MMP makes every vote count equally

In this week’s Listener, Jon Johansson, sets out a few good reasons why NZ should reconsider before getting rid of MMP or to quote Jon – “putting [our] proud democratic tradition to the test.”

For a start, under MMP more of our voices can be seen and heard in Parliament:

…it is indisputable that MMP has led to a more representative democracy. In our last first-past-the-post (FPP) Parliament, 22% of its members were women and 7% Maori. In 2009, 34% are women and 15% Maori, a sign of progress towards a more inclusive and diverse democracy. Since MMP came in, other ethnic groups have gained representation for the first time.

New Zealand’s demography is rapidly changing with Pasifika and Maori now comprising nearly a third of our under 25-year-olds, and a growing and diverse Asian Kiwi population –it is only fair that we have an electoral system that provides for all New Zealanders to be represented.

Under MMP every vote counts equally, as Jon points out this wasn’t the case back in the day:

The great majority of people over 30 will remember that under FPP our votes were not equal. Only if you voted in a key marginal electorate did your vote significantly influence an electoral outcome … MMP changed all that: our votes are now hugely more equal.

What do you think about the MMP referendum? Or why the Nats are so keen on it?

59 Comments Posted

  1. You make an interesting point about the ‘tail wagging the dog’ with a lower treshhold. I think the best approach would be to retain MMP in broadly its current form but ditch the provision whereby minor parties who have less then 5% are able to drag in MPs on the coattails of a single electorate seat win.

  2. Could you please elaborate on your argument as to why the threshold should be lowered from 5% under the current MMP system to as low as 2.5%? Surely this would result in a proliferation of single-issue, extremist or joke parties (Destiny NZ springs to mind, as does the Bill and Ben Party) which would (arguably) add nothing of value to Parliament and clog up the legislative process.

    One of the current concerns about MMP is that it allows for the ‘tail to wag the dog’, or for minority parties to exert a disproportionate influence over policy-making in terms of their share of the vote. Dropping the threshold would only serve to exacerbate this problem.

    I’d be interested to hear your views on this.

  3. Perhaps it’s a matter of emphasis; the emphasis on providing for children from unsupported births and the lack of any effort to frown on (disincentivise) this (as you wanted the state to frown on smacking) is at odds with any notion peak oilers have about a drasticly shrinking economy as our fossil fuelled servants start to stagger from malnutrition.

  4. Oh, I’ve been paying attention. Perhaps you’ve viewed the message differently. All I can comment on is how it appears to me. And it appears watered down, from the harsh (to most people) reality of what resource depletion means and what sustainability means.

  5. It may not have been the intention but it has been the message.

    No, you either haven’t been paying attention, or have been relying on the media too much.

  6. It may not have been the intention but it has been the message. Now it may be that it is the way to start inching toward change except that it doesn’t seem to be working and I’m not sure we have time for inching.

  7. What I’m getting at is the message that our society, lifestyles and economic system can remain largely unchanged as, for instance, we try to mitigate the worst of climate change.

    That has never been the Green message.

  8. Maybe that’s it. However, I don’t recall Jeanette responding to Pita Sharples’ offer of an all-party grouping on the subject, on the election discussion broadcast, though I may have mis-remembered. I also checked on the wayback machine to see how the web site addressed the issue and it was certainly low key.

    To be fair, even the Maori party lost focus on the issue but I think it should be a central issue in an environmental and sustainability party, along with resource depletion generally.

    It almost seems like the future of the only place that we know humans can live is just another issue, rather than the core issue.

  9. One wonders where you looked, as for instance Jeanette talked about peak oil in dozens of press releases in the years leading up to the 2005 election. The Greens completely supported the idea of a cross party accord as well. Other parties didn’t understand why such was needed of course. Jeanette questioned Labour in the House and Cullen had to admit he didn’t know what the term meant. Of course the media didn’t understand it either, so if that’s what you are relying on, it would explain things.

