Divvying up the dosh

The Electoral Commission has just announced the allocation of money for this year’s election broadcasting. The parties in Parliament got the following:

  • Labour: $1.1 million
  • National: $900,000
  • NZF, Greens, Act, UF: $200,000
  • Maori: $125,000
  • Progressives: $75,000

The whole process for dividing up the money is whack, given that Labour and National both have representatives on the Electoral Commission for the purposes of deciding how much each party gets. Also, one can quibble with whether the criteria the Electoral Commission has to use to divide up the money are the right ones. (For example, should the criteria really be set up to entrench the biggest parties as the biggest parties?)

However, it is still worth asking whether the Electoral Commission has applied fairly the criteria it has to use under the Broadcasting Act. In its letter to political parties announcing its decision, it says the four main criteria for making its decisions are as follows:

  • How many MPs a party has.
  • How many votes a party got at the last election.
  • How well a party is polling.
  • How many members a party has.

So, how well has each party done according to each of these criteria? We have to leave aside membership numbers, because some parties are too scared to release them publicly. Nevertheless, we can do comparisons on the other three. So, I’ve had my pads going furiously on to my calculator.

1. Number of MPs
$3 million was allocated to 120 MPs, so there’s an average of $25,000 per MP. Under this criterion, National, the Maori Party, and the Progressives get much too much and NZ First much too little.

Full allocation (dollars per MP):

  • Maori Party: $125,000
  • Progressives: $37,500
  • National: $33,333
  • Average: $25,000
  • United: $25,000
  • Act: $22,222
  • Greens: $22,222
  • Labour: $21,569
  • NZ First: $15,384

2. Number of votes in 2002
About 2 million votes were cast at the 2002 election for the parties now in Parliament. If the $2.875 million available (excluding that given to the Maori Party, as it didn’t contest the last election) were allocated equally under this critereon, there would be $1.49 per vote. Under this criterion, National and the Progressives get far too much. NZ First gets far too little.

Full allocation (dollars per vote in 2002):

  • Progressives: $2.17
  • National: $2.12
  • Average: $1.49
  • United: $1.47
  • Greens: $1.41
  • Act: $1.39
  • Labour: $1.31
  • NZ First: $0.95

3. Polling
There were nine public political polls in 2005 before the Electoral Commission held its hearings into the broadcasting allocation on March 21 and 22. I’ve worked out an average of these polls for each party, and then worked out how many dollars each party got per polling percentage point. Under this criterion, the Progressives, Act, United, and the Maori Party get much too much.

Full allocation (dollars per percentage point):

  • Progressives: $750,000
  • United: $90,909
  • Act: $86,957
  • Maori: $62,500
  • Greens: $34,904
  • NZ First: $32,258
  • Average: $30,769
  • National: $25,568
  • Labour: $24,887

So, what does this all mean? Well, if we pull these three criteria together, and give each of them equal weighting, you can come up with a figure that tells you how much each party got as a percentage of what they should have got. (That is, a party that got exactly the average on all of the three criteria would have got 100% of what they’re due; a party that got double the average on all the three criteria would have got 200%) It seems that NZ First is the big loser in the allocation, and National, Act, United, the Maori Party, and the Progressives are the big winners:

  • Progressives: 911% of what they were due
  • Maori: 352%
  • United: 165%
  • Act: 155%
  • National: 120%
  • Greens: 99%
  • Labour: 85%
  • NZ First 77%

How could these disparities have been ironed out? Well, NZ First and the Greens could have been accorded status as the “major third parties” and been given more than United and Act, and National, the Maori Party and the Progressives could have been given less. Alas, it didn’t happen.

UPDATE: David Farrar notes that criteria one and two above are essentially the same thing. If you drop the second of them, you get the following final result:

  • Progressives: 1294% of what they were due
  • Maori: 352%
  • United: 198%
  • Act: 186%
  • National: 108%
  • Greens: 101%
  • Labour: 84%
  • NZ First 83%

7 Comments Posted

  1. Michael Wood: What I say is perfectly consistent.

    I stand by my claim that the current system does entrench the biggest parties as the biggest parties by giving them the most money.

    My post then goes on to analyse the system *on its own terms* – i.e. under the criteria set out in the Broadcasting Act – and find that Labour and NZF have been respectively a little and a lot hard done by, if you apply the criteria strictly.

    Yes, what the Greens got was pretty much in line with what we should have under the criteria. My point in saying that there should have been a “major minor party” category was simply to make the point that, under the criteria, there’s no way the Greens (and even less way that NZF) should have had the same as UF and Act. Perhaps the way to solve this would have been to drop Act and UF down considerably and give the extra money to NZF?

  2. Mr Farrar is indeed correct, but I guess it’d worry him that the gap between National and Labour seems to be widening as the election approches 🙂

    The averages for the first three months of 2005 that I was working from were (to one dp):
    Labour: 44.2
    National: 35.2
    NZF: 6.2
    Greens: 5.7
    Act: 2.3
    UF: 2.2
    Maori: 2.0
    Progressives: 0.1

    As for the year Farrar refers to (March 04-Feb 05), the averages were:
    Labour: 42.9
    National: 38.0
    NZF: 5.6
    Greens: 5.1
    Act: 2.3
    United: 2.0
    Maori: 1.8*
    Progressives: 0.1

    So, there’s not much variation between the last three months and the last year averages, except that Labour has picked up its game and National dropped its one in recent months. Farrar refers to a 3% gap for the full-year average, though my figures show more like a 5% one. Maybe one of us is missing all the data? Could well be me.

    (*An average of fewer polls because it only started registering in public polls in June 2004.)

  3. The EC normally look at polls over the last twelve months, not just the last three months, so I think that would also change the calculations.

    From Feb 04 to Feb 05 Labour wa son average only 3% ahead of National.

  4. Hi frog, it would be nice to see the figures for the “average of the nine public political polls in 2005” that you worked out.

  5. I think that what you say is inconsistent. On one hand you accuse the commission of being set up to “entrench the biggest parties as the biggest parties?”, yet go on to note that Labour receives less than an equitable share based on a strict analysis.

    Additionally, on that analysis (the basis for the conclusions you draw), you show that the Greens have drawn a share of funding almost exactly proportionate to number of MPs, votes etc… yet then go on to suggest that you should receive more because you are a “major third party”. That title’s just as arbitrary as “Leader of the Opposition” really.

    I think it’s better to be honest and say that while the Commission has to base its allocations on strict crieria, there are some pragmatic calls to be made and that is what has happened.

  6. The Electoral Commission is required to exercise a statutory discretion in the allocation of funding. This does not mean that they can just do what they want. The Act sets out the criteria they have to take into account, some of which are noted in frogs post. What is more, they have to exercise their discretion in a fair manner, and disregard criteria that are irrelevant.

    As Rod has pointed out in his media release, Opposition parties are hampered by their representative to the Electoral Commission being appointed on the recommendation of the so-called Leader of the Opposition, who happens to be the Leader of National, because they got the most votes of the parties that did not form the Government. So the Greens and NZ First are, bizarrely, represented by a Don Brash recommended appointee on the Commission in this regard.

    We only need to recall the recent Zaoui case to remember the then Inspector-General of Security being forced to resign after having been found by the High Court to have acted with apparent bias.

    This seems, prima facie, to be a similar issue here – compounded by the outcome, from which it is difficult to see how the Greens or NZ First have been treated fairly, which is a fundamental requirement in the exercise of a statutory discretion.

    IMO, there is a strong case for at least these two parties to be looking to judicially review the Electoral Commissions funding decision in the High Court.

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