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Is That Fair?

Entry 2078, on 2020-10-03 at 13:16:16 (Rating 2, Politics)

New Zealand will run a general election (and two referenda) in a couple of weeks. Some of the people I speak to about this have no idea who to vote for, and others do know which party they favour, but often can't explain why. I usually suggest they try one of the political assessment surveys, which ask questions relating to political, philosophical, and moral preferences, and try to match their responses to one or more political parties. Even without the final result, just answering the questions is an interesting exercise which I find causes you to think about your values.

So I did this and compared the recommendations with several other family members. In every case the results weren't really what the person originally expected. In fact, even people with quite diverse views - such as people who support the current prime minister and those (like myself) who don't - got a similar result and a similar recommendation. In the cases above the recommendation was often for the minor party, TOP.

So the lack of a strong correlation between the preferred party before doing the survey, and the final recommendation is an interesting phenomenon, but there was another point which I think is even more relevant. That is that no party is perfect for anyone, assuming the person is being honest about their values. Sure, some people will say the party they favour through some irrational thought process, is perfect, or at least very good, but compare their stated preferences in a survey with the policies of the party and there is often a significant discrepancy.

So why not just vote for the party the surveys identify as being closest to your values? Well, unfortunately, the New Zealand political system which is a lot better than most, still has a few issues which often make voting for the "best" party a bad choice.

We have a proportional representation system here in New Zealand. This means that the number of people voted in as MPs (both government and opposition) will be proportional to the total number of votes their party got. It is still possible to vote for an electorate MP, but there is also a second vote for a party. The electorate MPs with the most votes in their region will be voted in, but the proportionality for parties will be made up from a set of "list" MPs who are voted for indirectly through their party rather than directly to represent their electorate.

It seems like a fairly good system, because people get to vote for a person who can best represent their local area, but can also vote for a party which matches their "big picture" views better. The two votes don't even need to be for the same party. It's slightly confusing, but not as confusing as even more representative systems, like STV.

One reason the country went down this path was to give new political parties a chance to participate in government. Under the previous first past the post system it was almost impossible for anyone except the two big parties, National and Labour, to get any of their members into power. This might be seen as a good thing, because it meant less conventional, and more controversial parties were kept out. But it also meant that the majority view was often ignored, because the party which won the most electorates sometimes had a minority vote - on one occasion only about 37%. More importantly, it gave new parties and existing small parties no chance at all.

We haven't quite got past those limitations with the new proportional system, although it is certainly a lot better. The major barrier to real democracy now seems to be the 5% threshold which states that a party must get at least 5% of the vote (or win at least one electorate seat) for their vote to be counted.

Because getting 5% of the vote is almost impossible for a new party, it means that they are never likely to get any political success. In some cases the system has been bypassed when a particularly popular politician starts a small party and gains an electorate seat himself (Peter Dunne), and this has sometimes involved "dodgy deals" with one party allowing a smaller party who is likely to be their ally to win an electorate seat (National letting David Seymour from Act win Epsom, which National would normally have taken).

Note that I am not necessarily criticising these tactics (I indicated my support for Act in a previous post) because it is the system that is wrong, and it's unfortunate that things can't work in a more transparent way.

So some people say we should reduce the threshold, but I say why have one at all? If a party can get enough votes to get one of its members into power then that's democracy. I might think the person or party is nutty or even dangerous, but obviously others don't think so. Note that there would still be an effective threshold to get past, because there are (usually) ony 120 MPs, meaning the party would need to get at least 0.83% of the vote, which may not seem like much, but still isn't a trivial target.

The current system is not only unfair to new parties, it is even more unfair to voters who might want to vote for them. If I'm not happy with the big parties, or the smaller ones who might get in as a result of the vagaries of the system, then it's pointless voting for a smaller one because my vote will be wasted. It's as if I didn't vote at all. How is that democracy?

Finally, I need to answer the objection many people might have with "crazies" getting in by just getting enough votes to make it through the 0.83% barrier.

First, chances are they will be a single person who will have very little influence even if they manage to become part of a coalition government. Second, if they get into power and do a bad job they will likely be voted out at the next election. And third, what's the real harm of having some "alternative views" out there, and who is to judge (except the voting public) who is crazy and who isn't?

I think the reason so many members of my family had TOP as their top recommendation is that TOP are a very practical and sensible party, with few irrational views from ideology or history. They have a few policies which might be thought of as "radical", but looking at them more closely shows they actually make a lot of sense.

But who would vote for them, because they will not get to 5% and the vote will be wasted, effectively making it easier for other paries (probably Labour) to win. I know about this, because I voted for TOP in a previous election!

It looks like I will need to vote more strategically this time. I still think Act is a good choice, and they will almost certainly get to 5% as well as having the "dodgy deal" in Epsom to get their leader in and allow other MPs to join him. I have a good alternative to the party I should vote for, but many others don't, thanks to our flawed system.

Is that fair? I don't think so.

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Comment 1 (5566) by Jim on 2020-10-27 at 11:10:36:

You want the crazies in power, like HeartlandNZ, Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis, Advance? Maybe the threshold isn't such a bad idea after all don't you think?

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Comment 2 (5575) by OJB on 2020-10-28 at 13:51:43:

Well I have two main objections to your comment. First, who is to say what is crazy and what isn't? In a democracy, even things you or I might think are crazy should get some attention if enough people support them. And second, none of the parties you listed would have got enough votes to get even one person elected. There is still a sort of threshold imposed by the total number of MPs who can be elected who can make up the total proportionality of parties in the system.

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