Jacinda Ardern’s new “COVID cabinet” is pretty much the same as — and completely unlike — every previous government under the mixed member proportional (MMP) system.
The similarity involves the political accommodation reached between Labour and the Greens. Every government formed since 1996 has rested on such arrangements. This one does too.
The difference lies in Ardern’s administration being the first single-party majority government since the electoral rules changed in the mid-1990s. Add to that the arrangement with the Greens and they have a massive 74-seat bloc in the House — 13 more than is needed to govern.
In brute political terms, Ardern is at the head of one of (and perhaps the) biggest parliamentary alliances in the nation’s history.
The Greens’ consolation prize
The deal announced over the weekend is a cooperation agreement. Think of it as the smallest of the consolation prizes, the thing you’re offered when your support is nice to have but not really necessary.
For the 15% of Green delegates who voted against it, perhaps it was just too small, and you can see their point. In the last government (when the party had eight rather than ten seats), the Greens held ten full or associate portfolios.
None of their ministers sat in cabinet, true, but there were four in the executive. Now there are only two, holding four portfolios between them — and they’re still not sitting at the top table.
Look more closely at the detail, though, and things get more interesting.
A new kind of MMP
The Green ministers will participate in relevant cabinet committees and informal ministerial groups, have access to officials’ papers, and get to meet with the prime minister at least every six weeks. Labour and the Greens’ respective chiefs of staff will also meet regularly.
What’s more, the party will chair one parliamentary committee and get the deputy’s slot on another. In non-portfolio areas of mutual interest, Green spokespeople will have access to Labour ministers and departmental advice.
All that and they get to publicly disagree with the government on policies that fall outside Green portfolios. That is not a bad policy haul for a party Labour does not need to form a government.
And there is no way any of it would have happened under the single-party majority governments we used to see under the previous first-past-the-post system. So it may be a consolation prize, but in fact it’s not that small.
A more diverse government
As well as being the first single-party majority MMP government, it is also a diverse one. In her first term Ardern acknowledged the importance of having more women in cabinet. Nearly half (47%) of the new parliament — and a majority of Labour’s caucus (53%) — are women.
To some extent this is reflected in the makeup of the executive. Eight of the 20 full cabinet members are women; in total, women comprise 43% of the wider administration. There are more women in the ministry than in the National Party’s caucus.
The executive also contains a solid number of people of colour: perhaps as many as a quarter of all ministers and parliamentary under-secretaries are non-Pākehā.
On election night, Labour’s Māori caucus conveyed a direct message to the prime minister about the importance of a solid Māori presence in Cabinet. She appears to have listened.
Between them, Labour’s Māori MPs get five seats in cabinet. Add positions outside cabinet as well as the Greens’ Marama Davidson and Māori comprise 25% of all members of the executive. Perhaps most noteworthy is that Nanaia Mahuta becomes the country’s first female Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Ardern has also looked carefully at her back bench and the clutch of incoming MPs, bringing some of them into the political executive. Jan Tinetti and Kiri Allan have been marked for higher things for some time, while the newly minted MP Dr Ayesha Verrall comes straight into cabinet as an associate health minister.
Power and control
Under certain circumstances a large parliamentary caucus can be a challenge. Thwarted egos, stifled ambitions, fits of pique — once the thrill of the election result has worn off, managing relations between those who are in government and the wider parliamentary party will be one of the chief challenges facing Labour’s whips.
The Green co-leaders aside, Ardern’s executive comprises 40% of the Labour party’s caucus. Given the conventions of collective cabinet responsibility, this means that members of the government have a near majority within caucus, so discipline shouldn’t be an issue — yet.
It is hard to overstate just how much control Ardern has over New Zealand’s 53rd parliament. Even before special votes are counted, the parliamentary arithmetic renders National, ACT and the Māori Party virtually irrelevant.
Labour dominates the executive, and between them Labour and the Greens will dominate the legislature and its committees. Voters have placed considerable power in Ardern’s hands. It’s time to see what she does with it.
The recent reelection of the Jacinda Ardern-led Labour government in New Zealand offers leaders elsewhere a potent lesson about how best to respond to COVID-19. Saving lives is, not surprisingly, a real vote-winner.
A clear majority of voters obviously did not accept these views. Indeed, the election result suggests voters have confidence in Ardern.
Key features of her leadership approach to COVID-19 are discernible – and offer useful lessons for leaders elsewhere – even given the specific advantages New Zealand has, such as its geographic isolation and relatively small population.
Prioritizing both health and economic considerations as central concerns affords a fundamentally different strategy from the yo-yo-ing between either health or the economy, which characterizes the approach taken by the likes of U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
While this dual focus doesn’t magically solve everything that might arise from COVID-19, emphasizing both as mission critical avoids the strategic misstep of allowing largely unfettered economic activity alongside weak levels of control over the virus’s spread.
So this dual focus has been made clear and is ethically defensible, which helps in garnering the support of citizens – who are, after all, the voters.
