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Scared of MMP

Entry 1053, on 2009-07-15 at 22:16:20 (Rating 4, Politics)

Why are conservatives so scared of MMP? Many of them seem to be in a constant battle to eliminate it, but I can't really see why. Before I go any further I should explain to those of you from other countries that MMP (which stands for mixed member proportional) is a voting system used in New Zealand (and elsewhere) which ensures proportional representation in government.

New Zealand swapped to MMP from FPP (first past the post) in 1996. In the FPP system each electoral seat was won by the candidate who got the most votes there and the government was formed by the party which got the most seats.

So what are the advantages and disadvantages of each system? Well the big problem with FPP is that the government often had much less than half the vote yet had all the power, and smaller parties could often get a significant fraction of the vote but have no representation at all, not even as part of the opposition.

Most people would say that MMP overcomes that problem but it also introduces some new ones! To make up the correct number of people in parliament each party adds members from a list. These people are never voted for directly although the party they represent is voted for. Another problem is that a smaller party might hold the balance of power and that might give it more influence than its share of the vote would suggest.

There are other voting systems which are better than both FPP and MMP but they tend to be complicated. STV for example, is probably the fairest of all but only a computer can get to the final result. That shouldn't be a problem but seeing democracy happen is more important than the actual process of it working.

The National Party have said they will hold a referendum on MMP, so we seem to have the possibility of another referendum in a few years time which might be as badly worded as the current one we will be facing soon: the infamous anti-smacking question which I have commented on before.

According to a recent poll by UMR Research the preference for the two systems is almost equal (about 40% for each) so its hard to say what the result of a referendum might be. One interesting aspect of the poll was that younger people like MMP much more than older people so that itself might be a good reason to continue using it.

Almost 70% of people want a referendum on the subject and about the same want the number of MPs reduced. The question about the number of MPs is often associated with MMP because when we switched we also increased that number. And that is a trick being used by opponents of MMP who are connecting the two: people who want to reduce the number of MPs might think that dropping MMP is necessary to do that, but it isn't.

When asked whether they thought MMP had a positive or negative effect on politics in New Zealand 32% said positive, 24% negative and 37% were fairly neutral which is a bit odd considering the number who want change.

So that's the end of the statistics and sensible discussion. Now its time for the rant...

The poll I mentioned above was commissioned by a new organisation called "Put MMP to the Vote". Most likely this is a reincarnation of "the Campaign for Better Government" which was all about getting worse government for the majority of people but more power for a rich and corrupt elite.

A major organiser of the earlier campaign was Peter Shirtcliffe, a former chairman of Telecom and, like many people associated with Telecom at the time, a fairly disgusting individual. And no surprises he's associated with this latest campaign as well as another clown by the name of Graeme Hunt who wrote a book titled "Why MMP Must Go: The Case for Ditching the Electoral Disaster of the Century".

So it looks like the old propaganda machine will be cranked up again, no doubt propped up by the considerable personal fortunes these two have at their disposal. And a well funded campaign of misinformation could easily be enough to push the majority away from MMP.

But really MMP has positive effects for the conservative right as much as the left. The current government has been influenced by the loonies at Act more towards the right than they would be otherwise so I would have thought people like Shirtcliffe and Hunt would be happy about that.

Still, I think what they really have in mind is to get back to the bad old days when the party in power could do just about anything it wanted to without any control from its coalition partners and where the party in power might represented only 30-something percent of voters.

Yes, I guess at least they aren't pretending this is a campaign for better government this time. No doubt "Put MMP to the Vote" is also a bit misleading - I think "the Campaign for a Big Step Backwards" might be more accurate.

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Comment 1 (2245) by SBFL on 2009-07-16 at 06:41:50: (view recent only)

"Why are conservatives so scared of MMP?" - a generalisation to say the least. I would agree some are, but I believe that number is minor and dwindling. Labour were no fan of it either and they have lost power when compared to FPP as well.

