties. It is highly likely, therefore, that once they are included National will lose a list seat (currently filled by Nicola Wills) and the Greens will pick one up (for Golriz Ghahraman).

In the extremely unlikely event that these votes break very, very heavily against National and so reduce its share of the vote down to 44 percent, then it would lose three seats to the Labour/Green side. That would bring National and the Labour/Green block even on 55 seats apiece.

[Update: Graeme Edgeler has written an essential piece on the matter of special votes and what to expect - go and read it here immediately]

Such a change might render the government formation process more uncertain. But unless it happens – and it almost certainly won’t – National has to be in the box seat for putting together a governing deal.

To be clear, that’s not just because National is the largest party. There simply is no right for the party that has the most seats to govern.

Rather, it is going to be far easier for National to make the accommodations needed to form a new government in conjunction with New Zealand First. Finding a balance between two sets of priorities is a whole lot less problematic than striking a deal amongst three different sets of bottom lines.

One final point on the results. The Electoral Commission reports that 78.8% of enrolled voters cast a vote in 2017, a slight increase on the 77.9% who did so in 2014.

However, in 2017 only 91.1 percent of those eligible have enrolled to vote. In 2014, over 93 percent had done so.

So on these figures, the turnout of those eligible to vote has actually declined from 72.1 to 71.7 percent. Given that this electoral contest was seen as more competitive, and in light of the excitement caused by Jacinda Ardern’s rise to Labour’s leadership, this is both surprising and concerning for the future health of our democracy.

Comments (16)

by Ross on September 24, 2017
Ross

we would have been better recalling that some 62 percent of voters apparently think that New Zealand is heading in the right direction.

I'm not sure how useful that information is. In September 2016, 52% thought we were heading in the right direction (what exactly is the "right direction"?). What had changed in the space of 12 months to bring about a rating of 62% from 52%? 

Finding a balance between two sets of priorities is a whole lot less problematic than striking a deal amongst three different sets of bottom lines.

Except there don't need to be three different sets of bottom lines. The Greens could support Labour/NZF on confidence and supply. Or (less likely) NZF could support the Greens/Labour on confidence and supply.

By the way, the last Government signed confidence and supply agreements with three other parties, ACT, Maori Party and United Future. If four parties can do a deal to provide relatively stable government, there's no reason why three can't do so.

by Lee Churchman on September 24, 2017
Lee Churchman

Conventional wisdom tells us that oppositions don’t win elections, rather governments lose them.

It also tells us that a deranged orang utan could never be elected leader of the 'free world'. The world is now a different place, facts don't matter, and the old rules no longer apply. 

I would guess that the underlying story is the transition from the left vs the right to the young vs the old. That's what has happened in the UK: socialism for the elderly and capitalism for the young. 

by Alan Johnstone on September 25, 2017
Alan Johnstone

My take on the election.

There appears to an attempt by the National Party and some in the media to embed the idea that they "won" the election. John Key yesterday even describing Peters going with Labour as " he would have to step away from the fundamental core value of democracy which is majority rule". Mr Key either doesn't know what the work majority means or is trying to spin.

The numbers don't lie, the parties that sat in opposition last term have been delivered a majority of seats now. Right now that is just 2 seats 61 to 59, if we assume each of Labour and Greens will gain one seat in the specials, that majority climbs to 6, 63 to 57. (Majorities are always even numbers of course)

Two of Nationals support partners have been eliminated, and National looks set to be reduced by 3 seats. There is a clear majority for a Labour led administration and it's now incumbent upon Jacinda Arden to form it.

 

by Andrew Geddis on September 25, 2017
Andrew Geddis

Two of Nationals support partners have been eliminated, and National looks set to be reduced by 3 seats. There is a clear majority for a Labour led administration and it's now incumbent upon Jacinda Arden to form it.

This strikes me as an entirely valid claim. The counter, I guess, is that any National-NZ First arrangement will not be the same as the 2014-2017 National/ACT/UF/Maori Party Government - if Peters can claim he's won concessions large enough to deliver to all those who have "had enough?" 

by Charlie on September 25, 2017
Charlie

I think Labour would have won this election if they had presented an competent and consistent alternative. National 'won' by default.