Listen to and act on expert advice
Ardern is persistent in her commitment to a science-led approach. Effective engagement with the media by New Zealand’s director-general of health, Dr. Ashley Bloomfield, has lent real credibility to Ardern’s claims that the political arm of government is listening to independent, expert advice. This practice of being led by expertise is the second key feature of Ardern’s effective pandemic leadership.
Ardern also has a strong focus on mobilizing collective effort. This involves informing, educating and uniting people to do what’s needed to minimize harm to lives and livelihoods.
Regular press conferences show Ardern doesn’t pull her punches when delivering bad news, but she balances this with explaining why government directives matter and conveying empathy for their disruptive effects.
She also has a strong focus on practicalities and avoids getting defensive when questioned.
To secure unfiltered feedback from the public, she runs regular, impromptu Facebook Live sessions.
All these measures help give people confidence that Ardern genuinely cares about and is interested in people’s needs and views, thereby mobilizing community support for government mandates.
Ardern also focuses on actions that help to enable coping. This involves a range of initiatives to help people and organizations plan ahead. One example is the government’s Alert Level framework, which sets out the different rules and restrictions that apply depending on the current risk of community transmission.
A focus on building knowledge and skills relevant for surviving the pandemic, on kindness and on innovation form part of this approach, addressing both practical and emotional needs.
No ‘magic bullet’ … but
None of this constitutes a magic bullet for easily overcoming COVID-19. Not in New Zealand nor anywhere else.
And, looking ahead, the expectations on Ardern’s government to deliver economic recovery, as well as substantive progress on other key issues such as climate change and poverty reduction, are enormous.
But even though Ardern’s approach has not been faultless, her reelection makes it clear the effective pandemic leadership practices she demonstrates attracted strong levels of voter support.
That’s a lesson no elected leader ought to ignore. For U.S. President Donald Trump, who is seeking reelection on Nov. 3 and whose nation has suffered 220,000 COVID deaths so far, it remains to be seen if voters will punish or endorse the kind of leadership approach he has taken to the pandemic.
Even as the results rolled in on election night there were mutterings that a parliamentary majority controlled by one political party is somehow inconsistent with the spirit of MMP. The magnitude of the Jacinda Ardern-led Labour Party’s victory will no doubt encourage that view.
Wrong. In at least three respects the election result is exactly what electoral reform was about.
For the better part of the 20th century single-party majority governments in Aotearoa New Zealand were formed by parties that won a minority of the popular vote. The best example (or worst, depending on your view) was in 1993, when Jim Bolger’s National Party wound up with a manufactured parliamentary majority based on just 35% of the vote.
You need to go all the way back to 1951 to find the last time a governing party won a majority of the vote.
But you can’t get away with this under MMP. Ardern has already racked up Labour’s highest share of the vote since the 51.3% Peter Fraser’s Labour Party won in 1946. It’s also the best performance of any party under MMP.
She’s done it at a time when voting for a party other than Labour or National is both possible and pretty normal. If, once special votes have been counted, Labour clears 50% of the vote Ardern will have achieved something no prime minister has done in 70 years.
MMP was designed to accurately translate people’s votes into parliamentary seats — and that is exactly what it has done.
Ardern is a centrist, a self-avowed consensus politician. Her single-party majority government will not behave as the Labour and National administrations of the 1980s and 1990s did.
If MMP was designed to do anything it was to lock in policy moderation. In fact, in the early 1990s, the Treasury was concerned to implement its favoured neo-liberal reforms before the electoral system changed, precisely because it knew policy radicalism would be next to impossible under MMP.
Where the David Lange-led Labour and Bolger-led National governments of the late 20th century were doctrinaire and divisive, Ardern will be pragmatic and focused on results. For better or worse, she knows exactly where the median voter lives.
Diversity of representation
For reasonable people, one of the purposes of an electoral system is to produce legislatures that broadly reflect the people who choose them. On at least one count MMP is heading in the right direction.
In 1996, the first MMP parliament doubled the presence of women in the House of Representatives. By 2017 the proportion of women parliamentarians stood at 40%. That figure got another bump on Saturday, pushing the number of women in the 120-member legislature from 49 to 56.
Nearly half (46.5%) of all parliamentarians are now women, the vast majority of them — 73% — members of the Labour or Green parties. This lifts New Zealand from 20th on the international league table to ninth (two spots behind Sweden).
MMP was the winner
This election will change the way politics is done, discussed and practised in Aotearoa NZ due to three significant developments:
Labour has won big in the towns and in the country. National can no longer claim to be the party of rural people, and Labour can no longer be painted as the party of urban élites. In fact, the fundamental question confronting National now is: what kind of party are we?
Once special votes are counted, it is possible Labour will have over 50% of the vote. Not only will it be the first time this has happened since 1951, it will also mean most New Zealanders have chosen a politics of communitarianism over a politics of individualism.