  10. What I’m getting at is the message that our society, lifestyles and economic system can remain largely unchanged as, for instance, we try to mitigate the worst of climate change. Apart from the likelihood of such a scenario being very low, that watered down message doesn’t seem to be working. So what message would get through to the masses that we need to do things very differently in future?

  11. I’m going on what I found about the various partys’ policies before the 2005 election. It was difficult to discern peak oil being a really big player in Green policies at that time. If it was, the offer by the Maori party would have been seized on by the Greens. If it was a central argument of theirs, it was heavily disguised. In the last couple of years, there has been more prominence.

  12. It is not a watered down message. But if you think it is hard to convince people even when you note that your policy will create jobs, what hope have you of getting any notice at all if all you talk about is the need for change?

  13. You really need to check your facts on this one. The Greens were talking about peak oil long before the Maori Party were a gleam in Tariana’s eye. It has never been a side note, but rather a central argument as to why we need transform to a low carbon, low fossil fuel economy.

  14. But the recognition is in winning a seat. That a party can can only 2% of the vote but win an electorate says much more about that winning candidate than the party, at large. The party obviously have a strong MP, in that case, who can represent the 2.5% vote on his/her own. I can see no justification for giving the rest of the party better representation just because they had one very strong candidate, than another party that won the same share of the national vote but didn’t win an electorate. Indeed, that other party has probably much more evenly spread support in the country.

  15. Well, yes, the greens had mentioned peak oil before the Maori party tried to get an all party discussion going at the 2005 election. However, it never really featured in their policies until later. It is still often a side note.

    I understand that a watered down message is thought to be a better way to get policies implemented but that watered down message seems to have gained no traction so far. Sustainability will never be achieved so long as we think that currently lifestyles and economic systems can carry on for ever.

  16. Oh they understood the logic of it, they just saw it advantaging those supporting parties other than their own. It’s the normal response from those privileged enough to be inside the door to shut it on those still on the outside.

  17. At the moment a party winning an electorate seat gets MMP representation akin to a party reaching 5% – c.8% one seat. What I am suggesting here is effectively simply introducing a 2% threshold for such parties before they get a second seat (rather than the 1.4 to 1.6 it is now).

    A slightly higher 2.5% threshold for other parties (those not winning any electorate seats) seems fair – there should be some recognition of the achievement of winning a seat.

  18. Yes, Greens often see incremental steps as being the only way to make progress. If the only narratives that will be heard in a recession include job creation, then why not trumpet that aspect of the sustainable infrastructure investment that we push for anyway?

    And for the record, the Greens were on about peak oil long before any other party could bring themselves to even utter the words.

  19. There are very different views about where the world is going but the dominant one is that economic growth must be encouraged. Peak oil was acknowledged by both Helen Clark and Don Brash when they were leaders of their respective parties. The greens eventually agreed and the Maori party wanted an all party dialogue on the issue. And yet there has been no real push to recognise this imminent limit (one limit of many), although the Maori party still occasionally raise it. Environmental and resource limits of all kinds are the most important problems we face today and yet we are still bombarded by images of economic growth and consumerism. Even the greens try to ensure that economic growth is dealt with in their “radical” plans (look at how many jobs can be created by X and see how we can be world leaders in Y).

    In the face of the dominant culture of consumer-lead growth, don’t expect a real change anytime soon.

    I don’t know if MMP is inhibiting real change but I think adversarial politics probably is, because neither major party wants to take an agreed long term view. Heck, do we have any long term issues that both parties agree on, apart from no nukes ever?

    I don’t know how we get real change when the dominant culture of our time is so deeply ingrained in all of us. Look at the US. I know people who had deep feelings about how good the change in president would be. So far, it’s hard to tell the difference, other than the lack of bloopers.

  20. SPC said:

    > There are improvements

    > 2. Change the rules applying to parties receiving under 5% of the vote. This by bringing some gradualism into the process of seat allocation.

    > That is those parties failing to qualify for equal treatment by gaining 5% of the vote receive a lower rate of seats per votes.

