Returning to first-past-the-post mentality?

Smaller political parties are struggling to survive. Last election the Maori party and United Future dropped out of Parliament, having been a part of the previous government. Greens also had a major scare but managed to sneak in again.

Polls and public sentiment indicate that NZ First are in trouble of not lasting beyond this term. The first time they were in government (1996-1999) it turned to custard in the first term. The second time they were in government (2005-2008) they were kicked out of parliament by voters. They are currently consistently polling well under the threshold.

Rob Mitchell (Stuff): It’s tough at the TOP – no room for the new guys

We have also seen a return to a first-past-the-post mentality, says Massey University associate professor Grant Duncan.

“2002 was the high point for the minor parties,” he says, “but it’s going in the other direction, back to the two-party dominated system.”

That means a lot of smaller but still significant voices are being drowned out. As is diversity.

“The nature of the system does make it difficult for a new party to get over that threshold. And in doing so, if you take the Conservative Party for example, a lot of that was voters who would otherwise have voted for National or possibly for NZ First.”

Since the first MMP election, the only parties to succeed, outside of National and Labour, have been those created or led by sitting MPs; parties headed by political newbies have thrashed in vain against the 5 per cent party vote threshold.

The Electoral Commission has recommended reducing that to 4 per cent; Justice Minister Andrew Little will seek the public’s recommendation in a referendum at next year’s election.

The threshold won’t change for next year’s election. Is it a factor in excluding smaller parties from making it into Parliament? Yes. It is not only a high hurdle for any new party, it deters voters from backing new parties due to the unlikelihood they will make 5%.

Does the demise of small parties indicate that voters prefer a two party system?  I doubt that very much. Under MMP voters have always chosen a multi party government one way or another.

It may be that National and Labour dominate next election, and it’s possible one or the other could form a government on their own. But if that doesn’t work out well voters could easily swing back to smaller parties – if there are any credible parties around to pick up support.

Parties like TOP and the Sustainability Party may contest the next election. It is unlikely they will get into Parliament then, but it could lay the groundwork for a realistic bid in 2023, especially if the threshold is lowered.

The problem with lowering the threshold is that most voters prefer larger parties, so seem to have no interest in making things fairer for smaller parties.

1 News/Colmar Brunton have just polled on the threshold:

  • Too high 12%
  • Too low 13%
  • About right 64%

If there’s a referendum on it that could result in a ‘tyranny of the majority’ decision, where large and existing party voters choose to keep shutting out new parties from serious contention.

I don’t think this is necessarily ‘first-past-the-post’ mentality. It is more like people wanting their preferred party to have all the power.

Leave a comment


  1. Gerrit

     /  19th February 2019

    Not just the people wanting their preferred party to be the sole governing representation, the National and Labour parties themselves would as well.

    Both National and Labour whilst on the treasury benches, have been hamstrung, in regards bringing in the legislation to suit their agenda’s, by smaller parties.

    Neither will be keen to see the threshold dropped to 4%.

    Labour certainly have placed MMP in a bad light this parliamentary term with their subservience to NZFirst.

    Even a very strong third party like the Liberal Democrats in the UK is not making any inroads in breaking the duopoly between the Conservatives and Labour parties there.

    So not much hope for any small New Zealand political party.

    • Mother

       /  19th February 2019

      I think that our inability to make MMP work for good is a reflection of all our attitudes. There’s a lot of frustration out there simmering.

      I think that it’s possible to clean up social media to really encourage free speech and critical/intelligent thought. Many youth are drawn to social media. More mature folk can lead by example.

      (Being cheeky now YourNZ) – I’m not an evangelist. I made that clear. I’m not here to try to convince others to give their lives over to Jesus Christ – but imagine if a person with loving and helpful evangelistic God sent talent decided to visit YourNZ?

      I came to this site for individual free speech, to aid my healing from church abuse. I’m asking people to use a political mindset to question the use of Christianity, or not, as a way forward in Aotearoa, considering that we have not achieved a secular society and never will.

      • Blazer

         /  19th February 2019

        The origins of religious belief are an interesting anthropological and evolutionary psychology field.

        Early religion (spiritual belief) did not involve any kind of morality or right and wrong.

        Hunter gatherers were just looking for ways to explain good and bad luck and they invented spirits that could affect our lives, in order to explain good and bad events.

        Our brains are specifically evolved around trying to figure out causality in relation to the behaviour of our peers and we naturally impute causality to agency and the model of agency that our brains are evolved to think about is the agency of other humans.

        So early humans created imaginary spirits that have human qualities (anger, desire, jealousy ect.) and then imagined these spirits to reside in trees and rivers.

        These spirits could be propitiated to bring about good luck (or bad luck on our enemies).

        Later when civilization began to arise humans lived in larger communities and crime began to be a problem (hunter gatherer tribes do not have these problems as the communities are too small).

        Only then did more organised large scale religions start to assume responsibility for moral behaviour by telling people they had to behave in certain ways in order to receive the benefits of good will from the gods’

    • Duker

       /  19th February 2019

      2012 MMP review labour supported 4% threshold
      and labour supported this MMP review

      4% was of course in the Original MMP Royal Comssion recommendations.

