MoU a poll punt?

Labour and Greens have described their Memorandum of Understanding as being a game changer, but is it more of a punt on being a poll changer?

Labour has been fading in party polls for years, and it’s party vote has been sliding for five successive elections:

  • 2002: 41.26%
  • 2005: 39.10%
  • 2008: 33.99%
  • 2011: 27.28%
  • 2014: 25.13%

Greens rose as Labour fell, but seem to have levelled off – they seem to have hit a Green ceiling.


  • 2002: 7.00%
  • 2005: 4.66%
  • 2008: 6.72%
  • 2011: 11.06%
  • 2014: 10.70%


In the MoU launch yesterday Metiria talked about it being positive for polling, and that was repeated by James Shaw on Breakfast this morning: “when Labour and Greens cooperate both of our polls go up”.

Launching the symbolic MoU this far out from an election seems aimed, initially at least, at pushing their polls up.

This is also the line Labour staffer/consultant Rob Salmond is spinning too, in a post at Public Address – Labour and the Greens in a tree…

At present, the right is polling around 48%, the left around 40%, and New Zealand First has around 10%. Since the last election the left is rising while the right is falling. We’re right at the bottom of the range where the right can be re-elected on its own. With any further poll movement over the next 15 months, it will be not be clear on election night 2017 who the Prime Minister will be. 

The progressive left is now back in the game.

That makes it the right time for the left to cooperate, with the aim of consolidating the current positive trend and making the opinion change faster.

Like the Green leaders Salmond thinks that the symbol of cooperation will push this trend.

There’s a stream of academic research about this, most prominent in Sona Golder’s (2006) book The Logic of Pre-Electoral Coalition Formation. That research provides evidence that parties who cooperate before an election, rather than campaign completely independently, ultimately are more likely to win government. That’s a pretty good reason to formalize things.

Except that we are not heading into an election campaign, that’s a year away. Is there any research on mid-term cooperation?

…the academic research suggests moves to provide voters with more certainty and more unity in a potential governing coalition tends to get rewarded at the polls.

Labour have tried several political moves already this year to try and turn around their polling. Without any obvious effect.

So they appear to be trying a different stunt at an unusual time of the electoral cycle.

Sometimes, and most strongly, that’s a pre-electoral coalition.

But an MOU achieves at least some of the same goals  as a coalition agreement, and so we’d expect at least some of the same electoral rewards.

Labour seem to be punting on a less strong MoU that is not pre-electoral “so we’d expect at least some of the same electoral rewards”.

This seems to be quite a gamble. Izogi at Public Address points out:

Trying to extrapolate the future based on a chart like this, which shows the declared effect happening once before, is dodgy at best.

Salmond has tripped over his data analysis and political strategy before.

If this doesn’t improve the polls for both Labour and the Greens what then?

What if the polls deteriorate further? Ditch the MoU and try something else? Ripping up the agreement will be easy, but it will be a lot more difficult undoing the symbolism of a Labour-Green combo.

It will take several months to see what effect the MoU has on the polls (complicated by other factors that could affect polls).

The Greens have long wanted stronger more open cooperation between themselves and Labour, but until now Labour have not been willing.

Labour needs their polls to improve. Andrew Little needs his polls to improve. Otherwise they will be increasingly written off as a credible major party – the MoU is already seen as an admission by Labour that they are now one of several lesser parties.

Greens can probably survive unscathed if this doesn’t work. But it looks to be a big throw of the dice for Labour, and a play that now used can’t be used again in the actual election campaign next year.

The MoU looks like a big punt on the polls for Labour.

Leave a comment


  1. alloytoo

     /  1st June 2016

    The problem with the MOU is that it provides only one guarantee:

    Elect Labour-Greens and get Grant Robertson as finance minister and by extension higher taxes.

  2. Gezza

     /  1st June 2016

    The way I look at it, from watching little bits of Question Time & occasional debates recently, it’s essentially an alliance of the orangutans & the gibbons against the baboons, the bonobos, a pygmy marmoset & a mandrill, with the chimps standing to possibly get some electoral gains from the move. 😎

  3. Iceberg

     /  1st June 2016

    Maybe Labour are thinking they can rob the Green election kitty? They sure as hell have completely lost any donations from now on.

    • Gezza

       /  1st June 2016

      Probably already getting requests from supporters asking for their money back.

  4. The game changer if they are serious about being progressive would be to say we won’t work with Winston , that would also fulfil Salmonds logic adapted from Golder’s book. Somehow I doubt it though….

  5. Alan Wilkinson

     /  1st June 2016

    I suspect Sona Golder never factored in Winston and Rob Salmond overlooked that grinning elephant in the room.


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