12 December 2011

The Referendum on the Electoral System

Not only did NZers vote to stay with the MMP status quo, but they were not widely committed to indicating preferences among the alternatives. Of those who did pick an alternative, FPP (the most familiar one) got the most votes, but still well short of a majority, even of valid votes.

The alternative that was pushed by the pro-change lobbyists, Supplementary Member (SM), came in second – or third, if you include ‘no vote’ as a valid option in Part B.

So, the ‘Vote for Change’ lobby was defeated on all counts.

Many voters found it too hard to work out which alternative they preferred, and either left Part B blank or went for the familiar old FPP. Many who favoured MMP may not have wanted to put forward any alternative. We should not conclude that all informal votes were due to lack of knowledge.

Much of the voting was conditioned by what we know (or knew) and are used to. Voters were not really able to weigh up the pros and cons of the five alternatives, especially the unfamiliar ones (SM, STV and PV). If we’d all had perfect knowledge, STV would have done much better, as it is the most proportional, and the pro-MMP result suggests a popular preference for proportionality.

There are some interesting demographic trends in the support for MMP and its alternatives.

Maori electorates are the strongest in support of MMP, along with lower SES electorates. Rural conservative electorates were the biggest supporters of change, especially to FPP.

The message about SM as an alternative was most likely to influence conservative urban electorates, especially in Auckland, but not the rural ones. The right’s dissatisfaction with MMP was thus split between traditional FPP and the half-way house of SM.

Other centre-right voters, especially in the cities, were content with MMP, because many who voted for National this year also voted to keep it. So it was bad timing for the pro-change lobby, and probably a misjudgement on Mr Key’s part to push for SM. Change would have required a much stronger sentiment among centre-right voters that MMP was not delivering the goods for them.

Finally, Epsom voters are somewhat inclined to do what Mr Key wants them to do. Not only did they take the hint about Mr Banks, but they were also the most in favour of SM. Love thy neighbour?

For supporting statistics etc, see the post below.


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