Well, that was a fascinating election outcome.
Listening to the coverage on Saturday night, I was interested in comments about how strong National’s performance was vying for a fourth term in government. There didn’t seem to be many statistics behind the talk.
But it is worth bearing in mind that since 1935 – when the domination of New Zealand politics by our current two main parties really began – we’ve had 10 governments. Two have lasted a single term, one two terms, four completed governments last three terms, and two governments lasted four terms. It seems to be an open question whether National will now be able to lead a fourth term government. That means there really isn’t much data. And, to some extent, MMP changes things – minor parties are more important, and MMP governments have so far always involved multiple parties.
There has been talk that National’s (provisional) vote share this time (46.0 per cent) is higher than it was when they first took office in 2008 (44.93 per cent). But ACT has never had anywhere to go but National, and never had any desire to go elsewhere anyway. So at very least one should aggregate the National and ACT votes to look at the centre-right performance.
But I’d argue one should really go a bit beyond that. The Conservative Party has come, came close in 2014 to entering Parliament, and then has largely gone again. Not only did the Conservative Party campaign in 2014 as another potential support party for National, but realistically most of their voters in 2011 and 2014 are people (in many case conservative Christians) who would have otherwise, naturally or reluctantly, have voted for one of the other centre-right parties.
In this chart, I’ve shown three different ways of looking at how the centre-right vote has changed:
- National + ACT party votes as a share of the total vote,
- National+ ACT party votes as a share of the “used” vote (ie excluding the “wasted” party votes for parties that didn’t get into Parliament), and
- National + ACT + Conservative party votes as a share of the total vote.
On each of those lines, the centre-right vote share has fallen quite a bit. If anything, what the chart highlights is how well the centre-right did (and, I guess, how disastrously the left did) at the 2014 election. In this election, the centre-right vote share – the grey line – has (on the provisional results) fallen by a full 5 percentage points.
And then I wondered how it had been in the 1960s. The 1969 election was the last time a a party secured a fourth term.
Now that looks more like a genuinely impressive performance – the governing party lifting its vote share in the election in which it gained a fourth term. There had been industrial action at the time of the election which had hurt the Labour Party, but the previous three years had been a very tough time to govern. Wool prices had collapsed (and with them the overall terms of trade), the New Zealand government had been forced into a devaluation in late 1967, and had borrowed from the IMF under a pretty stringent domestic austerity programme. Things here had been tough enough that over the three calendar years 1967 to 1969 there was a small overall net migration outflow (the first such outflows since the end of World War Two). People can counter that the third party – Social Credit – saw its vote share fall away, and both National and Labour gained. But in a sense that is the point: tough times like that are often when third parties, and main Opposition parties do well. But National increased its vote share.
The other fourth term victory since 1935 was in 1946, when Labour secured a fourth term. And here is how Labour’s vote share changed over its time in government.
Again, going for a fourth term Labour managed to increase its vote share. They’d seen off John A Lee’s rebel party in the 1943 election, and no doubt won back most of that vote, but again…that is the point. Going for a fourth term after crises, war, and post-war controls and inflation, Labour increased it vote share (to 51.3 per cent).
I was also playing around with some other of the provisional results. For all that the Greens have done pretty badly nationwide, it was striking how strongly they poll in the neighbourhoods I live and move in. In (booths in) Island Bay itself 16 per cent, and in next door Berhampore 26 per cent (no wonder the new local Labour MP, and current Wellington deputy mayor, avoided answering questions about his approach to the cycleway). In the whole Rongotai electorate the Greens scored 17 per cent, and in next door Wellington Central (where James Shaw ran) 20.8 per cent. Both those percentages are lower than in 2014 ( 26.2 in Rongotai and 29.5 in Wellington Central) but are still huge – and conventional wisdom seems to be that the Green vote share will rise on special votes. No wonder that, despite the fact that 70-80 per cent of submissions from residents favour scrapping the dreaded Island Bay cycleway (and certainly don’t want to spend millions more on it), the Wellington City Council seems set to pursue its green agenda anyway.
Finally, I was interested in whether there were any material differences in the party vote shares between advanced votes and those on the day. I only looked at two electorates (again, Rongotai and Wellington Central) but this is what I found.
And Wellington Central
The differences aren’t huge, but they are there – at least in these two electorates, and in particular between the Greens and National shares. Given that advanced votes of those who enrolled at the same time as they voted still haven’t been counted, it would presumably offer some encouragement to the Greens.