    > 2.5% of the vote 1 seat (effectively a 2.5% threshold)
    > 3% of the vote 2 seats
    > 3.5% of the vote 3 seats
    > 4% of the vote 4 seats
    > 4.5% of the vote 5 seats
    > 5.0% of the vote 6 seats.

    In 2000, I smade a submission to the MMP review select committee, suggesting something like that (mine had a mathematical formula that gave a different but similar effect).

    I don’t think many of the MPs understood the logic of it, and I have since concluded that I probably won’t convince many other people of it either. But I still think it has some merit.

  21. Why set the threshold lower for a party that wins an electorate? Why not simply ensure that the number of MPs for a party is proportional to the national vote for that party, including electorate MPs? In principle this could lead to distortions in odd situations though I doubt, in practice, that the distortions would be much. So, in your scheme, a party that wins 2.5% of the vote would get one seat. If they win an electorate, they get just that MP. If they will two electorates but only 2.5% of the vote then there would be an overhang of 1 MP, but it’s probably not likely to happen.

  22. I don’t see why it’s not fair to complain about MMP in that way. MMP is a system people put in place to try to improve the political voting system; MMP isn’t an entity in itself, so it can’t try to do anything. Consequently, it’s fair to complain that it doesn’t produce a truly representative government, because the complaint is directed at those who can change the system, including us.

    Yes, it’s likely that the government will represent a majority, which is an improvement over FPP, but that isn’t guaranteed (because of the distortion associated with parties that get less than 5% of the vote and either do or don’t win an electorate seat). Most of all, though, it doesn’t deliver a truly representative government.

  23. We need a balance between creating an ‘establishment’ which resists change and political short termism.

    Which group of people have the most vested interest in managing the country sustainably, making the tough decisions now to mitigate the effects of climate change, peak oil etc.

    A second house – however constituted, can be responsible for taking the long view.

    However any system isn’t going to work very well during a time when there are very different views on the way the world is going. for some time the ‘majority’ will stick to the status quo until events make it clear that change is required. at that point a swing in votes can give a single party enough power to push through real necessary change. FPP assists this. we saw Labour introduce the welfare state in the UK after WW2 and Thatcher embrace um Thatcherism, in the 80s.

    Its possible that MPP could act as an anchor in a time when urgent change is really needed.

  24. As a rule, the people with money don’t want to listen to the people who don’t have it. They want to run things and that is just how it is. Labour, despite its plebian origins, is a party of the “haves”, and National is a party of the “have-mores”. Neither listen to ordinary people very well.

    Money however, is guaranteed a hearing.

    Our democracy is only as honest as the people we elect. People are however, too easily corrupted by money and power to be left in place as long as we leave them there. Most of the people in parliament are well past their use-by date. This suits business, but for representative democracy it is bad news.

    Make it entirely list based and proportional, with no threshold, and give them term limits. Perhaps not as parliamentarians but in terms of ministerial power. PM for 6 years? Need a new PM… even if the member remains elected to parliament, he/she has to step down and sit on the back benches, and let someone else on his/her party’s list take the hot-seat.

    The system could use some checks and balances in government too, I am surprised that the legislature is not bi-cameral with a Maori “House of Lords”. THAT would be a treaty-supplanting possibility.


  25. He might have something Mark. So far, nothing of substance. Seems a ‘green’ is a middle of the road kind of creature that doesn’t involve itself in politics – just wants to be happy. Kinda like a mole. Or potential road-kill.

  26. Jh – are you up for expanding on your views of what it means to be ‘green’? I’m ready and waiting! After all this time, telling us we’re not green, now’s your opportunity to spell out exactly what it is that we’re not. I’m all ears!

  27. Democracy isn’t improved all that much by MMP as water has a way of finding it’s own level. One problem is the combo of ideas that come with a party representing the dominant groups interests more than clear principle (in the case of the “green” party). What is needed is better presentation of ideas and clearer basic principles: the Greens are an environmental and social justice and left-wing party.

