Can Labour break a 70-year cycle of National repeat victories?
By Jeremy Smith
New Zealand’s voters restored normal service on Saturday, at least at first glance.
Normal service means voting National and over the last 70 years National has won most of the time.
Here are the figures: of the 24 elections since 1949 National has won 16 of them and Labour only seven.
The figures are not as clear after 1996 and MMP: National still normally the biggest party but having to do deals to form a government. Likewise post-MPP Labour had to do deals under Helen Clarke to govern.
But this is an extraordinary record: not only has National won more than twice as many elections as Labour but it always gets three-term administrations. National also won a 4th term under Holyoake, and in 2017 it may have snatched another fourth term, subject to Winston Peters.
For the Labour the figures are very different: not only do they not win very often but their time in government is much shorter. Helen Clarke is the only Labour leader to get three terms. Five national PMs achieved the “triple”: Holland, Holyoake, Muldoon, Bolger and Key.
Political scientists who study these things refer to majority and minority parties under the old two-party system.
National is the majority party
That’s another way of identifying which parties win most of the time: in New Zealand National is the majority party. In Australia it has been the Liberals, and in the UK the Conservatives. And in all three countries, Labour has been the minority party.
After 1996 and MMP we heard how this might change with the end of the winner-take all approach. Well it did sort of: the business of forming a government rests with the single biggest party National or Labour doing deals.
Let’s go to 2017 and look at the party vote.
Party votes benefit National
Go through seven electorate seats won by Labour and you find those same voters gave their party votes to National: Te Atatu, Mount Roskill, Palmerston North, Napier, Ohariu,West Coast-Tasman and Wigram.
Mostly the party difference was only a hundred voters or so but in Napier, where Labour’s Stuart Nash won a second term, the party vote went to National by four thousand. And in Ohariu, Labour’s only general pick-up seat with Greg O’Connor, the party vote also favoured National by four thousand.
Looking ahead- The electoral boundaries for last week’s election will also apply for 2020. But the rate of population growth is so high the party vote next time is likely to be much higher. No new electorate MPS and no extra List MPs.
Small electorates punch above weight
And significant areas of the middle and lower North Island are losing population. They will go into the 2020 election with fewer voters than the 62,000 or so needed to make up an electorate. These are electorates like Rangitikei, Taranaki-King Country, Rotorua and East Cape.
Paradoxically having fewer voters will allow them to punch above their population weight in producing electorate MPs. These are all National-held.
In the Golden Triangle- Auckland to Hamilton and Tauranga – the electorates will be “bulging”.: a lot more than the 62,000 but no more electoral MPS. (The 16 South Island electorates mostly tend to hold their population thanks to the sharp growth in Queenstown, the Mckenzie, Nelson and Selwyn and Waimakariri around Christchurch).
‘Demography is destiny’
MMP means the overall party vote, the List, is the really significant one especially for minor parties like NZ First or the Greens. Three years from now it will be even more important because of these population changes.
After that there’s an electoral rejig which could conceivably see as many as three new electorates in the Golden Triangle.
And that could mean three fewer list MPs. This trend is bad news long-term for the Greens and NZ First who find it hard to win electorates: ask Winston Peters.
So if you hear of anyone from these parties talking having more than 120 MPs you will know why. Long-term, subject to population growth, the trend is for the number of electorates to increase and the number of List MPs to drop.
Demography is destiny