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6 - Monday, October 2, 2017
How special votes could change election
The National and Labour-Green blocs will probably be just a couple of seats apart once the special votes are counted.
We will have to wait until Saturday to know for sure. And so will Winston. PAUL YOUNG reports for Newsroom.
n the provisional result, the 2017 election is New Zealand’s closest MMP
election yet in terms of the gap between the left and right blocs. With a
record 384,072 special votes (around 15% of the total) still to be counted,
the final result will be even closer. While the special votes will not change
the fact that either bloc relies on New Zealand First to form a government,
they could have an important impact on negotiations -- primarily for the
prospects of a Labour-Green-NZ First coalition. They are also important to the public
discourse around coalition options.
Special votes have consistently favoured the left in recent times, particularly the Green
Party. Special votes include overseas votes, dictated votes, and votes cast by people who
enrolled during the advance voting period. The latter category is especially important to
watch this election due to an apparent late surge of predominantly younger voters (the
The provisional election result has National on 58 seats, Labour on 45, the Greens on
seven, New Zealand First on nine, and Act on one. Projections by Graeme Edgeler and
Chuan-Zheng Lee show that if the special votes follow a similar pattern as in 2014,
National will lose two seats: one to the Greens and one to Labour. This will put Labour and
the Greens on a combined 54 seats: very close to National’s 56. A Labour-Green-NZ First
coalition would then command a comfortable majority of 63 seats.
This result appears likely, but how confident can we be? Curious, I made a spreadsheet tool
to test out different special vote scenarios. It has had a bit of use after I shared it on Twitter,
and I have seen a few wildly optimistic scenarios plugged in. I’m a bit concerned I have
created a denial mechanism.
After spending far too long playing with the spreadsheet myself, here are five scenarios for
how the special votes could change the election result.
Scenario one matches the projections described above. It assumes that parties
underperform or overperform in the special votes relative to the ordinary votes by the same
proportion as they did in 2014. For example, National’s share of special votes was 17% lower
than its share of ordinary votes.
I have rounded the numbers to a whole percentage point, which gives the following shares
of special votes: National 38%, Labour 41%, Greens 9%, NZ First 6%, and all other parties
6%. (I have grouped all the other parties including Act together here as it is extremely
unlikely they will affect the seat distribution). As mentioned, this leads to 56 seats for
National, 54 seats for the Labour-Greens bloc, and NZ First sitting unchanged on nine
This scenario ser ves as a good baseline. The remaining four scenarios deviate from this in
In the second scenario, National manages to hold on to its 57th seat rather than lose it to
Labour. This would happen if Labour were to lose 1% of special votes to National and 1% to
the Greens compared with scenario one, leaving it tied with National on 39%. There are also
other ways that this could happen: The key condition is that National gets an equal or higher
percentage of the special votes as Labour does.
As a relatively small shift from the 2014 pattern, this could definitely happen. However,
it would go against a trend of National performing increasingly worse in the special votes
relative to the ordinary votes over the last three elections (and vice versa for Labour and the
Greens). This seems particularly unlikely to occur if most of the increase in special votes this
year is indeed from younger voters.
In the third scenario, the Greens take a second seat off National and the left and right
blocs draw level at 55 seats each. The first key to this happening is the Greens getting around
13% or more of the special votes. The second condition is that Labour needs to be around
6% above National, other wise the Greens would take a seat off them instead. This would
require National to drop back to around 34%, with Labour holding fairly strong on at least
Clearly, this is a big stretch. The Greens did manage to get 15.4% of special votes in 2014,
but that was from a much stronger provisional result of 10% (compared with 5.9% this year).
For this to happen, the youthquake would need to be high on the Richter scale, and it would
need to heavily favour the Greens over Labour.
In the fourth scenario, it is Labour which manages to take another seat off National. To do
this, Labour would need to beat National by about 12% in the special votes. It would also
need to avoid pushing the Greens below about 7%, other wise the Greens would not pick up
their eighth seat. This could require Labour to get around 46% of special votes to National’s
This is very similar to Scenario 3 but with a redistribution of votes between Labour and
the Greens (together they have 53% in both scenarios). It seems equally if not more unlikely,
unless young voters did show up in droves mainly to vote for Jacinda Ardern.
