05 November 2011

MMP: Why is it not working?

I ask that question not because I think we should vote for a change in the coming referendum - but rather because, going by a couple of critical indicators, MMP is not producing outcomes that we might have hoped for.

The basic trend is that MMP election results are increasingly being dominated by the two major parties, National and Labour. Their combined shares of the party vote over the 5 MMP elections since 1996 are: 62.03, 69.24, 62.19, 80.20, 78.92%. Translated into combined percentage share of seats in the House after the election, the figures are: 67.50, 73.33, 65.83, 80.99, 82.79%.

It's reasonable to predict that the combined National-Labour party vote will exceed 80% this coming election.

Conversely, support for minor parties, all together, has been declining. And there have been significant casualties, such as the Alliance and NZ First. Those 2 parties gained 13 and 17 seats, respectively, after the 1996 election. Remember those days? It's possible that the next election will result in no seats for ACT, a party that, at its best, was getting over 7% of the party vote and 9 seats.

The Greens are the only exception to this downward trend for small parties, and that may be explained by the facts that they have clear principles, which they largely stick by, and they have kept their distance from governing parties over the years. They are likely to make gains in this election, but that could partly be due to voters migrating away from Labour, and hence it may not last.

Are NZ voters not really in tune with a proportional system? If, as opinion polls suggest, NZers give National a majority of seats in the House this election, as well as punishing one more small party (ACT), then it starts to look like there's a kind of nostalgia for the FPP system. Is it as if we are trying to make MMP perform like FPP used to, or even like SMP is supposed to?

The other relevant trend is the decline in voter turn-outs. Now, this is a widespread trend in democracies, and NZers still have a relatively high turn out. So MMP is not necessarily responsible for the decline. But MMP has certainly not encouraged higher turn-outs. It's strange to think that more voters would cast a vote under FPP, even though many of those votes made no difference whatsoever to the result, and yet MMP (with far fewer 'wasted' votes) has been accompanied by declining participation rates.

What's going wrong with MMP?

(See voter turn-out figures in the Social Report)


At 12:09 AM, Anonymous BenLW said...

I think Minor parties face a different set of problems from the major parties, which is why the share of the major parties is increasing
1) The minor parties have no loyal voters. I have met people who will vote Labour no matter what. No matter how badly the party is doing at the moment, they trust in the party to turn it around. The minor parties must then focus on those non-tribal supporters - which cuts down their potential demographic. So, the minor parties face a much harder environment - they can only hope to get swing voters, which is an inherently unstable base.

2) I heard Raymond Miller talking on the radio a while ago, saying that New Zealanders expect too much from minor parties. People are stuck in the FPP attitude - they expect minor parties to do huge things, rather than minor things. This means the people are more likely to go back to the big parties who have more influence. This compounds the first problem - only swing voters will vote for minor parties, and those voters are more critical of the minor parties for not achieving enough.

so, in general, I think New Zealand still has not got rid of the FPP culture. Until that's gone, the minor parties are going to have a pretty tough time.


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