For the first time in our history more people voted before polling day than on the day itself (a lot more — 70% of votes were cast early this year). The very nature of elections has changed, meaning the laws banning political activity on polling day need to be revised. (In the process, the problem of setting an election date to avoid an All Blacks Test might be avoided.)
There is more to be digested, including that this parliament contains no small-party tail to wag the big party’s dog. But right now one thing is clear: MMP gets two ticks for its performance this year. It has done exactly what it was designed to do.
At Saturday’s New Zealand election, Labour won 64 of the 120 seats (up 18 since the 2017 election). This means a Labour eight-seat majority. The opposition National won 35 seats (down 21), the right-wing ACT ten (up nine), the Greens ten (up two) and the Māori party one (up one).
Vote shares were 49.1% Labour (up 12.2%), 26.8% National (down 17.6%), 8.0% ACT (up 7.5%), 7.6% Greens (up 1.3%) and 1.0% Māori (down 0.2%).
Under New Zealand’s system, parties are entitled to a proportional allocation of seats if they either win at least 5% of the overall vote, or win a single-member seat. The Māori party entered parliament by winning one of the seven single-member seats reserved for those on the Māori roll. The Greens and ACT also won single-member seats.
Since the 2017 election, Labour has governed in coalition with the Greens and the populist NZ First. NZ First will not be returned to parliament, as their vote slumped to 2.7% (down 4.5%), and they failed to win a single-member seat.
In February, two polls had National ahead of Labour. But Labour recorded massive poll leads in May owing to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s handling of coronavirus. Labour’s lead narrowed somewhat as the election approached, but final polls understated Labour’s lead; they won by 22 points, not the 15 in final polls.
Greens could win six of 25 ACT seats
With 78% of enrolled voters counted at Saturday’s ACT election, vote shares were 38.4% Labor (down 0.1% since 2016), 33.1% Liberals (down 3.6%) and 13.9% Greens (up 3.6%).
The ACT uses five five-member electorates, with candidates elected using the Hare-Clark system. A quota is one-sixth of the vote, or 16.7%. Preference distribution sheets have been released based on votes cast electronically. Paper ballots will be manually entered.
In Brindabella, Labor has 2.5 quotas, the Liberals 2.3 and the Greens 0.7. The Poll Bludger’s analysis of preferences has it very close between Labor and the Greens for the final seat.
In Ginninderra, Labor has 2.4 quotas, the Liberals 1.6 and the Greens 0.8. Labor leads the Liberals for the final seat, but it could be overturned on late counting.
In Kurrajong, Labor has 2.3 quotas, the Liberals 1.6 and the Greens 1.4. Preferences from Labor and minor parties give the Greens a solid lead over the Liberals in the race for the final seat. So Kurrajong is likely to split two Labor, two Greens and just one Liberal.
In Murrumbidgee, Labor has 2.2 quotas, the Liberals 2.1 and the Greens 0.7. This is a clear two Labor, two Liberals, one Green result.
In Yerrabi, the Liberals have 2.4 quotas, Labor 2.1 and the Greens 0.6. This will be two Liberals, two Labor and one Green.
In summary, Labor is likely to win ten of the 25 seats, the Liberals eight and the Greens five, with two in doubt, one Labor vs Greens and one Labor vs Liberal. In 2016, the result was 12 Labor, 11 Liberals, two Greens. The current Labor/Green coalition has easily retained power.
Queensland Newspoll: 52-48 to Labor
The Queensland election will be held on October 31. A Newspoll, conducted October 9-14 from a sample of 1,001, gave Labor a 52-48 lead, a three-point gain for Labor since a late July Newspoll. Labor’s lead is the same as in a YouGov poll that I covered in early October. YouGov conducts Newspoll, so it is effectively the same pollster.
Primary votes were virtually identical to that YouGov poll, at 37% Labor, 37% LNP, 11% Greens and 9% One Nation; the only difference a one-point drop for the Greens.
63% were satisfied with Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s performance and 33% were dissatisfied, for a net approval of +30. These figures are identical to a September Newspoll of the Victorian and Queensland premiers’ ratings.
Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington had a net approval of -7, up one point since the late July Newspoll. Palaszczuk led Frecklington as better premier by 57-32 (57-26 in July).
More state polls: NSW and Victoria
Channel 10 commissioned a uComms NSW poll after revelations of Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s affair with former Liberal MP Daryl Maguire. 63% said Berejiklian should not resign, and just 28% thought she should go.
The only information provided on voting intentions was that the Coalition led Labor by 38-30. William Bowe says that uComms includes undecided in the initial table, and that this implies little change from the 2019 election result.
A YouGov poll for The Sunday Telegraph gave Berejiklian a 68-26 approval rating. By 49-36, voters did not think she had done anything wrong. By 60-29, they wanted her to stay as premier.
A Victorian SMS Morgan poll, conducted October 12-13 from a sample of 899, gave Labor a 51.5-48.5 lead, unchanged since late September. Primary votes were 40% Labor (up one), 40% Coalition (up 0.5) and 9% Greens (down one). Premier Daniel Andrews had a 59-41 approval rating (61-39 previously).