In the fifth scenario, NZ First manages to take a seat off National. The party would need to
get about 9% of special votes to do this, requiring an extra three points compared to scenario
one. In this scenario those extra votes all come from National; if some came from Labour
instead then NZ First ’s extra seat would also come from Labour.
This scenario would buck history more than any of the others. Across the last three
elections, NZ First has done worst in special votes relative to ordinary votes out of all
sizeable parties except for the Conser vatives. For them to go up 1.5%age points this year
would be utterly remarkable — but then again, is anyone willing to bet against Winston?
Could National hang on to all 58 seats?
There are ways this could happen, but it is very unlikely. One way is if the Greens received
less than 7% of special votes and National beat Labour by at least 5%. Alternatively, National
could take a seat off Labour if it were ahead by at least 11%. Either of these would require
National to get at least 44% of the special vote — well above what it received in any of the
last three elections.
What these scenarios tell us
The five (and a half ) scenarios above present a wide range of possibilities for what could
happen with the special votes. Of course, we could come up with even more exotic scenarios,
but these ones already push the boundaries plenty.
Based on past patterns, National is almost certain to lose a seat to the Greens, and it
seems more likely than not that they will also lose a seat to Labour. The chances of any
further changes are pretty remote, but cannot be completely ruled out. To take another seat
off National, Labour and the Greens would need to get an additional 3% of special votes
beyond what they are projected to receive. Furthermore, these would need to be optimally
distributed between the two parties as seen in scenarios three and four.
Whatever happens, none of this will change the big picture outcome of the election.
However, it is important for the public to understand — and for the media to report — that
the National and Labour-Green blocs will likely be just a couple of seats apart once the
special votes are counted. We’ll have to wait until October 7 to know for sure. And so will
Paul Young is an activist for Generation Zero and works for The Morgan Foundation.
Preliminary talks between National and
New Zealand First will kick off this week
after NZ First leader Winston Peters spoke
to Bill English this morning.
The dialogue came after Mr Peters was unable
to answer Mr English’s call at the weekend.
“Preliminary talks will proceed this week
when arrangements suitable to both parties
are concluded,” Mr Peters said. “New Zealand
First expects the same will occur if and when
other parties make contact.”
NZ First staff had also been in contact with
staff from other political parties. Mr Peters
said he was up north and out of cellphone
range and did not get the message until it was
too late to respond.
Mr English revealed this morning he had
personally tried to call Mr Peters yesterday but
did not hear back. Mr Peters said reports he had
refused to take Mr English’s call were wrong
and he would call Mr English back soon:
“ Wouldn’t that be the courteous thing to do?”
Asked if he was up north in Whananaki
without cellphone coverage he said yes. He
had not got the message until late last night.
Earlier today, Mr English revealed he had
tried to contact Mr Peters and at several
times stressed his view that Mr Peters was
leaving it late to begin talks.
“There wasn’t a response but I think that
just means Mr Peters is sticking to the
timetable he outlined last week,” Mr English
said. “ We would like to see some preliminary
discussions take place this week but that
Mr Peters has said he will wait until the
special votes are counted this Saturday before
finalising any agreement, although he has
indicated preliminary talks could start before
then. He has said he wants to have a decision
made by next Thursday.
Mr English said that timeline “ looks a bit of
a stretch”. National would this week continue
preparations for what looks like it will now
be a “pretty pressurised” process.
“That looks to us to be quite a challenge.”
National won 58 seats, Labour and the
Greens won 52 combined, and New Zealand
First won nine.
Mr Peters said he expected some initial
talks this week and would release a statement
soon, although substantive talks would still
not happen until after the special votes were
released on Saturday.
Last week Peters said he would not have any
serious talks towards government formation
until all the special votes were counted but
had not ruled out holding initial talks with
English and Labour leader Jacinda Ardern
prior to that point. Asked if he expected to
talk to Labour leader Jacinda Ardern as well,
Mr Peters said he was not expecting anything.
“The reality is Mr English left me a message
to call him because he wasn’t able to talk to
me at the time and I assume the same would
be the case with the Labour Party. That ’s
over to them. I’m not speaking for Jacinda,
I’m not speaking for her political party, I’m
not speaking for anyone but NZ First. That ’s
the difference and I wish I wasn’t now going
to be quoted saying I expect this, or I expect
that. I don’t expect anything at all and I’m not
going to answer questions that involve other
people’s decisions because I have no right to
speak for them.” — NZME
Preliminar y talks to start
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