"shouldn't be a problem but seeing democracy happen is more important than the actual process of it working." - I would argue that STV satisfies both but maybe you mean that people could be confused by STV and therefore don't see it as democracy in motion.

"which might be as badly worded as the current one we will be facing soon:" - wouldn't it be more accurate to compare the potential wording of a future MMP referendum with the ones previously held, rather than one completely unrelated? There were actually two (tiers) you may recall. Clearly here you are scaremongering though. Admit it!

"younger people like MMP much more than older people so that itself might be a good reason to continue using it." - you don't say why.

For the bit above the rant I have commented on the bits I disagree with, if not mentioned I probably agree with it. As for the extremist rant itself, well the less said the better!

One thing though, is it fair to assume that a future National intiiated referendum on MMP implies a plan to go back to FPP? I am not so sure. In fact I really doubt it. I think it would be a chance to look at better forms of PR, and really can't see us going back to FPP. The "we will have more MP's" scaremongering that you mentioned is old hat, and I think the arguments used last time by the 'No' campaign will be less vociferous this time. Already debated and lost. The change to MMP was a big one, and it makes sence to review it after a period of time. Personally I prefer MMP (despite it's pitfalls) over FPP but welcome the chance to improve even further.

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Comment 2 (2246) by OJB on 2009-07-16 at 09:33:01:

I don't have any stats to support the idea but in my personal experience (yes, this is just anecdotal) and in the public groups against MMP I always see political conservatives making the most noise.

Yes, that's what I meant. Because STV is so complex its difficult for many people to see it as democracy in action. The computer just spits out a result after doing a whole bunch of complex calculations. Many people wouldn't trust that process.

I can't remember any referenda which have been worth voting on. They have all been tied up with secondary issues, badly worded, or had some other flaw. I suspect the same might happen with the MMP referendum but maybe I'm being unduly pessimistic.

Well younger people (not really young, I mean in their 20s and 30s) will be the voters of the future and they are the ones least likely to be stuck with wanting to continue ideas from the past. That's why I thought their thoughts might be better indicators of where we should be heading.

The stats and comments just seemed a bit tame and I truly despise the Shirtcliffes of this world. A rant was definitely called for at that point!

I also doubt we will go back to FPP. But if the propaganda campaign initiated by these groups against MMP sucks enough people into rejecting it then who knows what the government might do if it thought it might be worth some votes.

I also prefer MMP but also recognise its problems. If we could improve some of those deficiencies then things would be better.

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Comment 3 (2247) by SBFL on 2009-07-16 at 10:55:39:

Seem's we are mostly in agreement then (though I am absent of the hatred you profess!!). You would do well to look up the previous MMP referendun questions (to follow up on that matter) and I would agree the 1996 referendum had it's fair share of misinfromation (though not emanated from the question posed). I suppose a bit if misinforation is a small cost for open debate. One can't have his cake an eat it too!!

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Comment 4 (2248) by OJB on 2009-07-16 at 13:37:01:

I think hate is a bit strong to describe my thoughts on people like Shirtcliffe but whatever... its close enough.

A bit of misinformation is a small price to pay for open debate but a huge propaganda campaign which could easily misinform and change the opinions of many people is too high a price to pay. This is the reason for laws like those introduced by the Electoral Finance Act (although maybe they could be rewritten to make them more acceptable). We need to have some way to stop people buying the result they want.

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Comment 5 (2251) by SBFL on 2009-07-17 at 18:33:23:

In like campaigns, often misinformation and propaganda from both sides can be seen to cancel each other out. You can't stop what's said in blogoshpere but I would believe there are laws stopping untruths being published in newspapers for instance. Of course how much context is considered, and how true a statement is is often for the authorities to decide should complaints be lodged. The EFA was more about the funding side of things, not about what was being said. The issue wasn't that the anti-Greens leaflet was false, but that it had been secretly funded by the EB.

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Comment 6 (2252) by OJB on 2009-07-17 at 19:08:38:

If one side has considerably more money than the others then the propaganda doesn't cancel out, that's the problem. That's why we need some way to control groups with plenty of cash and a self-serving agenda.