Trump still down by double digits nationally
The FiveThirtyEight national polls aggregate currently gives Joe Biden a 10.6% lead over Donald Trump (52.4% to 41.8%). It’s somewhat closer in the key states with Biden leading by 7.9% in Michigan, 7.8% in Wisconsin, 6.8% in Pennsylvania, 4.0% in Florida and 3.9% in Arizona.
Pennsylvania has returned to being the “tipping-point” state, and is currently polling 3.8% better for Trump than nationally. But Trump needs to get within five points to make the Electoral College competitive.
There appears to be a new surge of coronavirus in the US: over 70,000 new cases were recorded Friday, the highest since late July. Trump is perceived to have handled coronavirus poorly, so the more it is in the headlines, the worse it will probably get for him.
A pandemic can change the foundations of a society. But if this happens in New Zealand over the next three years, it will be for reasons beyond the control of the sixth Labour government. When it comes to the fundamental structure of state and economy, Labour is broadly committed to the status quo.
This was confirmed on election night when Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, wearing a Labour red dress before a National blue background, declared: “We will be a party that governs for every New Zealander.”
In times of upset, people yearn for normality — and Ardern’s Labour Party was awarded a landslide for achieving something close to this. The risk of a further COVID-19 outbreak is ever present, as today’s announcement of a community transmission case in Auckland reminded us.
Nevertheless, international spectators view our pandemic response with a wistful gaze. At a time when many nations went sour on liberal democracy and rolled the populist dice, New Zealand appears on the world stage like a tribute act to third-way politics, a nostalgic throwback to the relative sanity and stability of the long 1990s.
Yet for many people who live in Aotearoa New Zealand, the status quo isn’t working, and hasn’t for some time. These tensions are only intensifying.
Housing unaffordability is on the rise again, with implications for wealth inequality and deprivation. This is compounded further by the cascading economic effects of the global pandemic and unconventional manoeuvres in monetary policy that are pushing house prices higher.
Without remedial action, this inequality will leave New Zealand society more exposed to future shocks, not only from COVID-19, but also the multiplying risks of climate change, biodiversity collapse, digital disruption and international instability. Inequality ensures uneven impacts, a recipe for further discontent and conflict.
No party for ideologues
Even from a purely electoral perspective, the Labour Party can’t afford inaction. It is easy to forget how precarious the prime minister’s position was at the beginning of the year. She could boast enough policy wins to stack an early campaign video, yet hadn’t pulled a fiscal lever large enough to convince the public that her government was truly “transformational”.
Entering a second term, her policy agenda is more recognisable by what she won’t do than what she will — no capital gains tax, no wealth tax, indeed no new taxes at all beyond a tweak for the highest earners.
This leaves us with the longstanding conundrum of what the Labour Party is and what it really stands for these days. Ardern and her colleagues are not ideologues, but no politics is without ideology — a system of ideas, values and beliefs that orients its efforts.
I’ve argued in the past that Ardern’s government has a spirit of civic republicanism. This has met with reasonable scepticism, yet in the midst of the pandemic it feels more relevant than ever. With borders drastically restricted, and old allies going wayward, there is a renewed sense of separateness, of independence in the world.
Might the pandemic seal New Zealand’s fate as the Commonwealth of Oceana, as a 21st century version of 17th century English republican John Harrington’s utopian island?
Kindness as a political virtue
The first symptom of republicanism belongs to Ardern herself. She is the active citizenpar excellence. She embodies civic commitment and public-spiritedness, along with a good dose of humility. Even in emergencies, she remains one of us: primus inter pares, “first among equals”.
Analysts of Ardern’s political leadership emphasise her openness, honesty, self-discipline, empathy and, above all, her authenticity. For civic republicans, the exercise of such virtues is the lifeblood of public life. Indeed, insofar as Ardern has a distinctive political agenda, it is centred on the virtue of kindness.
Arguably, this has displaced the more principled commitments that might guide substantive structural reform. But kindness also provided vital emotional leadership in the raw moments following the Christchurch mosque attacks and the outset of the pandemic.
As the 18th century philosopher Montesquieu said, “Virtue in a republic is a most simple thing: it is a love of the republic.” Few could doubt Ardern’s devotion to the nation. But for the Labour Party, as for republicans, this has an exclusionary aspect.
Given the emphasis on citizens, republicans have tended to prioritise “us” over “them”. In the Athenian republic, only citizens could participate in democracy, and only wealthy men could be citizens — not women, not slaves, not foreigners.
Similarly, in New Zealand’s “team of five million”, only citizens have the full spectrum of rights and entitlements. For more than 300,000 temporary visa holders, whose compliance with pandemic restrictions was vital for containing the outbreak, there was minimal solidarity from government.
