Polarisation versus centrism (or can we have both?)

Is political polarisation increasing? Is ‘centrism’ fading away? Is centrism actually a thing?

From Reddit: With the decline of Centrism in global politics, do you see it happening in NZ?

There has a been a trend in the last 2 decade in global politics, in the US, UK Europe etc, we have seen the rise of centrism in politics, New Democrats with Clinton and Obama and New Labour with Tony Blair in UK. Nowadays politics is much more partisan with Democrats going further left and Labour also going left while at the same time the decline of moderates in US and Liberal Democrats decline.

Is politics becoming much more partisan? Or is partisan politics a minority thing that is getting more attention? Controversial politics makes for more dramatic headlines and is more click baity.

Donald Trump certainly drives division as a tactic, but how non-centrist is he?

While their is division in the UK over the Brexit debacle is that because of the strength of partisan politics? Both Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn look like weak leaders. There is as much division within their parties as their is between them.  This is more poor politics and poor politicians on both sides rather than a rise in partisanship.

Could we see the same thing in NZ, where NZF along with United Future, both centrist parties decline, with Labour/Greens and National/ACT moving further apart?

IS NZ First really a ‘centrist’ party?  Aren’t they more populist? Their last election position on Immigration was right wing-ish, but what they have supported on immigration is the opposite of that, but very similar to what National did and what Labour are doing.

NZ First already declined, dropping out of Parliament in 2008, but came back in 2011 and rose to power in 2017. It is too soon to write them off.

It’s hard to know where National will position themselves under Simon Bridges. Some of Bridges’ policy positions, like on drug law reform and abortion, may be right-ish, but they are unpopular.

Jacinda Ardern has talked up being a progressive and transformative government, but has not actually proven that much yet. Economically the government has been cautious, following much the same line of the last National government.


Short answer…yes, I see growing polarization in NZ politics which I believe will only get worse in the future. I also could easily see the proposition you put forward happening and I actually believe its a probability at this stage and certainly at the next election.

Signs of polarization in social media does not mean that the general voting population is polarising. I think that most people are probably more disinterested than supporting strong positions either way.


Yes, in fact it is already happening. United Future has already declined into oblivion, and I see NZ First following them in short order as they have lost a bunch of supporters since the election and again more recently. I would say there is room for another party on the centre/right aiming at the market sector NZ First and the Conservatives formerly shared between them.

United Future faded away, but so is ACT, so did Jim Anderton’;s Progressive Party, so has the Mana Party, and the Conservative Party. Green support has over halved. All small parties have struggled to survive, no matter where they are in the political spectrum.


There will always be room for populism in NZ but the nature of our political system is that it drives centrism to a degree.

The reality is that parties (by and large) need the centre vote as that is largely where the swing vote occurs. It drives moderate politics to a degree and has brought both our centre left and centre right parties together.

Even populist parties such as NZ First have to largely ditch their manifesto when in power as the majority party would be severely damaged by any coalition arrangement if that manifesto was fully recognised.

So there will always be a degree of populism but by and large NZ is centrist and moderate and our politics recognise this.

This probably reflects two things.

Most Kiwis are fairly moderate (as opposed to centrist) in their political preferences. There are a number of bell curves like this:

And MMP tends to moderate more than polarise, with National and Labour fighting over a fairly large swing vote in the centre.


Wait until you hear about the policies of Michael Joseph Savage. Labour are struggling to return to the position on the political spectrum they held from 1916-1983.

Ardern has tried to present herself as a great shift leader, but she is yet to deliver.

The idea that neo-liberal market capitalism with low regulation and free movement of capital is centrism is laughable. What you are seeing when you see Labour ‘shifting to the left’ is in fact Labour shifting to the centre and providing an actual centrist alternative to right wing orthodoxy.

The small noisy left are growing in dismay at the lack of action from Labour and even the Greens. The small noisy right are probably always dismayed and always will be.

The extremes are minorities.

Image result for bell curve politics

(That’s from The Political Typologies of American Educators but is indicative of minority extremes).

One of New Zealand’s most polarising politicians has been Winston Peters, but that’s only when in Opposition. He is currently in Government, and is mostly quite non-controversial.

I don’t think we have much of a problem with polarisation here. We have a much bigger problem with political apathy (if that is actually a problem).

(This is not original) I tried to start up an Apathy Party, but no one was interested.

Leave a comment


  1. Duker

     /  18th January 2019

    Following the same line as the last government ?
    Yes paying a extra power payment to all those on a benefit and not income tested – that was something the last government would have done ?
    Policy is hard very hard , thats why the real grunt on manaagement of schools , maybe NCEA as well, Tax reform etc TAKES TIME. The direction of road funding has taken a sharp turn away. Government intervention in the new housing market , especially the low cost sector is completely different from the last government.
    I cant believe some who follows politics could say such a ridiculous thing as ‘following the same line as last government’

    • David

       /  18th January 2019

      The last government raised benefit levels for the first time in 43 years and Labour gave them a winter power payment which is the point that there is little difference policy wise.
      So far no changes to the housing market and lets see what happens with schools but I predict they will still be state funded with a centralized curriculum and teachers employed by the ministry..same as the last crowd and the one before that.

