Wednesday 10 September 2014

Winston Peters’ Choices Will Be Determined By The Electorate’s

Kingmaker Redux: Once again, opinion polls suggest that New Zealand's political future will be decided by the calculations of Winston Peters and the NZ First Party. Such an outcome would confirm that the overall trajectory of New Zealand politics remains rightward, not leftward.
OPINION POLLS can be very confusing. Less than a fortnight out from the General Election support for the National Party could be as low as 45 percent or as high as 54 percent – depending on which polling agency’s results you follow. There is, however, a way of simplifying this political confusion. By aggregating the support of those parties generally supportive of the status-quo, and those seeking change, it is actually pretty easy to work out whether the mood of the nation is one of conservative caution or forthright experimentation.
I well remember making this calculation in the run-up to the 1999 General Election and reaching the inescapable conclusion that the combined support of the Labour, Alliance and Green parties pointed consistently to a narrow majority of New Zealanders being in search of something new. The election result reflected the final weeks’ polling data with the left-wing Opposition parties together receiving 51.6 percent of the Party Vote.
Rather apprehensively, I repeated the exercise for this year’s election. Relying on the results of the opinion poll which came closest to predicting the result of the 2011 General Election, it is clear that the mood of the nation in 2014 is very different from 1999. Taken together, the votes of those parties clearly in favour of maintaining the economic and social status quo or of shifting it even further to the right (National, Act, United Future, Conservatives) amount to an impressive 53.1 percent. If the support for the more equivocal “conservative” parties (NZ First and the Maori Party) is added, that number increases to 60.3 percent.
If New Zealanders are in the market for economic and social change in 2014 it’s clear that a pretty solid majority do not want very much of it – and none at all if it’s radical change.
So, what will Winston do? Because, if the opinion polls are to be believed, it will once again be Winston Peters and his NZ First Party which plays the role of Kingmaker following 20 September.
The best chance we have of answering that question is, first, to analyse what Mr Peters says he will do; and then take a look at what he has done in the past.
What Mr Peters says he will do has not changed in seven elections. He will wait until the votes have been cast so he and his party can get a firm grip on what New Zealanders want. In other words, he will perform the same exercise that I have described above – but without the “assistance” of opinion polls. He will then make the best judgement he can about the overall mood of his fellow New Zealanders – and dispose of his support accordingly.
One of my most vivid memories as a political commentator is of Election Night 1996. I was part of TV3’s commentary panel and, as the vote count neared its conclusion, it was clear that the next prime minister of New Zealand would be chosen by Winston Peters.
My fellow commentators did the political math (Labour + NZ First + Alliance = 51.6 percent of the Party Vote) and confidently predicted that Helen Clark would be the next prime minister. (Time magazine even put her face on their cover!) To my eyes, however, the performance of the Left – the agents of change – seemed woeful. In 1993 Labour and the Alliance had polled 52.9 percent of the popular vote between them. Three years later that number had fallen to just 38.3 percent of the Party Vote. The combined 1996 Party Vote of National, + Act + United NZ = 40.85 percent. And when the sub-MMP threshold 4.3 percent of the Party Vote won by the Christian Coalition was thrown into the equation, the support for the status-quo rose to 45.15 percent. It seemed obvious to me that NZ First’s 13.35 percent of the Party Vote was much more likely to end up with the parties of the Right than the Left – and I said so.
The crucial addition sum on Election Night 2014 will be Labour + Greens + Internet Mana. If it is greater than National + Conservative + Maori Party + United Future + Act, then I predict Mr Peters and NZ First will offer Confidence and Supply to Labour’s David Cunliffe and seat themselves on the cross-benches. If the reverse is true, then I suspect the negotiations between Mr Peters and John Key, though strenuous and lengthy, will result in the formation of a National-NZ First Government.
I make this prediction because I do not believe that in 2014 Mr Peters includes NZ First in the small-c conservative camp. Attributing the best possible intentions to the electorate’s choices, he will either attempt to moderate the excessive enthusiasm of Labour’s coalition partners; or to restrain, judiciously, the worst impulses of National’s.
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 9 September 2014.


Phil said...

The crucial addition sum on Election Night 2014 will be Labour + Greens + Internet Mana. If it is greater than National + Conservative + Maori Party + United Future + Act, then I predict Mr Peters and NZ First will offer Confidence and Supply to Labour

Wrong. The key bit of math for Winston will be "Is Nat+NZF > 50%of seats in the house?"

If the answer is yes, he'll return Key to Office. What in Winston's character or demeanour makes you think he'll want to share the small-partner spoils?

Chris Trotter said...

Because he has a working memory, Phil.

Jennifer said...

I lived through the 1996 election campaign, and it is more complicated than your post suggests. Winston Peters campaigned on getting rid of National and many from the left voted for him. There was still a huge mistrust of Labour after Rogernomics and people on the left were looking for alternative parties to vote for. NZ First got 13% of the popular vote. Labour+Alliance and National+Act each had about 40% of the popular vote, and polls at the time suggested NZ First took votes from the left and the right fairly equally, so Winston could have justified going with the left had he wanted to.

