An agreeable question with a disagreeable result

It’s unsurprising that ONE News Colmar Brunton poll should find that, when asked ‘should the party with the most votes should get to lead the government’, nearly 80 percent of people agree.  It seems a reasonable sort of thing to suggest. I imagine you would get the same sort of support for the proposition that the coalition with the most votes should get to lead the next government.  And there would probably be fairly overwhelming support for the idea that the next government should have the support of a majority of voters.The problem with the poll is that it was framed in such a way that it got an answer that tells us exactly nothing about people’s view of the legitimacy of the next government.

The implication is that were National to form a government with a minority of the popular support but more votes than any other party then the majority of voters would who did not vote for National would all be sitting back saying ‘Look, even though we all want something completely different to you John, it’s your turn. Go ahead and rip apart the Resource Management Act and this country’s few environmental protections. We’ll talk again in three years.’

We all know that there wouldn’t be eighty percent support for that proposition.  There wouldn’t even be fifty percent support for it.

It goes to show that you nee to word your question carefully if you want a result that gives you the information you were seeking.

17 Comments Posted

  1. If I was advising the ACT Party I would recommend that they do not join a cobbled together coalition of government but remain outside the government and if necessary guarantee supply to a government which would otherwise be unstable.

    Minor parties which join coalitions around the cabinet table soon loose their identity and/or are seen to be motivated by the baubles of office.

    Cynical king makers often end up losing their heads.

  2. If I was advising the Green Party I would recommend that they do not join a cobbled together coalition of government but remain outside the government and if necessary guarantee supply to a government which would otherwise be unstable.

    Minor parties which join coalitions around the cabinet table soon loose their identity and/or are seen to be motivated by the baubles of office.

    Cynical king makers often end up losing their heads.

  3. Owen McShane Says:
    October 29th, 2008 at 12:07 pm

    “This means that the minor parties in the house still control the legislative outcomes even if they are not sitting at the cabinet table.”

    Quite right Owen. And the major ones, in proportion to their percentage of seats (as decided by voters in an election). Even if the party with the largest number of votes is not represented in the government, they can still have a considerable influence over the course of a parliament. Their large minority of seats should put them in the box seat for building coalitions around specific policies or issues, influencing legislation and holding the government to account. They can even introduce bills and muster the support to get them passed. They will also have a strong influence in committees. In other words they can act like a constructive opposition.

  4. We do not have monolithic government now because we have always had the separation of powers which splits government into the Parliament, the Executive and the Judiciary.
    In the Republican style of government the split between the executive and parliament is complete while in a parliamentary system the division is blurred because parliament selects the PM and the PM forms the government and selects the cabinet members from Parliament.
    IN both systems the cabinet dictates the agenda and generates legislation but only parliament can pass the legislation. This means that the minor parties in the house still control the legislative outcomes even if they are not sitting at the cabinet table.
    WE need to seriously consider these issues but we will not make much progress while the MSM continues to make no distinction between Parliament and Government. They should read Montesquieu.

  5. kahikatea Says:
    October 29th, 2008 at 11:02 am

    “They do that in Switzerland. It would be interesting to know how well it works.”

    Yes it would kahikatea. Anybody reading this in Switzerland?

    However, this is very different from the idea being put about that because the is gnats are likely to be the largest minority in parliament they should get to lead a government. The people pushing this meme seem to be suggesting that the smaller parties should offer confidence and supply to the party with the largest number of seats, even if they oppose most of their legislative programme. What you then have is a minority government unable to follow through on its manifesto commitments because it doesn’t have the support of a majority in parliament (ie: of voters).

    Or is it seriously being suggested that smaller parties should abandon their own manifesto commitments, and the preferences of their voters, and support the legislative programme of the largest minority? This dictatorship of the largest minority is the reason why FFP was abandoned in the first place wasn’t it?

  6. Jarvis Pink Says:
    October 29th, 2008 at 10:30 am

    > That’s an interesting point Owen. Your post as a whole suggests that you would like to see the principle of proportionality extended to cabinet and government (something like a rolling “government of national unity”).