Many were frozen out of jobs during lockdown, unable to relocate due to visa conditions, and excluded from social welfare support. Others were stuck outside the country until very recently, unable to re-enter. From a liberal or internationalist perspective, this is hard to swallow. But there is a nativist strain within the Labour Party which will relish these harder borders.
None of this is to say that Labour’s politics aren’t liberal or social democratic. Ideologies can be mixed in the same way that economies can be. It is to say, more modestly, that some of the qualities that characterise the Ardern government align with civic republicanism.
And this helps to resist the lazy analysis that this government is nothing more than a continuation of what came before, another phase in an undifferentiable centrist blob.
Neither socialist nor purely liberal
But where to next? Firstly, this is not a government of pure socialist intentions. Accusations of this kind come from a place of confusion, delusion, or plain mischief. Socialism, simply put, involves collective ownership of the means of production.
This government already relinquished an unprecedented opportunity to socialise the economy when it implemented its wage subsidy scheme at the outset of the pandemic.
Public debt is growing precisely to keep private businesses in private hands. Labour’s resistance to substantive tax reform, even to reduce the debt it insists it must pay back, reveals its abandonment of redistribution as a practicable tool for social change.
Secondly, this is not a government of purely liberal intentions. It is ambivalent about the free flow of people and capital. Attorney-General David Parker, in particular, has prioritised citizens through restrictions on overseas buyers of housing and the “national interest” test for foreign investment.
Ardern’s government is also unembarrassed about a more active role for the state. Its approach for housing is illustrative — not just its boost to state-owned housing, but especially its embrace of the state’s potential as a developer providing houses directly to market.
Liberals see this as mere interference, but republicans tolerate government intervention wherever it improves the lives of citizens. In the wake of the pandemic, voters will be prone to agree.
The danger of losing trust
This touches on the defining feature of civic republicanism: its commitment to freedom from domination. Republicans accept the kinds of intervention that liberals fear, as long as they free people from situations of oppression and subjugation.
Domination should also be broadly understood to include regulations, poverty, sexism, racism, environmental degradation, employment relations — anything that thwarts our cherished projects.
This is where the republican spirit mostly clearly intersects with the sixth Labour government’s interest in well-being. The purpose of worrying about well-being is to improve people’s capabilities to live the kinds of lives they most value.
Because the aforementioned forms of oppression curtail such freedoms, we have a duty to overturn them, through intervention if necessary. Well-being economics isn’t merely about measurement; it is an emancipatory project.
Ardern’s government is most vulnerable to criticism when it falls short of this ideal — for example, the oppressive practices of Oranga Tamariki or ineffective infrastructure development. If voters won’t punish Ardern for not being socialist or liberal enough, they might still penalise her for failing to make real these republican impulses.
It is said that, in politics, what lifts you up is what will eventually drag you down. When the virtues of openness fail to strengthen transparency, when state intervention fails to deliver outcomes competently or effectively, when appeals to “the people” paper over vital differences, when the politics of kindness fail to prevent suffering — this is where trust will be lost.
The danger of electoral dominance is becoming your own worst enemy.
The pre-election polls suggested it might happen. But the fact that Labour and Jacinda Ardern have provisionally won an outright majority and the mandate to govern New Zealand alone is more than an electoral landslide — it is a tectonic shift.
You can see the full results and compare them with the 2017 election here.
This is also not a result the mixed member proportional (MMP) voting system was designed to deliver. The challenge for Ardern and Labour now will be to translate that mandate — and the fact that their natural coalition partner the Greens have performed strongly too — into the “transformational” agenda promised since 2017.
For now, there is much to digest in the sheer scale of the swing against National and the likely shape of the next parliament. Our panel of political analysts deliver their initial responses and predictions.
Labour rewarded for its COVID response
Jack Vowles, Professor of Political Science, Te Herenga Waka/Victoria University of Wellington
It’s an historic MMP result, and that is down to one thing: COVID-19. Labour and Ardern made the right calls. Comparative analysis of COVID responses internationally shows it’s not just a matter of what you do, it’s a matter of whether you do it soon enough. Labour did that and have been rewarded electorally.
The polls were largely in line with what looks like the final result will be — the Greens have done a bit better, as has Labour, and National appreciably worse. It’s unlikely they can claw that back to where earlier polls had them. Special votes will be roughly 15% of the total and they are likely to go more in Labour’s and the Green’s direction, as they did in 2017.
The swing away from National is pretty dramatic. If it is indeed the first single party majority under MMP it’s very unlikely to happen again for a long time. The big question is whether Labour wants to do a deal with the Greens when they don’t have to.
It might be in their interests to do so in the long run — in 2023 Labour probably won’t be in such a strong position. If they have a good relationship with the Greens it might stand them in better stead, but it’s a tough strategic call.
As for New Zealand First, according to analysis of the Reid Research polls over the past months, most of their vote has gone to Labour. And that is simply another reflection of this being a COVID election. Labour was rewarded for protecting New Zealanders, particularly the most vulnerable — and that is in the traditions of the Labour Party.