However, being a National party man at heart he went with National, and going into coalition with a third term National government, that the wheels were starting to fall off, finished NZ First as a major party in politics. I see many parallels between the 1996 election and this one. Both elections involved National governments who had been in power for two terms. The National party of 1996 was privately in disarray, but it was only during their third term that the problems became apparent to the electorate. Fighting behind the scenes in National resulted in the replacement of Bolger with Shipley. Their popularity fell and they were gone at the next election.

The fall out from the Dirty Politics scandal may still cause more heads to roll in National, possibly Key's,and the public tide of opinion may start to turn against them in the next three years. Winston is getting towards the end of his political life. Does he want his legacy to be tainted with a Watergate type scandal? Or does he want to be remembered as a politician who did his bit to clean up politics? The Key National government may be popular now, but things can change quite quickly and if NZ First goes into coalition with National and things go bad then they may go down with them. Difficult decisions for Winston.

Kat said...

@ Jennifer
You have it in a nutshell. Winston has no intention of going into coalition with National. The legacy would be a disastrous end to an otherwise mercurial political career.

1996 is very relevant, and contrary to what Chris says, in 2014 Winston will not make the same mistake twice.

If National should however secure a significant percentage of the vote that is more than Labour + Greens then it is possible he will sit on the cross benches.

My observation is Winston will go with Labour + Greens if they can get approximately the same percentage of votes as National.

That is why the party-vote for Labour is so important this election.

Winston does not factor Mana, Maori or Conservatives in any equations. For Winston these party's do not rate as credible coalition partners.

pat said...

Never thought Id say this of him, but let us hope Winston sees himself as the great moderator.

Anonymous said...

The Conservatives are doing really well, they will get over the line, and Key, who does not like Winston, will have another choice.

Thank goodness for that.
Winston is not to be trusted, as he has proven before.

Go Colin! Doing so well, and doesn't need to be gifted a seat.

Mark Wilson said...

I think you are correct. If the Conservatives did not exist and presumably their 3 or 4% went to National then the Nats would be a slam dunk. I think Labour can still pull it off by hooking Winston. Winston surely won't be standing at the next election and whatever his decision is this time half the voters are going to be unhappy so he might as well to get a deal and a diplomatic posting before the next election. I can see him in London or perhaps even better the wine capital of the world, Paris.
And Winston is not going to be that keen on Ron Marks getting more votes than him at the next election so if he wrecks the party's appeal so what?
I think we will see the real "baubles of power" Winston this time and Labour needs to win at any cost. Oterwise the infighting on the left could allow the Greens to become an equal partner with Labour which would be great for the right but bad for the country.

Anonymous said...

In 1996, Winston ran a campaign of "getting rid of National". He went with National, and got along fine with Jim Bolger. Of course, the people who voted for him when he promised to get rid of National were furious. A good analogy is what happened when the UK Liberal Democrats opted for coalition with the Tories after 2010.

You're also assuming that the Conservatives get to 5%. If they end up with 4.9% there will be headaches on the Right.

Mark Unsworth said...

Anonymous ,the only headaches on the right would come if the Conservatives take votes from National.That is very possible but they could easily take votes from Labour .What you seem to have forgotten is that if 4.9% is wasted ,then National will pick up nearly half of this .

pat said...

Mark. would that 3 or 4% go to National?...would suggest that if it went to the Conservatives it was already lost to would either go to another minor party or would not be exercised...I doubt the Conservatives will win a seat or reach threshold.

Trotsky said...

The direction of the polls is interesting, in spite of the great dirty politics scam National are now rising (slowly) while the conservatives and NZF are almost certain to breach 5%. I suspect Labours vote will fall below 20% as election day nears and the outcome becomes a forgone conclusion - much like 2002. Im guessing either National will rule with ACT/UF/Maori or as a worst case with the conservatives and NZF on board.

What interests me is the post election direction, will shane jones return to lead NZF bringing in John Tamihere, Ron Marks and maybe Calvin Davies for a resurgent NZF capable of completing what winston failed to do - eviscerate labour and take over as leader of the non right. Will Colin be able to mop up the pensioner, Christian and Pasifika vote from labour - will the labour party be reduced to a rump shell - interesting days ahead.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

When Winston was safely ensconced in the National party I was studying New Zealand politics. He made a decent Maori affairs Minister, and came up with some good policies. They were binned by National naturally enough – so he left. Actually I don't blame him.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous ,the only headaches on the right would come if the Conservatives take votes from National.That is very possible but they could easily take votes from Labour .What you seem to have forgotten is that if 4.9% is wasted ,then National will pick up nearly half of this.

The Conservatives are a right-wing party. Thus they take votes from National, not Labour.

And, yes, the vote will be redistributed. Except that half of it will be distributed in favour of the Left. National will only get half of it, whereas they would get the full benefit if Craig had hit 5%.