  28. “National ignored the referrendum and they ignored the Commission of Enquiry Tony.

    They’re an ignorant government.”

    2009 Citizens Initiated Referendum Final Result


    of Votes Received

    of Total Valid Votes
    For the response


    11.98 %
    For the response


    Informal votes*


    Total valid votes




  29. There are improvements

    1. Let preferential voting be used in the electorate seats – so any directly elected MP gets 50% favour in the seat.

    2. Change the rules applying to parties receiving under 5% of the vote. This by bringing some gradualism into the process of seat allocation.

    That is those parties failing to qualify for equal treatment by gaining 5% of the vote receive a lower rate of seats per votes.

    2.5% of the vote 1 seat (effectively a 2.5% threshold)
    3% of the vote 2 seats
    3.5% of the vote 3 seats
    4% of the vote 4 seats
    4.5% of the vote 5 seats
    5.0% of the vote 6 seats.

    Parties with an electorate MP and gaining less than 5% of the vote

    2% of the vote 2 seats (a 2% of the vote threshold)
    2.75% of the vote 3 seats
    3.5% of the vote 4 seats
    4.25% of the vote 5 seats
    5.0% of the vote 6 seats

    The MMP ideal would have 100 electorate MP’s and 50 list MP’s.

    The ultimate compromise between FPP (preferential voting?) and MMP is “SM” over two houses of parliament one with 100 electorate MP’s and one with 100 list MP’s.

  30. Some countries have other ways of doing it.

    In The Netherlands, they have double-plurality governments, which means that the two highest-polling parties form a coalition government together. If that’s not enough for a majority, they bring in the third highest-polling party. If we introduced this in New Zealand, Labour and National would probably cease to be way bigger than all the other parties, because they would form a gopvernment, which would give other parties oxygen as the main opposition parties. In The Netherlands, I think it has led to them usually having 4 main parties.

    In Switzerland, all the parties in parliament form a coalition government together. This means they have had the same 4-party coalition government, and no opposition, for decades.

  31. MMP can be improved, but it is not fair to complain that it doesn’t produce a truly representative govt, as it neither tries or is capable of doing this. It can only make the Parliament more truly representative, meaning that the govt will at least represent a real majority.

  32. Well, if you’re voting ACT, you’re voting for a National government. There’s no other option and everyone knows it.

  33. How about referendums on
    1. whether NZ should commit to 40% reduction in GHG by 2020 and 10 by 10.
    2. whether NZ should invest heavily in renewable energy, food security, and a self sufficient economy.

    Good referendum ideas though I can’t see either having much effect. In a country that worships economic growth (just like other countries) and the global marketplace, neither National nor Labour are even remotely likely to do what’s needed to move to sustainability. Remember Helen Clark’s “vision” of the first sustainable society? It was promptly followed by a budget that targeted economic growth, with billions poured into roads and other initiatives.

    If MMP can deliver true (and representative) leadership, that would be great but politicians are not wired to think further ahead than 3 years (6, if you’re lucky). With that kind of horizon, we can’t get strategies that will provide a liveable country for our children.

  34. I’m not convinced that everyone’s vote has equal weight, under MMP or under the previous system. There are definite distortions here. The 30-odd percent of voters who voted Labour, for example, has no direct say in government, whilst the miniscule proportion that voted for ACT has a much bigger say in government.

    Any proportional system would be better than first past the post but I’m not convinced that MMP cannot be improved on for a truly representative government and a feeling that your vote counts.

    As for referendums, I don’t think this government likes taking account of the wishes of the people. The last referendum we had garnered well over 80% for one view and got promptly ignored.


  35. Interesting discussion. avowkind raises some very interesting points – particularly around concentration of power. We are about to see a similar concentration of power as Auckland becomes a Super(sic) City!!!

  36. plus the three years just increases the urgency with which each new government seeks to cram its guff down our throats. note the abuses of urgency this government committed in its first 100 days.