Labour win masks smaller victories
Bronwyn Hayward, Professor of Politics, University of Canterbury
With a record 1.9 million people casting an early vote, this was always going to be an election with a difference. Younger voters also enrolled in historic numbers, with a significant increase in those aged 18 to 29 enrolling across the country. A generation’s hopes and aspirations now hang in the balance.
Labour’s victory offers the party command of the house, an unprecedented situation in an MMP government. But it masks some other remarkable achievements. The Māori Party’s fortunes have risen, with very little national media coverage.
ACT has been transformed from a tiny grouping of 13,075 party votes in 2017 to win an astonishing 185,723 party votes this year.
The Greens defied a dominant mantra that small parties who enter governance arrangements are eclipsed in the next election. They maintained their distinctive brand and should bring ten MPs into the House.
The epic struggle for Auckland Central by Chlöe Swarbrick (Green) and Helen White (Labour) has pushed up both the Green and the Labour vote — a microcosm of the wider shift to a progressive left electorate bloc.
The challenge now is for Labour to decide to open this victory to support parties. What happens next matters as much as the election itself. Will a Labour government led by the most popular prime minister in New Zealand’s history be incrementalist or transformative in tackling the biggest challenges any government has faced in peacetime?
The Māori Party returns
Lindsey Te Ata o Tau MacDonald, Senior Lecturer in Politics, University of Canterbury
Tonight demonstrates that Māori voters continue to waver between the Māori Party via its electorate MPs and Labour via the party vote.
On one side there is the legacy of Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples, and the founding generation of “by Māori, for Māori, with Māori” in the post-settlement era. Rawiri Waititi, who may well take Tamiti Coffey’s seat in Waiariki, is the living embodiment of the success of that struggle.
The other side is exemplified by Koro Wetere’s triumph in 1975 in creating the Waitangi Tribunal. These two stories — struggle via protest and gradual legislative change — were deeply intertwined in Labour’s grip on the Māori seats until 2003. Then, in one grand racist gesture, Labour proved itself a colonial government by taking the last Māori land, the foreshore and seabed, by statute.
Māori voters have not forgotten the deep betrayal of that removal of their property rights. Hence the close races tonight for those who truly inherit the mantle of the Māori party’s founders, such as Waititi and Debbie Ngarewa-Packer.
John Tamihere’s close run in Tāmaki Makaurau is more just politics, Auckland style, as usual. He may be wondering why he didn’t go with ACT, which has brought in interesting new Māori talent.
What happened to the ‘shy Tories’?
Jennifer Curtin, Professor of Politics and Policy, University of Auckland
Two aspects are interesting in this post-MMP history-making election. The first is that Labour has made significant gains in the regions. It is now not solely a party of the cities — it looks to have claimed seats that have long been forgotten as bellwethers (Hamilton East and West), as well as those provincial hubs in Taranaki, Canterbury, Hawkes Bay and Northland.
This suggests that while New Zealand First had been gifted the Provincial Growth Fund to deliver regional economic growth to the regions, it was Labour that reaped the rewards of this largesse.
While COVID-19 is definitely part of the reason for Labour’s success, the support is likely to have come from across the political spectrum, bringing its own challenges.
This leads into the second interesting point. Judith Collins reportedly did not share internal polling with her caucus, but public polls suggested National support was in the 30% region. Collins argued the result would be higher, that there were shy Tories who would turn out for National.
In fact, this result suggests it was “shy lefties” the polls had failed to capture. And it appears undecided voters decided National was not for them this time.
Richard Shaw, Professor of Politics, Massey University
The Prime Minister asked for a mandate and she got it. Final numbers won’t be known for a couple of weeks, but the headline result was one last seen in New Zealand in 1993: a political party in possession of a clear parliamentary majority.
All the same, Jacinda Ardern will be chatting with Green Party leaders Marama Davidson and James Shaw (and perhaps the Māori Party, depending on events in Waiariki) about how Labour and the Greens might work together in the 53rd Parliament. Perhaps a formal coalition, but more likely a compact of some sort.
She doesn’t need the Greens to govern and their leverage is limited. But a lot of people who voted for Labour would not have done so under other circumstances (no Ardern, no COVID). At some point they will return home to National. Labour will already be thinking about 2023 and Ardern knows she will need parliamentary friends in the future.
But right now Ardern has a chance to consign the centre-right to the opposition benches for the next couple of electoral cycles. There is a chasm between the combined Labour/Green vote (57%) and National/ACT (35%). ACT had a good night but the centre-right had a shocker. National now has a real problem with rejuvenation. With a low party vote, and having lost so many electorates, their ranks will look old and threadbare in 2023.
This election is tectonic. Ardern has led Labour to its biggest victory since Norman Kirk, and enters the Labour pantheon with Savage, Lange and Clarke. Once special votes are counted, Labour could be the first party since 1951 to win a clear majority of the popular vote.
