New Zealand’s Parliament includes 70 single-member electorates – a majority of seats in the Parliament. On the surface this would suggest that any analyst looking at election results on Saturday night should focus on the key marginal seats where National and Labour candidates will be fighting it out to determine how the Parliament will be shaped. However most of these races are irrelevant to the overall result. Neither major party will win more seats than the total number of seats they are entitled to. So if the Nationals gain an extra seat, it will simply be deducted from their list seats. If Labour loses a seat, they will gain an extra seat on the list to compensate.
There are, however, a handful of races where the result will have a material impact on the overall make-up of Parliament, and they are worth watching on Saturday night. There are five electorates which may have an impact on the performance of key minor parties, while the nationwide vote for New Zealand First and National will be ones to watch on the night.
The overall seat results largely reflect the proportion of the party vote, but this proportionality is distorted by the issue of “wasted votes” for parties who fail to meet the threshold, an ‘overhang’ where parties win more seats than they are entitled to, and issues with parties’ survival depending on them winning one particular seat. Antony Green dealt with some of these issues in his blog post yesterday.
I plan on liveblogging the results on Saturday night. If you want to get a better handle on New Zealand polling, both nationally and in key seats, I suggest you check out Curiablog, which has done a good job of compiling polls in a single place.
This Maori seat covers the peninsula to the north of Auckland. It is held by Mana Party MP Hone Harawira. Harawira was first elected for the Maori Party in 2005. He has been renowned as an outspoken figure in the party and for a variety of reasons he ended up out of the Maori Party in early 2011. He formed the new Mana Party as a party attacking the Maori Party from the left, and he resigned from his seat in the middle of 2011. Harawira was re-elected, outpolling the Labour candidate by 9% with the Maori Party coming a distant third.
The Mana Party is polling far below 5%, and will rely on winning Te Tai Tokerau to remain in Parliament. Most polls have the party polling so low that they would probably not qualify for a second seat if they won Te Tai Tokerau, but some polls have them polling high enough to bring in a second MP if Harawira is re-elected. If Labour wins the seat it won’t make any difference to their seat number but it will take Mana out of the mix.
The Maori Party now hold four seats (after the loss of Harawira in Te Tai Tokerau). Unlike ACT, United Future or the Mana Party, their parliamentary presence doesn’t hang on a single electorate result and there is little prospect of them losing their presence in the Parliament. Unlike the three larger parties, however, the number of seats they won is critical in determining how many seats they win. In 2005 and 2008 they qualified for three seats in the Parliament, but won 4 electorates seats in 2005 and five in 2008, producing an ‘overhang’ in the Parliament.
The Maori Party’s co-leaders Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples both hold their seats by large margins, as does Te Ururoa Flavell. However most polls have the party on track to only qualify for two seats in the Parliament. So their total number of seats in the Parliament, and the size of the overhang they create, will be determined by which Maori electorates they win.
In Te Tai Tonga, which covers the entire South Island, Maori MP Rahui Katene won the seat off Labour in 2008, with a margin of only 5.5%. If Labour can gain this seat the Maori Party will lose a seat, and the overall size of the Parliament will drop by one.
The seat of Hauraki-Waikato is held by Labour MP Nanaia Mahuta, who held on in 2008 by a margin of less than 5%. If the Maori Party can gain this seat it would have the opposite effect, increasing the Maori Party numbers by one and increasing the overall size of the Parliament. These two seats will determine if the Maori Party will win three, four or five seats in 2011.
This is the third election in a row that Epsom will be central to the fate of the ACT party. In the 1996, 1999 and 2002 elections, ACT comfortably passed the 5% threshold, winning 6-7% in each election, giving them 8-9 MPs.
ACT’s support collapsed after the 2002 election, with a new leader Rodney Hide and with the Nationals choosing a leader in Don Brash who adopted much of ACT’s positions as his own. The party seemed doomed to be eliminated from Parliament in 2005, and their support in the polls dropped further with voters fearful of wasting their votes. In a fierce contest Hide managed to gain the seat of Epsom off the Nationals, despite Epsom voters overwhelmingly choosing the Nationals for their party vote.