  37. It seems to me you Greens are too scared to give the power to choose the Country’s Government back to the Voters

    you seem to like the idea of elections only if the elected members get to choose government

    Its as if you cant trust the voters to come up with the proper result

    Tyranny of the majority and all that

  38. you can always phone up people and ask them their opinion, and they will feel obliged to give you one. when an issue is generally unregarded and not in the news you will get responses that float around. The poll shows that a number of people haven’t thought about it.

    That was my point – there is no great pressure from the public for a change. On the other hand recently thousands of people have got out and protested or petitioned on a wide variety of subjects – yet the govt is quite happy to ignore this.

  39. The National Party are the big business party. They’ve shown this repeatedly this term – the most recent example being the ETS amendments.

    If you want to know what National want, ask yourself what big business want.

    Big business don’t like MMP because at the same time as making our democracy more representative, it slows down and complicates the legislative process making it harder for them to get their way.

    It’s worth noting here that the National Party are not corrupt. They really think that what is best for big business is best for New Zealand. It just turns out this is a misguided view most of the time. Big business want what is best for themselves, even if it means making the rest of us worse off.

  40. No, you are right, very few checks and balances here. It was often said NZ elected a dictatorship every three years under FPP. That’s why any change away from MMP wouldn’t even begin to be acceptable unless this much larger issue was addressed at the same time. That this is unlikely to be the case is just another reason to stick with MMP.

  41. correct me if I am wrong (i’ve only been here 4 years) but NZ doesn’t appear to have much in the way of checks and balances on power. No constitution, No second house. no separate senate/executive, and the courts are getting higher barriers to entry.

    It seems to me that list members, the ability of minority parties to be elected, and perhaps the maori roll are the only defense we have against the government going significantly beyond the wishes of the populace. – that plus only 3 years to wait between elections.

    It does concern me that when parties get elected they go around saying as how they have a mandate for every detail of their election promises when the reality is that they may have been elected on one or two key issues, or even just because the electorate were tired of the last lot.

    Who in the country feels that MMP is not working and are pushing for it to be changed? Considering all the popular movements that people are speaking loud and clear on – climate change, social justice, local democracy, smacking, even 1080. are we seeing 100s of blogs/tweets/op ed pieces saying MMP is failing us and should be changed? No.
    If not the people, then the motivation is coming from the politicians. A party interested in ensuring it retains power may well consider rigging the system in its favour. especially when they have enough of a majority in parliament to push through bills without needing to have consensus agreements.

    How about referendums on
    1. whether NZ should commit to 40% reduction in GHG by 2020 and 10 by 10.
    2. whether NZ should invest heavily in renewable energy, food security, and a self sufficient economy.

  42. In terms of whether it is a power, grab, see
    this article on the process. From this, it is clear National wants voters to choose to give up MMP before deciding what to replace it with. This means that voters might want to change from MMP because they have been promised it was to something better, but then be landed with something worse.

    It is hard to find a straight answer out of National about what there hidden agenda is, but they do seem to favour the supplementary member system. I have seen several paraphrases in the media saying John Key favours supplementary member (but I haven’t found a direct quote yet). Richard Worth, however, gave away National’s true agenda back in 2006.

  43. One sign of National’s intentions will be shown in who they have draft the questions and the overall process. There are to be two referenda and what order questions are asked and what they say can drive very different outcomes. Hopefully an independent body such as the Electoral Commission will be given responsibility for these issues so that the Nat’s can’t be accused of tampering to achieve a certain outcome.

  44. Good question. I’ve been trying to figure it out, myself.

    My best read on it was that the state of the Crown accounts—which were starting to look seriously unhealthy in the 20–30 year range—trumped any fiscal-stimulus-of-tax-cuts considerations.

  45. I don’t understand National’s reasoning on this.

    If tax cuts are a good idea (if!), wouldn’t a recession be even more reason to do them? Get consumers (because that’s all we are?) spending their extra money, etc

    Are they saying that tax cuts are, overall, a bad thing that can only be stomached when times are good?