Cases in point:

1. An inexperienced and untested leader replacing a thoroughly unlikeable one only a few weeks before the election.

2. No clear message."Let's do this" is clearly inadequate

3. Policies adrift and changing by the day.

4. No detailed financial plan. Grant Robertson was conspicuous by his absence.

 

 

by Charlie on September 25, 2017
Charlie

Other points:

Despite Labour picking up all the Maori seats they still failed to win. Is that a first?

For the first time in decades there are no race-based political parties in Parliament. It is heartening to see people voting for ideas rather than skin colour. So is the Maori electrorate now officially redundant?

A National/NZF coalition might be able to deliver much needed RMA reform without inclusion of dodgy Treaty related compromises. That alone is worth the effort of the election!

by Ross on September 25, 2017
Ross

Andrew,

I could've sworn I saw you on TV tonight - no one could've missed that shirt! - saying that caretaker governments don't or cannot make important decisions before a new government is formed. But didn't Amy Adams just say that the Crown intends to appeal the High Court decision re Teina Pora's compensation? Apparently, that's not very important!

https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/97225152/crown-to-appeal-teina-pora-com...

 

by Andrew Geddis on September 25, 2017
Andrew Geddis

@Ross,

No - she said that the Crown has filed a "placeholder" appeal (because the last day for doing so is today) so that a future Cabinet can decide whether to pursue a full appeal ... she's actually following the convention by leaving the way clear for whatever Government is formed to do what it wants.

In other words, if the Crown hadn't lodged an appeal today, then that would (in effect) decide the matter by leaving the H.Ct judgment unchallenged ... despite the current Government not having confidence of the House. What mandate would it have to decide to do that?

by Wyatt Creech on September 25, 2017
Wyatt Creech

Andrew

Your point that despite eight MMP elections, New Zealand’s attitude to voting still reflects our first-past-the-post voting experiences. The problem is this - we reformed the way we vote for MPs when we introduced MMP proportional representation but we did not reform the way we pick or executive or run Pariament. There, as it has always been, a Government must have a committed majority for confidence and supply before the Governor General can issue warrants. We end up with a government that may just have a little more than 50% of votes, and the Opposition behaves as oppositions have always behaved. We did achieve more diverse representation with MMP, but we did not get the more consensual politics many hoped we would. That would take further reform.

by Ross on September 25, 2017
Ross

a future Cabinet can decide whether to pursue a full appeal

But Labour has said that Pora should be paid extra, as indeed has ACT. The Government's advisor, Rodney Hansen, recommended inflation-adjusting the payout, a recommendation that the HC seemed to agreed with. Amy Adams could have indicated that National has no intention of appealing the HC's decision - if it becomes the next Government - while giving a non-National-led Government the right to do so. But she has given no such indication. 

One final point: Justice Ellis said that compensation could be inflation adjusted. However, she did not say that it has to be. She stated, at 122 and, later, at 142:

the Guidelines can, and should, be interpreted as permitting inflation adjusting, if the interests of justice dictate... I also invite the Minister to consider whether, in the circumstances of Mr Pora’s case, the interests of justice require the benchmarks in the Guidelines to be inflation adjusted.  I am unable to see any impediment to her taking the matter back to Cabinet should that be seen as the proper outcome.  

National, acting in good faith (OK, maybe that's a stretch), could refuse to inflation adjust Pora's payout without necessarily appealing the HC judgment. Indeed, any Government could do likewise. In other words, the next Government - whoever that might be - could refuse to inflation-proof Pora's compensation as well as not appeal the HC judgment?

 

by Kat on September 25, 2017
Kat

@Wyatt

We live in interesting times and I agree with you that further reform is needed for more consensual politics. Thank you for mentioning that.

The 'dead cat' on the table now is what will happen if National is shut out of power. Ultimately its not only those who pull the levers but those who 'own' the levers of power that must accomodate reform.