Simply banning lies isn't going to help either because there's plenty of ways to lie without actually lying. For an example see my blog entry "The Earth is Flat", entry 565, from 2007-07-02.

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Comment 7 (2253) by SBFL on 2009-07-18 at 02:34:54:

Even when that is the case, time and time again it has shown that money rarely translates into votes. This has been an area of recent scrutiny where, for instance, Labour and the Greens recevied and spent the most in the last election. Donations are of course published.

Yes spreading untruths has been a tool of politics for a long, long time. And a charge that all shades of the political spectrum are guilty of.

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Comment 8 (2255) by OJB on 2009-07-18 at 19:40:57:

You say that but is it true? I suspect effective propaganda campaigns on TV would have a great effect on many people. Look at how the lies told by the so-called Campaign for Better Government almost turned people against MMP at the first referendum.

I agree that spreading untruths is almost universal. I just don't want to see one part of the political spectrum being able to use it more than others.

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Comment 9 (2257) by SBFL on 2009-07-19 at 08:48:55:

Re the 2008 election the party donations are published, so yes. And it would be fair to say that money doesn't (relatively) equate to votes, and this seems to apply to previous elections, and all parties. To be honest I personally think that the media has a much more significant influence than party cash.

Re 2nd para: I agree, as long a freedom of speech is not impinged upon.

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Comment 10 (2259) by OJB on 2009-07-19 at 18:07:30:

I think money allows effective TV-based propaganda campaigns to be run and these can have a significant effect. I'm not saying that votes are directly proportional to cash or that there aren't other factors, just that in a world where TV has such an influence an effective (and expensive) advertising campaign can have a major effect.

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Comment 11 (2264) by SBFL on 2009-07-22 at 09:53:55:

I have to disagree. Like I said party funds don't equate to votes. And party funds are spent on advertising, promotions mostly. Just ask the Green Party. For me the media has an influence but I'm talking about reporting and commentary here, not advertising in the media which comes from 3rd parties. Clearly the public are not duped so easily, but will pay attention to the mediums they see are as somewhat objective.

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Comment 12 (2267) by OJB on 2009-07-22 at 18:18:03:

Well neither of us are presenting any real evidence that our opinions are correct so we will just have to agree to disagree unless some relevant research can be found. I seem to remember hearing about plenty of studies showing advertising does affect many people but I would have to find the references to convince you, I guess.

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Comment 13 (2270) by SBFL on 2009-07-23 at 07:32:56:

To the contrary, I earlier stated that the 2008 election the party donations are published. I think at elections.org.nz.

Hmmm, knock yourself out at: http://www.elections.org.nz/record/donations/
...and compare with votes, or relative vote changes to the previous election.

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Comment 14 (2272) by SBFL on 2009-07-23 at 10:53:45:

Okay let's look at some analysis, firstly from someone probably politically close to you (to avoid accusations of bias):
‘A far-left social libertarian’

with:
Does political advertising work?

and:
Myth 5: Academic studies show money makes a big difference in politics

and:
Greens spent $1.7m in 2008 election campaign

and:
Labour continues to be the party of big money

Then there´s the pragmatist right-of-centre DPF with his analysis (based on facts):
Big donations in 2008

and:
Third Party expenditure in 2008

etc etc. I hope this makes my point clear.

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Comment 15 (2275) by OJB on 2009-07-23 at 19:41:11:

Well I have to give you credit for producing something which could almost be seen as evidence even if it is just in blogs. Who knows, maybe you're right, but the 2008 election was over before it started. It would have taken a lot to give Labour any chance of winning so I don't necessarily think that proves anything.

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Comment 16 (2343) by votetheday on 2009-08-04 at 08:46:02:

So what the result will be like of this referendum? Will the smacking be forbidden once and for all? Predictions are accepted here.

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Comment 17 (2344) by OJB on 2009-08-04 at 09:06:33:

What! No "this is a stupid question which I refuse to vote on" option?

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