As Carolyn reported yesterday, New Zealand went to the polls on Saturday to elect its 52nd Parliament. Actually, that’s not entirely true, New Zealanders went to the polls for two weeks up to and including Saturday. The fortnight-long early voting period was the longest in New Zealand’s history and around 1.2 million people (representing roughly half of all votes cast) voted before the official Election Day of 23 September rolled around. Although I’m a complete hypocrite because I voted a week before the Election Day (convenience with having two pre-schoolers was my reason), I think that we should go back to having everyone vote on one day. This is because: things change in the two-week period before Election Day, including policies, scandals, events etc; the current election advertising rules are predicated on everyone voting on one day and so there are real anomalies with half the people voting with election adverts ringing in their ears and half voting on Election Day with no adverts allowed at all and no one even allowed to say on social media who they voted for!; voting should be slightly inconvenient for people, one doesn’t value something unless one pays for it in some way; and finally because I think there is some sense of community that is lost by not having everyone vote on the same day.
Leaving that to one side, the election process in New Zealand is based upon a Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) voting system where each person votes for their preferred party (party vote) and their preferred local candidate (electorate vote). The first determines the number of seats (out of 120) that each party receives in our unicameral Parliament and is by far the most important. The second determines those MPs who fill the 71 electoral seats. These 71 electorate MPs fill their party’s seat allocation first. So, if Party A wins 10 per cent of the party vote and five electorate seats, they are entitled to 12 seats in Parliament (10 per cent of 120). Their 12 MPs will be made up of those five MPs who won an electorate and the remaining seven will be drawn from the party’s “list” which is published before the election. (This is the simplified version and I have ignored “wasted votes” and “overhanging seats” and other complications…)
At the moment New Zealand is a bit in limbo as to what the upshot of the election will be. This is for two reasons. First, there are a number of “special” votes (essentially votes from overseas and from voters outside their electorates) which have yet to be counted. This means the final result will not be known for another couple of weeks. Because these votes account for about 15% of those cast, this could change the makeup of the preliminary results. Secondly, the preliminary results indicate that, even after the special votes are counted, there will not be a party that commands a majority (61 seats) in Parliament. This is to be expected: since MMP was introduced in New Zealand in 1996, there has not been an election where one party has gained a sole majority. Instead, coalitions are the norm. And this time, the centre-right (National and ACT) have 59 seats between them. The centre-left(Labour and the Greens) have 52 seats. The party that will decide the government is therefore the NZ First party which has 9 seats. It could either go with the right or the left and we will not know for a few weeks at least which way NZ First will jump.
Before the results came in there was some expectation of a “youthquake”. (A terrible term.) That is, the large number of early voters were seen by some commentators as a sign that the 18-30 year old demographic would be voting in unprecedented numbers. This was going to be a big deal, as the young tended to be less inclined to vote than those over 30 years. (In the 2014 election, the voter turnout overall was about 78 per cent, but the turnout for those aged 29 and below was around only 62 per cent.) As it was, the turnout this year was up on the previous two elections, but only slightly. The Electoral Commission reported that 78.8 per cent of those enrolled voted (it is a legal requirement to be enrolled in New Zealand). In 2014 the figure was 77.9 per cent and in 2011 it was 74.21 per cent. The 2011 figure was the lowest voting turnout figure in New Zealand’s history. Considering that voting is not mandatory in New Zealand, a turnout of just shy of 80 per cent is pretty good. But all the efforts to get the youth to vote has not seemed to have resulted in a huge rise in turnout. Now, we won’t know the demographic breakdown of the vote for some time yet (at least not until the special votes have been counted) but unless there was a large decrease in turnout from the older age ranges, it seems as if some more young people might have voted, but not many. Quite frankly, after the media campaigns and the Electoral Commission’s attempts to get young people to vote one wonders if it is a futile attempt. Maybe young people in 2017 are really just not into voting. No matter how convenient we make it for them. Wait until they get a mortgage and a family…