 

 

by Andrew Geddis on September 26, 2017
Andrew Geddis

@Wyatt,

I'm not sure that it is down to the way we pick our Government - after all, Germany has the same basic rule as we do ("you need majority support in the Bundestag"), yet look at how voters have divided representation up at their latest election! It thus seems to me more a matter of political culture/expectations ... in NZ we haven't really come to terms with the concept of coalitions and overt political dealmaking. So, the message "vote for National/Labour so they can govern" resonates more strongly than "vote for a party whose specific policies are closer to yours so they can carry these into the negotiation processes".

@Ross,

And if Labour/Act are in the next Government, they can abandon the appeal. But if they are not and other parties are in Government who want to continue with it, then the option is open to them. The future Government is not committed one way or the other, so there is no breach of the caretaker convention. 

To be clear, I am opposed to the appeal - I think (and argued strongly at the time) that Pora should be paid more. But I also recognise that there are potential questions about the reasoning in the High Court, and given that it is precedent setting it is not on its face completely unreasonable for the Crown to want it looked at again by the Court of Appeal.

by Simon Connell on September 26, 2017
Simon Connell

The numbers don't lie, the parties that sat in opposition last term have been delivered a majority of seats now.

The grouping of minor parties as government parties or opposition parties in opposition to a particular larger party in government is a false dichotomy and a relic of the FPP era. It doesn't work with centrist parties which could go from being in opposition against a larger party in government to supporting that same larger party in government, or from being in government with one larger party to being in government with a different larger party.

There is a clear majority for a Labour led administration

Only if you count votes for NZF as clear votes for a Labour led administration which I think is pretty hard to justify given that NZF has worked with both Labour and National in the past.

I think there is a good case that the results are a rejection of the previous National/ACT/UF/MP arrangement, but it doesn't automatically follow that that's a rejection of a National-led government (which is the point Andrew makes above).

by Raymond A Francis on September 26, 2017
Raymond A Francis

I do hope that when the way the Election was run is looked at that the training of polling officers and the distribution of voting forms is looked at.

I over heard a manager giving quite wrong information about the definition of 'home' and plenty of stories about problems with the Māori roll.

Not a fail but just not good enough in a democracy like ours

by Ross on September 26, 2017
Ross

But I also recognise that there are potential questions about the reasoning in the High Court...

Sorry, I went to your linked piece and couldn't find a reference to any potential questions about the HC's reasoning. You write:

you were wrong in law to think that you couldn’t adjust Pora’s compensation for inflation consistently with your guidelines … and you really ought to think about updating those guidelines to reflect the effects of that inflation. Now, what are you going to do to bring about a fair and just result?

Well, yes. It seems reaosnable to conclude that the Government should not try to penny pinch. But the Government was advised at the outset that it should pay Pora an inflation-adjusted sum. It apparently doesn't want to. I imagine that if National form the next Government it will appeal the HC's decision, or it might simply invent a new justification for its original decision.

by Andrew Geddis on September 27, 2017
Andrew Geddis

@Ross,

I wrote in that post:

Second, Justice Ellis found that the government’s decision not to follow the advice of Rodney Hansen QC – the person they appointed to consider Pora’s application for compensation – and inflation-adjust Pora’s payout was made in error of law. Exactly why this decision was wrong is a little more difficult to explain.

Here’s how Justice Ellis sums up the arguments of Pora’s lawyer on the point: “The central contention was, instead, that ‘something in public law terms has gone terribly wrong’ and Pora has, thereby, suffered ‘a new and different injustice’.” At which point, one may be reminded of the greatest legal argument in all of human history: “It’s justice. It’s law. It’s the vibe.

It is not inconcievable that the Court of Appeal would take a different view of this matter and be less persuaded by a generic "it just feels wrong" argument. And because it is a precedent setting case, it is not totally outrageous for the new Cabinet to want to be able to sit down and, free from the pressures of an election campaign, decide whether it wants a more definitive ruling from a higher court. And that is all that the Minister has allowed to happen here by filing appeal papers.

This is my last comment on this point - you're welcome to another go, but I've done my dash.

Post new comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.