      • Duker

         /  18th January 2019

        For one category of benefit, those with families.
        And other payments were reduced
        ‘Because those families will be receiving more, those in state housing will pay an extra $6.25 a week, because their rent is set at 25 percent of their income, and those in private rentals will receive $4 less in their accommodation allowance.”

        Other stricter obligations cut in-
        “Those on Sole Parent Support, or people whose partner is on a Jobseeker Benefit will have to be available for work when their youngest child turns three; at the moment it’s when the youngest child turns five.
        – All beneficiaries with part-time work obligations will now be expected to find work for an average of 20 hours a week, up from the current requirement of 15 hours a week.
        Radio NZ

        As for changing completely the role of the state. No one has read labours election policy, they arent a fringe far left group.

        But involving the state directly and on a large scale on the provision of new housing for home buyers is a big change of direction . I guess PG not being a buyer at the low end would notice that. Yes it was a slow ramp up , but neither did nationals motorways happen overnight, we are still building some promised ‘within their 9 years’

  2. David

     /  18th January 2019

    Free market capitalism with a caring shade to it and curbing of excesses has proved remarkably sustainable and succesful.
    Ardern like Key and Clark dont want to mess too much with it because its working, Ardern is a bit more distracted than the others and has a woeful cabinet but I still see that as a positive. Hootton used to be furious at Key not using his popularity to do this that and the next thing and Ardern will face similar from the fringes (Hootton is not fringe IMHO).
    Politics is getting more partisan but the parties are much closer and in many cases flipped over. Trump is more Democrat in a lot of areas and May is more Labour in some, its been an unusual time but we seem to have figured the economic settings that allow sustained growth, ability to care for the environment and disadvantaged groups while still developing an economic system that gives us loads of progress.

  3. david in aus

     /  18th January 2019

    There is a difference between grouping for studying and actual individuals. Individuals have varying views from both sides of the ‘political spectrum’. Some ideas are contradictory and inconsistent but people have them. This is the case for the vast majority of people.

    There are tribal ideologues on the extremes that are easier to categorize. These people have invested their Identity in political causes, they have outsourced their thinking to political gurus and leaders- the bandwagon. It is these extremists that drive polarization, they have too much invested to compromise or do not socially interact with people of different views to alter their thinking.

    They keep followers in line with call-out culture. They gain social status points by being the first alert everyone of their virtuousness.

    • Blazer

       /  18th January 2019

      so after that dissertation neither you nor me are any the wiser in what you are trying to…say!Well done.

    • PartisanZ

       /  18th January 2019

      @david in aus – “It is these extremists that drive polarization, they have too much invested to compromise or do not socially interact with people of different views to alter their thinking.”

      Alter their thinking to what? To your way of thinking?

      Presumably you mean “these extremists” of both persuasions, so-called ‘Left’ and ‘Right’?

      New Conservative is gaining ground I notice. Letters to the editor from disaffected NZFirst ‘Right Brigade’ stalwarts are now espousing NewCon’s wonderments … although not their policies …

      They clearly have three or four new members who I could name but won’t … One actually asked in a letter whether NewCon had a policy on dangerous and menacing dog breeds …

      Seems a kinda roundabout way of asking the Party? But that’s not the point. The point is to saturate Letters to the Editor with NewCon’s name …

  4. Gezza

     /  18th January 2019

    I pretty much see most of parties in coalition running a centrist line of policies, whatever they say their policies are on the hustings.

    There doesn’t seem much enthusiasm among parliamentarians in the major OR minor parties for taking too much of a lurch to the left or the right on e in power; the electorate as a whole I think now likes incremental rather than sudden change.

    While there are some people at the bottom end of society who always want or need more from the government than they’re getting now, & others at the top end who continually complain about the tax they pay & want to give them less, or certainly no more than what they see themselves forking out for the indolent & irresponsible now, most people from about 40 onwards that I know seem to be doing ok & to be generally happy with their lot.

    Housing costs are a big downer for everyone who wants to buy a home & doesn’t have one. I didn’t like renting, waste of my hard-earned money going to enrich someone else. My wife & I got a sole mortgage & bought (had built) a cheapish basic house with a jointly saved 20% deposit within 18 months of getting married in 1980. State Advances / Housing Corp loan, which was cheaper than banks until the bastards started charging high market rates.

    Added to it when we’d saved enuf to pay cash for the additions.

    What I find intriguing these days is how little engaged so many young people are with politics. As teens & first time voters – and thereafter – we were passionately interested in politics & altho I was tribally Labour early on, like most of my friends, I did used to read all the Party Manifestos issued during election campaigns.

    But from Clark onwards there was never to my mind really all that big a change in government’s direction or policies.

    I think Labour stand a good chance of re-election at the moment if they don’t go for major disruptions or radical new, risky directions. Key to it though will be no one paying more tax I think. Including more levies (#moretaxes).

  5. PartisanZ

     /  18th January 2019

    Since polarization is rampant all across the Centre … It’s kind of a pointless topic …

    Polarization is how politics works. Centrism is merely an aspect of politics.

  1. Polarisation versus centrism (or can we have both?) — Your NZ – NZ Conservative Coalition

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