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Archive for the ‘Electoral Reform’ Category

The 2011 Botany by-election will be held today.

As with the 2010 Mana by-election I have attempted to predict the outcome of the election and the share of the votes won by each of the major or minor NZ political party’s candidates using a Monte Carlo simulation of 50,000 NZ general elections held today based on recent political polling results. The results for the Botany electorate are determined using the Uniform National Swing model of electorates. The results of the simulation are shown in the table below, and the results of the 2008 General Election for the Botany electorate are included for reference.

Table showing simulated results of 2011 Botany by-election

Table showing simulated results of 2011 Botany by-election, as calculated on 5 March, 2011.

As long as the Uniform National Swing assumption is correct there is realistically no way that the National candidate can get anything less than 50% of the vote. It is worth mentioning that the model used for the simulation does not know that there is no candidate standing from the Green, Maori, United Future, New Zealand First or Progressive parties, which is why the vote estimates for those parties are non-zero

The usual caveats mentioned in the previous Preditions post for the 2010 Mana By-election still apply, so as always, I’m not going to take responsibility for them if they are significantly out, and conversely I will not be taking any credit if they prove accurate.

As for today’s Botany by-election, the only other predictions of the result of the election that I am aware of are from New Zealand futures market iPredict, who as of 18:30 are giving the National candidate a 100.0% chance of winning and the Labour candidate a 1.0% chance of winning (probabilities do not necessarily have to add to 100% due to the bid/ask spread.) I’m not aware of anybody else making quantitative prediction on the results, but if you know of anybody, or if you would just like to take a punt, then feel free to leave a comment below.

[UPDATE] Results are now available at the Elections NZ website.

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When I first started this blog last year I mentioned that I was interested in the upcoming referenda on MMP and wanted to use the site to discuss some of the proposed alternative electoral systems. This post will be the first in a long series that looks at electoral reform, so I will start here by laying out a few ground rules for what is to follow.

Firstly, it is well known that it is impossible to have a perfect electoral system, in the sense that it is impossible to have an electoral system that has results that are both reproducible and also immune to strategic voting. This necessitates a compromise when selecting an electoral system, and means that rather than looking for a “best” system, it is instead necessary to decide on a series of factors that you consider important, and then measure the pros and cons of each proposed system against those criteria.

The goal of this post, then, is to lay out all the different criteria that people might want from an electoral system in a single spot so that I can refer back to them when weighing up proposed electoral reforms.

Coincidentally, when browsing a few Kiwi blogs on the topic of electoral reform I stumbled upon a post by Lew at Kiwipolitico from September last year. His post contained much of the material that I was planning on covering here, so I think it’s probably worthwhile to recap his work first. Lew outlined the following criteria that he thought people should consider when deciding upon an electoral system:

  • Transparency: Is it obvious how a particular candidate, party or government was elected? How easy is it to understand the details of the electoral system?
  • Simplicity: How easy is it to cast a vote?
  • Proportionality.
  • “Representativeness”: Does the electoral system enforce diversity?
  • Low wastage/regret: What proportion of votes don’t end up helping somebody get elected?
  • Decisiveness(stability): Does the system produce stable executive governments?
  • Size.
  • Durability. Durable electoral systems are less prone to future governments tinkering with them.

I would agree with Lew a that all of the above points should be taken into consideration when choosing an electoral system, and I would also include a few additional ones. Firstly, though, I would split Lew’s “representativeness” factor up into three independent components as follows:

  • Diversity: How well does the make-up of Parliament reflect the diversity of the electorate as a whole? Do MPs come from a variety of different geographic regions? Are minorities elected to Parliament in appropriate numbers?
  • Reserved seats: Does the electoral system itself enforce diversity, or is diversity arrived at by other means? In NZ the Maori seats are one example of reserved seats. Another example is the electoral systems of Afghanistan and Uganda, amongst others, which enforce a gender quota that requires a minimum number those elected to Parliament be women.
  • Minority interests: Are minority interests appropriately represented in Parliament? This factor is orthogonal to the two mentioned above, for a variety of reasons. One is that diversity alone does not guarantee minority interests will be well served. The second is that having reserved seats for Maori (as in New Zealand) or requiring majority-minority seats (congressional districts in the USA, for example,) constitutes packing — a form of Gerrymandering. While this kind of packing normally increases diversity, it may have the adverse effect of making the median-MP or median-congressperson less likely to give concern to minority interests. Eric Crampton has a good explanation of this phenomenon.

In addition to the above modifications, I would suggest the following additional factors are also important when weighing electoral systems.

  • Responsiveness: Governments with broad popular support should not have any difficulty getting re-elected. Conversely, opposition parties should not have any difficulty overthrowing a broadly unpopular government. Also referred to as the “vote-the-bastards-out factor.” Obviously this factor supersedes the proportionality factor mentioned by Lew above, in the sense that any proportional electoral system will of course be responsive to the opinions of the electorate. The converse, however, is not necessarily true; it is possible to envision a responsive electoral system that is not proportional.
  • Immunity to strategic voting – Should voters simply select the candidate or party they prefer, or must they take the likely voting intentions of others into account in order to cast their vote effectively? Alternatively phrased, how difficult is it for a voter to effectively cast a vote in their own best interests? All (well, almost all) electoral systems are subject to strategic voting to some extent, although some are notably more susceptible to it than others. This factor is strongly related to the above-mentioned factors of transparency, simplicity, proportionality and low-wastage. As a general rule, electoral systems that are proportional are relatively immune to strategic voting and have low wastage of votes, but this tends to come at the cost of reduced transparency and simplicity. Simple and transparent electoral systems, such as First Past the Post, tend to suffer from the spoiler effect, which therefore necessitates strategic voting.
  • Condorcet behaviour/Centrism in electorate seats – Should the voting system used in electorates be required to favour the Condorcet-winner, or to otherwise select centrist candidates? Is it problematic for candidates that are broadly unpopular in their own electorates to be elected to Parliament with a small plurality?
  • Minor party fragmentation: Is it preferable for Parliament to be made up of a small number of large parties, or a large number of smaller parties? Reduced entry barriers into Parliament for minor parties tends to encourage fragmentation and result in a greater number of parliamentary parties.

In the interests of neutrality I will try to refrain from mentioning my personal preferences with respect to the relative importance of above criteria, and will use them simply as a benchmark to evaluate different electoral systems. Having said that, I think that the responsiveness criterion mentioned above is the single most important factor for any democratic electoral system; a system that is not responsive to the will of the overwhelming majority of voters can not really be considered democratic. I would also stress that immunity to strategic voting is relatively more important than transparency or simplicity; a lack of understanding amongst New Zealand voters of the inner workings of the MMP system (the Sainte-Lague method, for example,) does not seem to prevent those voters from participating meaningfully in New Zealand Elections.

In future posts in this series on electoral reform I will start by first going for the low-hanging fruit: disproportionality, the MMP threshold, the MMP electorate waiver, the ratio of electorate seats to list seats under MMP, and the Maori Electorate seats. After that I’ll move on to discuss Keith Locke’s recently rejected Head of State Referenda Bill, and also look at some of the consequences of a potential change to New Zealand’s electoral system, and how that affects the Referenda that will be held concurrently with the next general election.

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