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I’ve spent a few weekends over the last month or so driving around the southern North Island, taking in both Kapiti and Wairarapa sides of the Tararua ranges, and have been doing a bit of a billboard count as I went.  Should point out that the following takes in major and minor state highways and some properly rural stuff, in addition to the greater Wellington region:

  • National: 29 (54% +/- 7%)
  • Labour: 12 (22% +/- 6%)
  • Green: 5
  • ACT: 0
  • Maori: 4
  • NZF: 4

Okay, so it’s not exactly a scientific survey, but the thing that struck me was that the proportion of National and Labour billboards was within the margin of error of their recent polling.  This was true over pretty much any 50km stretch and didn’t seem to depend on electorate, and I started wondering about cause and effect.  Are National doing well in the polls because of all their billboards?  Or are the number of billboards are reflection of their funding and volunteer numbers?  I suspect it could be a bit of both.  (I should also note that this is just the number I saw from the driver’s seat.  I hear there are a few Labour billboards sitting down side streets, or facing perpendicular to the road, which I probably missed.)

The other thing that stood out was the difference in content:

  • The National party was running a variety of billboards, and they would change from week to week.  Candidate billboards, billboards with PM and National party leader John Key, as well as stuff trying to introduce policy (“Building better roads and …”) and general, ambiguous “For a Brighter Future” stuff.
  • The Labour party billboards were singularly introducing electorate candidates.  Nothing else.  I saw a large black sign that said “STOP ASSET SALES” which may have been Labour, but it wasn’t 100% obvious.
  • The Green party billboards were of the appeal-to-emotion type: pictures of happy people with the phrase “For a Richer NZ”.  No policy, no candidates, no party-leaders.

I just thought the differences were interesting, and the overall impression was that the National campaign is much more determined and better executed.

For a different conclusion, please see Kiwi Politico.

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Missed the boat. Appears that while I was drafting the last post on party lists the Labour Party announced their party list for the 2011 Election.

It’s too early to figure out who the winners and losers are (except Ashraf Choudhary, who is a loser); I can’t run any simulations yet as I need a corresponding list showing in which electorate each party list candidate will stand. Having said that, if I was Phil Twyford (#33), Stephanie (Steve) Chadwick (#34) or Iain Lees-Galloway (#37) I would be a bit disappointed.

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In a post a few days ago on effective party lists I took a few swipes at those drawing up the party lists, but didn’t really offer any constructive criticism. I thought I should probably try to remedy that, so I’ve drawn up a few tips on party list ordering for those drawing them up. (I should warn that what follows is 100% opinion and 0% science.)

There’s two reasons that those drawing up the party list should give thought to the resulting effective lists. Firstly, some voters will be looking at them, one way or another, when deciding for which party they should cast their vote. Not many though; realistically most will just glance at the top of the list, if they bother to check at all. Secondly, there is chance of causing a “Tizard Problem” (NB scare quotes to distance myself from the term), or a “Ward Problem” if you prefer to look at the precedent set by the Green Party in 2008.

In both cases, however, the work-around is the same: you want to structure the party list such that you get appropriate candidates sitting at the top of the effective party list immediately prior to the election. I think that ideally you would want the effective party list to look a bit like this:

  1. Popular candidates (excluding party leadership and senior MPs) who lost toss-up (battleground) electorates.
  2. Popular list-only candidates standing for the first time.

The reason I think this is the ideal structure for an effective party list is that it doesn’t give any of the other parties any ammunition to criticize those next in line if they are to come into Parliament post-election due to a retirement or by-election, and therefore gives a party more flexibility with their strategy during the upcoming term of Parliament. I think there is also a bit of dissatisfaction with MMP allowing rejected candidates back in to Parliament “through the back door,” especially with post-election retirements and so forth, something that would be less of an issue with list-only candidates or candidates that were unlucky enough to lose a close electorate battle. I think there is also more sympathy in these situations for young, first-time, or otherwise up-and-coming politicians than there would be for a long-term parliamentarian who is seen as having already had a fair crack at the job.

Given the above conditions, and assuming you know roughly how well a party will be polling, you can figure out where the sweet spot is on the party list and then reverse-engineer an optimal list. I think the party lists should ideally look something like this:

  1. Popular senior MPs and party leadership.
  2. Other popular candidates in safe electorates.
  3. Popular first-time list-only candidates being choppered in to Parliament.
  4. Unpopular list-only candidates and candidates predicted to lose their electorate seats, who, for one reason or another, must be returned to parliament.

    === Party list sweet spot ===

  5. Popular candidates (excluding party leadership and senior MPs) who are standing in toss-up electorates.
  6. Popular list-only candidates standing for the first time.
  7. Unpopular candidates in toss-up electorates.
  8. Unpopular candidates in safe electorates.
  9. Other token list-only candidates.

There are several advantages to this template for a party list in addition to it resulting in an attractive effective party list as mentioned above. In particular, it gets the more popular candidates and senior leadership to the top of the list where they are most visible, and manages to bury the unpopular candidates who must be returned to parliament by the list, whilst still giving them a safe enough position. Unpopular candidates in safe electorate seats are also buried out of sight at the bottom of the list, without affecting their chances of being returned to Parliament. The low placings for those in toss-up seats may also serve as extra encouragement for them to get out and campaign, for the party vote as well as the electorate vote, obviously.

Of course, it’s not quite this simple in practice, because the sweet spot will move around a bit depending on the order of the list, so the whole process has to be done iteratively. Nevertheless, I think the above serves as a good guide, for the two major parties at least.

I have no idea how the parties actually go about ordering their lists in practice, but would hope they have somebody going through them and running through a few potential scenarios. If anybody wants me to run through a hypothetical party list for them before it is finalised then I would be more than happy to. I suspect, though, that we are instead in for a lesson in poor planning.

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