      Every election the quantum of votes to get 5% gets ever higher , 4% now is nearer the quantum of votes for the 5% threshold in 1996.
      I think it should be a portion of votes that gets 4-5 seats as that allows a small party ‘workability’ in parliament.

  2. Zedd

     /  19th February 2019

    I does seem that the 5% is too high & is not so much about ‘keeping the crazies out’ BUT it is effectively stopping any new parties getting in: TOP, Conserv. (C Craig) & even ALCP (>20 years trying).

    It could even see the number drop back to 3-4; Lab. Natl. Grn, NZF (?) Act (deal in Epsom ??)

    I have said a few times.. NZ needs to be brave & drop it to 2%, this will still present a reasonable barrier to ‘the crazies’ BUT then we will see a better MMP parliament; greater representation.. not just ‘Left v Right ‘ (FPP thinking) :/ 🙂

    • Gerrit

       /  19th February 2019

      The other side of the coin so to speak would be a moribund parliament where nothing will be able to be done due to one small 2% party vetoing any proposed legislation. Now with say 3 or 4, 2% parties in the representative some horse trading might occur to negate this.

      We just need to be careful it does not end up like an Italian opera with elections every 6 months.

      Now as adults we should be able to compromise and act with reciprocity in a dickering situation.

      But parliament is not full of adults.

      I would want to see maximum terms anyone can be in parliament reduced to 3. That means all the political parties would always have a bunch of fresh thinking adults to run the parliament.

      Last thing we want is 2% parties run by perpetual parliamentarians like Peters.

      • Zedd

         /  19th February 2019

        I do not really think that, IF they drop it to 2% there will be ‘swarms’ of new parties entering, the parliament; we may just see a REAL MMP parliament. In Germany (the home of MMP ?) they have several parties (7-10 ?) & they make it work. 😀

        It would still likely see the biggest parties, ‘making the deals’ to form Govt. BUT alternatively, it could see a ‘broader coalition’ or even a ‘Grand coalition’ as has been suggested here.. but with Natl being the biggest ‘stick in the muds’ (still thinking FPP/Might is RIGHT) this is unlikely to occur anytime soon.

        btw; I think NZF are opposed to dropping it, BUT it could well suit them best ?? :/

        • Kitty Catkin

           /  19th February 2019

          Ach, ja, Germany has vays of making it vork,

          • According to a senior German political consultant (can’t remember the link) they do so by the simple expedient of agreeing amongst themselves never to discuss anything contentious that might get in the News; the object of the exercise being to remain comfortably employed rather than uncomfortably trying to run the country.

  3. High Flying Duck

     /  19th February 2019

    A sensible idea on polling:

    • Duker

       /  19th February 2019

      Party polls do more than check whos ‘winning’ , they test slogans, ask about particular policies, dig deeper into other partys allegiances.
      Im sure they are digging much deeper into Bridges likeability. They dont wont those questions public or even that they are asking

  4. Finbaar Rustle

     /  19th February 2019

    Too high 12%
    Too low 13%
    About right 64%
    Sounds like Goldilocks tasting the porridge 🙂

  5. Lets scrap electorates, and make it 1% per seat? would preserve proportionality, and the loons can channel their focus and unconstructive social policies/rage, rather than subvert a major party like the religious fundies try to do to national.

    • Zedd

       /  19th February 2019

      I hear you Shane..

      Alternatively they could split the parliament (as in most other OECD countries): Electorate MPs (lower house) List MPs (Senate) ?

      One thing is clear though.. Electorates are a ‘hangover from FPP’

      btw; hows the Med-cann stuff going ? 🙂

    • Trevors_Elbow

       /  19th February 2019

      Sounds great in principle but then who is your local MP for help when dealing with a tricky problem like a government Department not playing ball? list MP’s only would lead to allegiance to party and stuff the little guy, stuff the local issues etc….

      Our current mix is not so bad – balance between national issues via list voting and local representation via electorate seats…

    • PartisanZ

       /  19th February 2019

      There are SO MANY other ways it could be organised …

      What we need to drop is Westminster … and institute our own unique form of ‘governance’ under a new Constitution.

      • I think the fundamental problem with Westminster politics is the assumption that an MP can serve two masters – his constituency and his party. How often are ordinary folk faced with the dilemma of voting for an MP they want to represent them or a party they want to run the country?

        I believe a better system is to give electors two votes – one for the party to run the country and one for the MP to represent them in Parliament. All the latter then constitute the Opposition, which holds the Government to account. That way we have MPs whose sole purpose is to challenge the Government on behalf of their constituents, and an Opposition that represents the People, rather than one that merely failed in its bid to be the Government.

        In truth Government is a straightforward, rather mundane business of keeping the streets clean, the trains running on time and the barbarians outside the gates. The role of the Opposition – much more important by my reckoning – is to make sure they do those things with due regard for the effect on all the People.

