In the end it was about half way between the worst-case and best-case scenarios. Probably towards the disappointing end overall, but once the special votes are counted there's even a slim possibility that the Maori Party may end up holding the balance of power.
The Guardian's sports pages have taken to running a post format called "five things we learned from..." after a round of matches. In that spirit, here's some thoughts on the elections in New Zealand.
People cared less this time (but why?)
After special votes are included, participation of registered voters will be something like 72 percent, compared to 80 percent in 2005 and 79 percent in 2008. That's apparently the lowest turnout since the 1880s. There is plenty of speculation about the reasons for this relative apathy. Hopefully, some of the questions will be answered by some basic research. Some of it could be done fairly easily with summary data from the Census and Electoral Roll. Were the non-voters and the non-registered mainly young people, first time voters, those in particular geographical locations or socioeconomic strata? Or were they spread fairly evenly through demographic groups and classes?
Other questions would require more detailed research with a sample group. Were those who stayed away complacent National supporters? Left-leaning voters who felt it was a foregone conclusion? People generally happy with the state of things? Or the marginalised who felt that no party or politican spoke for them?
The polls were wrong (or were they...?)
A series of polls in the last week of the campaign gave National an average 52 percent of the vote. That was at least 4 points too high, and nobody picked the surge of support to NZ First (except perhaps the last Roy Morgan poll). On the other hand, the polls average was pretty close to the share gained by Labour, the Greens, ACT and the Maori Party. How badly wrong you think the polls were kind of depends onyour interpretation of the result. How much of the shift to NZ First was from strategic voting by Labour and Greens supporters wanting to get another opposition party over the threshold (worse for the polls); and how much was from soft National supporters having last-minute qualms about an absolute majority (which would suggest the polls were closer to being accurate).
Someone needs to make the Winston Peters movie
This would be an epic Godfather-esque tale of vengeance. Returning from three years in the wilderness after being hounded out by a broad coalition of media and politicians, Peters has once again outmanouvered his enemies. I'd love to be a fly on the wall to see the respective expressions if Peters and Rodney Hide pass in a corridor somewhere.
The liberal right continues to flirt with oxymoron status
The long journey of ACT from a right-libertarian vehicle to a party for angry white men reached tis concluson with the vesting of its electoral hopes in noted social conservative John Banks, who during the campaign smacked down his nominal leader's musings on cannabis law reform. In the aftermath of an election in which the party vote shrank to around 1 percent, Banks has been openly musing about merging ACT with the paleoconservative New Zealand Conservative Party.
My political education has advanced considerably since then, but what I wrote in a post six years ago still holds:
...across-the-board libertarian principles only seem to survive in
universities, pubs and other theoretical settings...there's a mysterious process by which those who have to
actually make policy see their social liberalism...rapidly eroded.
I have a partial theory on why right liberalism tends to collapse under the weight of its own contradictions. The profound inequalities created or exacerbated by right-wing economics in the real world ultimately have to be explained by blaming their victims. This leads inexorably back to tough-on-crime social conservatism, until this overshadows everything else.
Some people really don't want to let FPP go
I have been astounded by the range of people, from Guyon Espiner on election night to John Key afterwards, who expressed puzzlement and dismay that after such a "resounding victory" by National, they only had a narrow majority. Either these people don't understand MMP, or, more likely, they prefer not to. Forty-eight percent is indeed a high number for any individual party, but nearly all of the remaining votes went to parties that broadly oppose National's programme (including, in theory, one of their likely coalition partners, the Maori party). Under a proportional system (news flash: we had a referndum on this and decided to keep it), the biggest player doesn't get to wield absolute power.
Some of this attitude is also coming from people on the left worried about Labor's position. Some sites have shown maps of New Zealand by electorate with only a few red dots in a "sea of blue". This does not refer to the electorate results (Labour actually won 21 electorates, with a couple of others still in play), but to the party vote in each electorate. There have been laments that even in strongholds in Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin, Labour "lost" the party vote to National. However, in most of those places, the Labour and Green party votes together easily exceeded National's. Granted the current high-tide position of National, the results need to be interpreted in the context of two strong parties on the left, one on the right.
More on that in another post.