It has won in the towns and in the country. It won the party vote in virtually every single electorate. Labour candidates, many of them women (look for a large influx of new women MPs), have won seats long held by National.
Tonight Labour is looking like the natural party of government in Aotearoa New Zealand. Ardern has her mandate — now she needs to deliver.
With four weeks left until the November 3 election, the FiveThirtyEight aggregate of US national polls gives Joe Biden a 9.0% lead over Donald Trump (51.4% to 42.4%). Biden’s lead has increased 1.4% since an October 1 article I wrote for The Poll Bludger.
In the key states, Biden leads by 7.5% in Michigan, 7.0% in Wisconsin, 6.6% in Pennsylvania, 4.3% in Arizona and 3.4% in Florida. If Biden wins the states that voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, plus Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, he wins the election with at least 278 of the 538 Electoral Votes.
Pennsylvania is still the “tipping-point” state that could potentially put either Trump or Biden over the 270 EVs required to win. But it is polling closer to Wisconsin and Michigan than in the recent past. The current difference between Pennsylvania and the national vote is 2.4% in favour of Trump.
There are five states where Biden is either just ahead or just behind: North Carolina, Georgia, Texas, Iowa and Ohio. If Biden won all of them, he would win a blowout victory with over 400 EVs.
In the FiveThirtyEight forecast, Trump still has a 17% chance to win, though only an 8% chance to win the popular vote. Trump’s chances have declined 4% since last week. Still, a 17% chance is the probability of rolling a six on a six-sided die.
Trump’s ratings with all polls in theFiveThirtyEight aggregateare 43.4% approve, 53.0% disapprove (net -9.6%). With polls of likely or registered voters, Trump’s ratings are 43.7% approve, 53.0% disapprove (net -9.3%). His net approval has declined about one point since last week.
The FiveThirtyEight Classic Senate forecast gives Democrats a 70% chance to win, up 2% since last week. The most likely outcome is a narrow 51 to 49 Democratic majority, unchanged from last week. The forecast gives Democrats an 80% chance of holding between 48 and 55 seats after the election.
Perhaps there would have been some public sympathy for Trump had his coronavirus appeared to be bad luck. But it is likely Trump and other prominent Republicans’ coronavirus infections occurred at a September 26 event to announce Amy Coney Barrett as Trump’s nominee to replace the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court.
The footage shows people sitting close together, without face masks. This created an impression of reckless conduct by Trump and other Republicans in ignoring medical advice.
In a CNN poll taken after Trump’s coronavirus, 60% disapproved and 37% approved of Trump’s handling of coronavirus; his -23 net approval is a record low on that issue. 63% thought Trump had acted irresponsibly and just 33% thought he had been responsible.
An additional problem for Trump is that coronavirus is back in the headlines. As Trump is perceived to have been poor on this issue, that helps Biden. New US daily cases have plateaued between 30,000 and 50,000.
Biden wins first presidential debate
The first presidential debate between Biden and Trump occurred on September 29. A CBS News post-debate scientific poll gave Biden a narrow 48-41 victory, while a CNN poll gave him a far more emphatic 60-28 win. Trump needed a clear win to change the current polling. There will be two more presidential debates on October 15 and 22, and a vice presidential debate Thursday AEDT.
The major headlines from the debate were that it was a shouting match, and Trump’s refusal to denounce white supremacists. I have said before that the US economy’s fast recovery from the April coronavirus lows is Trump’s best asset for re-election, but he did nothing during the debate to tell a positive story about the economy.
Concerning the Supreme Court fight over Ginsburg’s replacement, a Morning Consult poll found a record 62% supported the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), while 24% were opposed. In March, this was 55-29 support. There is clear danger for Trump and Republicans in appointing a judge who may overturn Obamacare.
US employment growth slows
The September US jobs report was the last before the November 3 election. 661,000 jobs were created, and the unemployment rate dropped 0.5% to 7.9%. This was the first month with fewer than a million jobs added since the April nadir.
The unemployment rate has almost halved from April’s 14.7%. But the gain in September was mainly attributable to a 0.3% slide in the participation rate, to 61.4%. The employment population ratio – the percentage of eligible Americans who are employed – increased just 0.1% to 56.6%. It is 1.6% below where it was at the lowest point of the recovery from the global financial crisis (58.2%).
Trump may have undermined his relative advantage on the economy, compared to other issues, by withdrawing from negotiations with Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi over a new stimulus bill. An article by analyst Nate Silver says stimulus spending was very popular: in a September Siena poll for The New York Times, voters supported a $US 2 trillion stimulus by a 72-23 margin.
Queensland YouGov: 52-48 to Labor
The Queensland election will be held on October 31. A YouGov poll, conducted September 24 to October 1 from a sample of 2,000, gave Labor a 52-48 lead, a four-point gain for Labor since the last such poll in June. A Queensland Newspoll, which is conducted by YouGov, gave the LNP a 51-49 lead in late July.
