Election 2017: What Can Voters Expect?

University of Otago Politics Professor Janine Hayward, September 14, 2017

Politicians are this year mainly talking about the issues that matter to voters – economics (27%), housing/homelessness (23%), social issues (18%), human rights (13%) and the environment (10%) and are discussing more policy than they did in 2014, Janine says.

And elections are more important in New Zealand than many other democracies because MPs are so powerful, because the lack of an entrenched constitution means they can change most policy settings with just a simple majority of 61 votes.

She says the media has overplayed the potential strength of minority parties in Parliamentary coalitions, so we can all calm down in terms of possible implications!

Voting intention polls can show very different results, so the RNZ and Stuff polls of polls are more reliable – though still vary by around 2% in their results. Pundits are divided as to the results of the combination of advanced voting and polling. Some say people reflect on such polls, some say they influence voter preferences. And the influence also can go either way – jump on the bandwagon, or favour the underdog? We will not know their accuracy until the election results came out.

Based on the most recent poll of polls (RNZ), National was on 41.3%, Labour on 40.5% NZ First on 7.5%, Greens on 5.5%, Maori 1.4%, TOP 1.9% and Act 0.6%. If these numbers (plus continuation of existing MP electorate seat wins) were translated to MP seats, it would be National on 51, Labour on 50, NZ First nine, Greens seven, Maori two and Act one. If these were the results, National plus NZ First and Act could make it to a 61 seat coalition – a majority of one. Or Labour, NZ First and Greens could together reach 66. Or Labour and NZ First could try for a minority government at 59, with Green support at least on supply.

But then … half an hour into her talk … Janine’s husband rang through with the latest TV One Colmar Brunton poll – putting Labour on 44%, National on 40%, Greens on seven and NZ First on six.

So … we will find out late on September 23!

Looking forward, what does this election highlight for our democracy, considering the largely unchecked legislative strength in the hands of our MPs? Janine suggests we need to have conversations on the following possibilities:

  • Changes to MMP?
  • Automatic voter registration?
  • Compulsory voting?
  • Lowering the voting age to 16?
  • Teaching civics and participation?

The question is, who would push for these? Self-interest means politicians are unlikely to. But there does get a point at which politicians cannot ignore public views, Janine says.