In 2008 Hide was re-elected more comfortably, with National tacitly accepting his presence in the seat and sending signals to their voters to vote ACT in Epsom to give National a right-wing coalition partner – Hide’s party increased their numbers in Parliament from 2 to 5. ACT became part of the new government with Hide and another ACT MP taking on ministries.
Following Don Brash’s leadership coup within ACT, Hide has been replaced in Epsom by former Auckland mayor John Banks. Again ACT depends on Epsom to survive. Prime Minister John Key made an effort to shore up Banks’ campaign, but the photo op went badly when a cameraman accidentally recorded the two politicians’ conversation.
Recent polls suggest that Banks is polling far behind his National rival, and that Key’s endorsement didn’t do much good for the ACT campaign. ACT will only survive if Banks can win Epsom, but current polls suggest that if he does he will only be able to bring in one more ACT MP – former National leader Don Brash.
Peter Dunne has held the seat in the Ōhariu area continuously since 1984. He first represented Labour, but he was one of many major party MPs to leave his party in the lead-up to the first MMP election in 1996. He was one of seven defectors from the two major parties to found United New Zealand, but he was the only one who managed to hold on to his seat. The party failed to win enough votes to bring in even one more MP.
His party had a huge result in 2002, winning 6.7% and eight seats. Apart from that one election, he has always relied on his electorate to retain his presence in Parliament. In 2005 his party dropped to three seats, and in 2008 he only managed to retain his own seat, narrowly seeing off challenges from both Labour and National, and not winning enough party votes to bring in any other MPs.
A poll with a tiny sample has put Dunne just ahead of his Labour challenger in the race for his seat, while national polls suggest that United Future will poll so badly that they would not even qualify for one seat, meaning that if Dunne wins he will produce an overhang. While Dunne is certain not to bring in any colleagues, his survival will increase the size of the Parliament by one, making it harder for any party to form a majority. He is also likely to continue a long ministerial career in a future National government, if he can survive this election.
New Zealand First’s national vote
Winston Peters’ New Zealand First used to bounce around between huge victories (winning 17 seats in 1996 – still the biggest ever result for a minor party) and barely surviving. In 1999 the party fell below 5% and only survived due to Winston Peters holding on in Tauranga. Peters lost Tauranga in 2005, and in 2008 the party fell below the 5% threshold again and was eliminated, despite polling more than at least four parties that returned to Parliament.
Polls suggest that New Zealand First is still polling better than the Maori Party, ACT or United Future. Yet the party has not been polling over 5%, with most polls around 2%, 3% or 4%. If the party polls close to 5% but fails to cross the threshold, then it will make it easier for the Nationals to form a majority. If New Zealand First polls 4% worth of ‘wasted votes’, then the Nationals will only need about 48% to win a majority of proportional seats (barring an overhang). In practice it will be lower as another 2-3% will likely go to other small parties who fail to win seats.
On the other hand, if New Zealand First manage to poll over 5% they will qualify for at least six seats, more than are expected to be won by any other minor party except for the Greens. It would also mean those seats would largely come from the major parties. New Zealand First would make it harder for National to win a majority, particularly if their allies ACT and United Future are wiped out.
The Greens are far above the 5% threshold and are not seriously in contention in any electorate seat. The big question for them will be how high they can go. Most polls recently have had them around 12-13% but some have had them drop back to 10%. The party, much like the Greens in Australia, has often experienced a drop in the polls towards the end of the campaign. If the party can reach 13% they will have a chance of reaching New Zealand First’s peak of 17 seats, and they would be a major force to be reckoned with on the centre-left of New Zealand politics, rivalling a Labour Party in the doldrums and overshadowing a Maori Party riven by division and damaged by its alliance with a right-wing government.
National Party vote
The National Party are aiming at this election for a majority. In most polls they have polled over 50%, although we won’t know until the night if this exaggerated polling will drop away. In practice the Nats will probably need just under 50% to win a majority of seats, although this will depend on New Zealand First’s performance and how many overhang seats are created by the Maori Party and Peter Dunne. Usually New Zealand governments rely on minor parties for the overall numbers, but if National fails to win a majority they will struggle, as they have largely cannibalised the right-wing minor party vote.