Primary votes were 37% Labor (up five since the June YouGov), 37% LNP (down one), 12% Greens (steady) and 9% One Nation (down three). Figures are from The Poll Bludger.
The overall shift in this poll is a 1% swing to Labor since the 2017 election. Regional breakdowns gave Labor a 57-43 lead in Brisbane (1% swing to the LNP), the LNP a 54-46 lead on the Gold and Sunshine Coasts (3% swing to Labor) and the LNP a 53-47 lead in regional Queensland (1% swing to the LNP).
57% (up eight) approved of Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s performance and 27% (down six) disapproved, for a net approval of +30, up 14 points. Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington had a net approval of -3, up six points. Palaszczuk led as better premier by 48-22 (44-23 in June).
The movement to Labor is likely a result of Queensland’s handling of coronavirus. But polls greatly overstated Labor’s Queensland performance at the 2019 federal election, although they were accurate at the 2017 Queensland state election.
New Zealand: latest poll has Labour short of majority
Last week’s Colmar Brunton New Zealand poll had Labour on 47%, National 33%, ACT 8% and the Greens 7%. If repeated at the October 17 election, Labour would win 59 of the 120 seats, two short of a majority. You can read more at my personal website.
The delay to the New Zealand election date — to which not every country’s citizenry would have adjusted with such alacrity — was only the latest event in a year when the unexpected and the extraordinary have become constant features of a fragile “new normal”.
What was expected to be a prime ministerial contest between Jacinda Ardern and Simon Bridges led, briefly, to one with Todd Muller before settling on a choice between the prime minister and Judith Collins.
Labour might have set the precedent with its desperate leadership change just weeks out from the 2017 election, but it’s unlikely this was what the National Party had in mind when it first contemplated the dismal opinion poll figures.
For a country whose politics have sometimes been considered boringly predictable, the prelude to the October 17 election has been anything but.
So it is virtually impossible to judge the Labour/New Zealand First/Green coalition’s performance by conventional measures.
The government’s original programme — as articulated in the November 2017 speech from the throne — reflected the three parties’ policy preferences, modified by post-election negotiations and agreements. But that bears little resemblance to the events that have subsequently shaped the reputation of the government and the prime minister.
The pandemic election
Nothing in the Labour Party’s 2017 campaign could have prepared the party, its leadership or the electorate for a succession of life-and-death crises: the attack on the Christchurch mosques, the disaster of the Whakaari/White Island eruption and finally the COVID-19 pandemic, with its lockdowns, border closures and economic consequences.
The crises have arisen with almost Shakespearean qualities, prophesied in Hamlet: “When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions.”
New Zealand responded well in each case, displaying unity, resolve and concern. That speaks volumes for the government and its leadership, but also for the country and its people in general. A leadership that calls on a nation to unite can only succeed when the public complies.
At the same time, public compliance is likely when there is respect for the country’s leadership. Respect is an impermanent reputational asset, of course, won or lost as a result of decisions made and communicated.
The prospect of single-party government
Amid these unpredictable and disruptive events, then, New Zealand’s electoral system (though still relatively new) now represents a kind of certainty and stability.
The 2020 parliamentary elections are the ninth to be held under the mixed member proportional (MMP) system. Having been approved, established and reconfirmed by referendums in 1992, 1993 and 2011, the system is no longer particularly controversial.
However, MMP’s success in delivering greater parliamentary diversity has also accustomed New Zealanders to coalition governments. Might this change in 2020? If the leaders’ debates and other campaign events don’t significantly affect voter preferences and current polling, an outright Labour majority is possible.
That would be the first such election result since the introduction of MMP in 1996. But, as with other voting systems, MMP does not guarantee a particular outcome. The country may yet see a return to single-party government.
A third referendum
So, this election is not a normal contest in which political parties parade their programmes and ideological predilections before intermittently interested electors.
Instead, voters emerging from semi-traumatic circumstances — from confinement, new social habits and financial stress — will be asked to reflect on the performance of leaders whose decisions have had literally life-or-death consequences.
New Zealand elections have traditionally been about the economy. Voters make choices along semi-tribal lines, reflecting traditional party alignments. Those features will be present in 2020 as well, but they are likely to be influenced by other considerations.
New Zealanders are being called on, first and foremost, to reflect on the performance of the prime minister, whose image dominates every Labour billboard and advertisement.
Alongside the referendums on legalising recreational cannabis use and the End of Life Choice Act, the election itself has become, in effect, a third referendum on the prime minister’s instincts, judgment and determination.
When we published our analysis of the 2017 election we titled the book “Stardust and Substance” — a reference to her then-opponent Bill English’s description of Jacinda Ardern’s supposedly ephemeral “stardust” quality.
This time around, while the stardust is still there, what most voters will be contemplating is the substance of the prime minister’s achievements, and whether other leaders and parties could have done as well, or better, faced with the same constellation of challenges.
The author is organising the traditional post-election conference (involving party leaders, journalists and academics) at Parliament on December 9 (registration here).