        • Gezza

           /  19th February 2019

          Can’t see how that would work if the MPs representing the constituents belong to a party, & even some were independents, where the constituents views will differ as they always do & often break down on party lines anyway. Constuency MPs couldn’t realistically be able to survey their constituents on every debate, vote or question that arises in their daily business in Parliament either.

  6. Duker

     /  19th February 2019

    The Greens won 8 seats in 2017 . I wouldnt call that ‘sneaking in’
    Those 8 seats of course are more than the ‘support parties’ that propped up national got combined in 2011 and 2015.

  7. PartisanZ

     /  19th February 2019

    Working in reverse [or ‘invertedly’] on this issue, in complete alignment with its nonsensical character and essence – e.g. political – it would appear that Corporate-Political Elites have decided the following things on our behalf –

    1. What a Multi-Party New ZeaLand really wants is a Two-Party State

    2. What any Two-Party State REALLY wants is a One-Party State …

  8. Trevors_Elbow

     /  19th February 2019

    3% thresh hold is my preference.

    Gives all the voices a chance.

    3% would guarantee the Conservatives and also probably give ACT a realistic target – looking at things from a centre, right and conservative perspective.

    I wonder if Labour would like a 3% thresh hold – I could see their vote diminished a bit by the typical Left tendency to splintering.. though it would also possible drive down Nationals vote as well.

    On balance 3% as a party vote thresh hold seems fair and allows parties a real chance to start and get established. It would also allow people the opportunity to experiment with their votes with much less fear of a wasted vote…

    • Patzcuaro

       /  19th February 2019

      There were a fraction under 2.6 million party votes in 2017 so 1% is 26,000 votes, 2% is 52,000, 2.5% is 65,000 and 3% is 78,000 votes. The current 5% threshold requires 130,000 which is too high. Somewhere is that 2-3% area seems a more realistic target.

      • Duker

         /  19th February 2019

        What ever the number is to get 5 seats, as that makes them viable in parliament , and of course 5 seats makes you more than a footstool as a coalition partner.

        last election all ‘other parties votes came to 18%. The only one with a reasonable number was TOP with 2.1%
        And of course informals were 38,000 votes.
        National made a terrible mistake going after Colin Craig ,as he isnt really any more flawed than many other Mps and he got to 4% first off.

        Some great grpahs there which I cant post here , but show that overall 3rd parties arent out of fashion compared to previous times back to 1972

        Enrollment rates are now only thought to be around 92% of total eligible and of those enrolled around 80% voted last time

        • Patzcuaro

           /  19th February 2019

          5 seats would require 4.2% of the vote or 108,000 votes which is too high.

  9. PartisanZ

     /  19th February 2019

    “Keep it that way … Baby, Keep it that way”

  10. Norm Grey

     /  19th February 2019

    There is no perfect electoral system and we could debate the issues and our personal preferences for hours and not come to a compatible answer.
    My ideas probably don’t fit with anyone elses, but –
    1] I want strong political parties which – will through experience, research and through the shared experience of their elected members, develop these ideas into viable legislation.
    2] I want List MPs dumped -[with a resounding THUD~
    A] as they represent no-one.
    B] tend to have less of the required background experience and broader living experiences etc and are more “decorative” than practical and useful. [Knowing that some Parties aim for a 50/50 ratio of male-female, that also demonstrates a very shallow, false and quite stupid qualification for appointment.]
    3] If we are aiming for a “democracy”, [my dictionary says the meaning is – “Government of a country by its people through a parliament of representatives elected by its people.”
    3] I want the policies that parties electioneer on to actually eventuate as new legislation, as after all, they are the reason we have voted for them, [Not have the concessions required when accepting a “Coalition partner.” eg NZ1

    Surely the 1st priority is a commitment to “DEMOCRACY”
    Then it is probably having a system of Govt that follows this system thoroughly.
    It seems to me that we are being deluded and straying for this system of DEMOCRACY.

    That feels good – I’ve got it out of my system!!
    What do you think?

    • PartisanZ

       /  19th February 2019

      @Norm Grey – “It seems to me that we are being deluded and straying for this system of DEMOCRACY”

      You nailed it in one sentence IMHO … the rest is fluff.

      ““Government of a country by its people through a parliament of representatives elected by its people.”

      One major problem is that, once elected, those “representatives” do not necessarily represent the people who elected them … and often evidently do not represent the people …

      Countless examples: E.g. John Key says he won’t increase GST …

      It’s fairly well proven that they instead represent Corporate-Political(-Military) Elites

      I’d favour MMP as we have it now where either List MPs or Electorate MPs were not allowed to represent a political party … Say List MPs were required to be independent … ???

      But there are countless possibilities … 60 electorate MPs who were each allowed to appoint one expert representative …

      I dunno … but this ‘Democracy’ we have now is a semblance of democracy … and needs reforming …

  11. Tipene

     /  19th February 2019

    Unless National overtly endorse a minor support party before 2020, they will be consigned to opposition for another 3 years.

  12. duperez

     /  19th February 2019

    If we have a referendum on anything to do with MMP and Judith Collins is the PM by that stage, will anything come of the referendum?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s