    They do that in Switzerland. It would be interesting to know how well it works.

  7. “Do you not think it would be strange to have no member of the party getting the most votes occupying a single seat around the Cabinet table.”

    That’s an interesting point Owen. Your post as a whole suggests that you would like to see the principle of proportionality extended to cabinet and government (something like a rolling “government of national unity”).

    I take it that you would consider it equally strange, unreasonable, and disproportional if no member of a party who got the second largest number of votes was represented around the Cabinet table?

  8. Owen – I don’t usually agree with you but that seems to me to be a pretty decent point. There are no rules at all about how a coalition is formed and what deals can be struck. Can’t imagine any that would make sense at the moment but there are none and minor parties COULD demand more representation in the government than their numbers might suggest.

    The flip side of course, is if a coalition is formed but only the biggest member of the coalition is in cabinet, what good is it to the minor party to join up? I think part of the conundrum relates to the fact that this isn’t a Republic in the US mode, and we don’t expect (nor I suspect, desire) monolithic government and we DO want the minor parties to have a voice that gets heard.

    However, the question you pose in terms of the deals struck to gain a cohesive coalition and their effects on the cabinet, has enough angles to keep me thinking for some time. Maybe someone else can come up with something (besides the unwillingness of the PM to call an early election), that limits the power of the minor party to make more demands than it has members.

    ?

    respectfully
    BJ

  9. This is not a trivial issue.
    We voted for MMP because we wanted to improve the proportionality of Parliament. And Parliament is now much more representative which improves the institution which after all is a House of Representatives.
    However, the Government (Cabinet) is a different and separate institution.
    To make the point imagine we were a Republic in the US mode and were about to elect a President as well as a Parliament. The elected President would then appoint his government (cabinet). The distribution of parties in the Parliament would have no impact on the Government, where the winner takes all.
    What many of us are concerned about is that MMP in a Parliamentary system allows small parties to demand disproportionate representation around the Cabinet table. A party might get 2 seats out of 120 but have both those MPs sitting around a cabinet of twenty MPs.
    Do you not think it would be strange to have no member of the party getting the most votes occupying a single seat around the Cabinet table.
    Do you believe the electorate would find that reasonable and “proportional”?

  10. Right Joy, the wording of referenda is very important, and Jim Anderton highlighted this in his careful answer last night.

    Also of interest is the style of assiging votes, one way to add to the chances of getting rid of MMP would be to split the vote for MMP by offering another choice also, and then have FPP run against the two, with the result decided by a FPP vote, rather than a proportional STV vote.

  11. samian “I suspect that most people do NOT understand the question very well indeed”

    Both are meaningless statements. Where is your proof ?

  12. Yes, indeed. My thoughts also McTap.

    Which leads on to my perennial concern about the wording of petitions and, most especially, referenda.

  13. One News got exactly the response thay we after, and they framed the question to get that response. It is obvious that there is a campaign underway to frame a ‘popular opposition’ to MMP, prior to a potential referendum on the topic.

    Also of note in this regard is the way in which the ‘minor party leaders’ debate was staged last night. – as a very ‘minor’ affair with a strategically lit and located audience of 4! I don’t think it is just Helen Clark and John Key behind the division of ‘minor and major’ party leaders.

    Tweaking public opinion by framing what ‘popular public opinion’ is on an issue, is a powerful way of instigating an agenda through utilising the ‘sheeple effect’ – which is a key social driver.

    This is why we get opinion poles constructed in such a manner in the first place.

    Prepare for a fight to retain MMP, and start early by utilising the sheeple effect in a similar manner – given the resources of the main media networks it will be a hard fight.

    Obviously it it avantageous for lobbists to deal with one party only and this is what will be driving the campaign to get rid of MMP.

  14. It’s unsurprising that ONE News Colmar Brunton poll should find that, when asked ’should the party with the most votes should get to lead the government’, nearly 80 percent of people agree.

    And its unsurprising because of the ambiguity there between plurality and majority. Resolve that ambiguity – e.g. by adding “even though it does not have a majority” – and I think you’ll get far lower agreement.

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