    Having said that, I think they made the right decision there, it’s just that it doesn’t fit their philosophy, or whatever it is, all that well.

  46. Nowhere has National “endorsed” Supplementary Member. John Key mentioned it, apparently because he thinks it superior to FPP, and he wanted to reassure people that the referendum wouldn’t necessarily be “about MMP vs FPP.”

    So far as talk of the major parties being “authoritarian”, whatevs. By all means, make that argument: it will sharpen thinking on all sides, which is good.

    But it’s a long way from there to this referendum is a naked power grab!. We just don’t have enough details about the proposed referendum(s) yet to make that sort of judgement. In my view, it all seems to be more of a shambles than a power grab.

  47. Rimu, that’s a cheap shot. Granted, it hits its mark, but it’s a cheap shot nonetheless. I very much doubt that National was “happy” to forego the second round of tax cuts.

    They made a campaign promise under one set of economic forecasts; by the time of the 2009 Budget, the forecasts had deteriorated by some distance.

    Should the Nats have seen that coming? Maybe.

    Does the fact they didn’t somehow mean they were campaigning dishonestly when they assumed contemporary Treasury forecasts were any good? I don’t buy it, but you’re free to try selling it to the voters.

  48. I think there is a bit more to it than that, especially given the process that National are pushing for (voters don’t get to decide what replaces MMP before they decide to give it up… National hopes voters they will give up MMP for some vague idea they will get ‘something better’, and then let the voters actually be landed with FPP or SM). Take this along with National’s public endorsement of the supplementary member system (which is not fully proportional like MMP, as the party vote affects the number of list seats, not the total number of seats, and so parties which can win electorate seats get more than their fair share of the total seats).

    Authoritarian parties like National and Labour want to have absolute control of the country so they can do things voters don’t like, such as selling off assets, hiking their own income, or introducing draconian measures and using the police to violate people’s rights. That is why National is pushing for an unfair referendum process, and for the supplementary member system. It is also why Labour is pushing to increase the number of electorate seats (a move which would have given them a four seat overhang in 2002, and 45% of the seats in parliament for only 41% of the party vote).

  49. The Nats are happy to break *major* campaign promises like tax cuts, but not some random throwaway comment by a long-gone ex-leader?

  50. It’s not so much that I think the Nats are keen on it than that Jenny Shipley painted them into a corner when she first promised a referendum.

    For the record, I think it was fair enough at that point that electors be given an opportunity to evaluate the MMP experiment in New Zealand. (Hell, I think it’s still fair enough for voters to be given this opportunity, even though I’m still in favour of MMP.)

    Anyway, a referendum was sorta-promised then, but National lost. Three times in a row. During this time, a referendum on MMP was an easy promise to make: not particularly expensive, not particularly insane, and unlikely to alienate voters.

    Then, National won an election. This put them in the dog’s dilemma: what do you do when you’ve actually caught the car you’ve been chasing for years? Well, having promised a referendum four campaigns in a row, it would be dishonest not to run one. So it’s a bit of a no-brainer from the Nats’ point of view: run a referendum.

  51. Whether or not different groups in society (women, maori or whoever) get represented or not is not the primary function of the MMP electoral system. Its primary function is to make everyones vote count equally. It achieves this fairly well (although if your preferred party gets less than 5% of the vote you will not be represented unless the party also wins an electorate seat).

    Under the old FPP system National was able to form the government even when it got less votes than Labour (for example in 1978 and 1981). The reverse could also of happened, although I’m not sure if it ever did (you can browse the FPP election results here: I find it hard to see how anyone could defend the non-proportionality of FPP as being fair.

    With regards the referendum, wasn’t it always planned to have one after three MMP elections? My memory may be wrong, but I seem to recall this was the case. I actually think a referendum would not be a bad thing (provided it isn’t rigged to give the results particular politicians want); people should get to vote for the system they want. If they want FPP, well let them have it.

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