The one seat threshold

February 23rd, 2012 at 3:03 pm by David Farrar

At I blog on the one electorate seat threshold for , as part of a series on the possible changes to . My conclusion:

Overall I think there is a case for removing the electorate threshold, but only if the party vote threshold is lower so that it is easier for parties to make it into Parliament. However, my mind is not yet made up on this issue, as if the threshold is made too low, then stable government is much more difficult, as we have seen in Israel.

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31 Responses to “The one seat threshold”

  1. George Patton (330 comments) says:

    Well, I disagree. And as someone who supported the removal of MMP, now that we are stuck with it, we should just leave it alone. It’s completely appalling that we are prepared to make fiddling changes every few years regarding MMP, rather than simply leaving the system in place as it was designed to do.

    The threshold has variously worked for both left and right, so I don’t see it as a particular irritant, notwithstanding my dislike of Anderton’s Alliance propping up Labour and my liking of ACT propping up National.

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  2. Nick R (443 comments) says:

    I think the one seat threshold has to go. The whole “cup of tea” shenanigans makes a mockery of the election, and it also has the effect of putting a disproportionate amount of power in the hands of voters in a single electorate. That was a bad feature of FPP (it meant parties pandered to voters in swing electorates while ignoring safe seats) and it is a bad feature of the current MMP system. I have no problem with parties endorsing a candidate from another party if that is what they want to do. But there should be no electoral incentive for it of the “elect me and 3 extra MPs!” variety.

    As for the threshold – I am not really convinced we need one at all. I suspect that a lot of people vote for the likes of the Bill & Ben party precisely because they figure it has no chance of ever being elected. Take away the threshold and maybe they wouldn’t cast their vote in the same way. But I don’t see the big problem. Are you really worried about having Governments propped up by ragged mobs of tiny parties with incomprehensible policies? How would that be different to what we have now?

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  3. Pete George (21,830 comments) says:

    I don’t think we should compare politics in Israel with here. In New Zealand we don’t have anywhere near the same degree of religious extremism, and we have far less religious involvement directly with politics.

    From the last election if we had no threshold we would have ended up with the Conservatives with a few seats, there have been Christian representative MPs in the past and Parliament didn’t turn into hell.

    Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party might have snuk in with one seat, if they addressed parliament like they address campaign meetings that would lighten things up but hardly turn parliament to pot.

    People are afraid of (or scaremongering about) things that have no substantial backing in evidence.

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  4. simonway (356 comments) says:

    Have you ever replied to the point that it is probably the political cultures of individual countries that cause “instability”, rather than a low threshold? Because it’s brought up every time you start talking about the terrible state of Israeli politics.

    Note that “political instability” is the same line used by FPP advocates in the UK to argue against any kind of proportional representation at all, and they use the same examples (Israel, Italy).

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  5. Griff (6,263 comments) says:

    remove the electorate threshold
    Hinging representation on winning an electroale seat is a unwarranted barrier for entry into parliament.
    At present The mana Act and Maori party’s have seats yet other party’s had more votes for no representation.

    but only if the party vote threshold is lower it should be set at number of voters divided by number of seats

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  6. Graeme Edgeler (3,222 comments) says:

    Simonway:

    +1

    Why wouldn’t we become like Finland or the Netherlands?

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  7. Joel Rowan (99 comments) says:

    I think the one-seat threshold should stay as it is. It strikes a good balance between proportionality and stability.

    If a minor party needs the support of a major party to win an electorate, and bring in 2,3 or 4 list MPs – at least that party will be going towards creating a stable governing coalition (in opposition it doesn’t matter).

    In the case of a party that refuses to announce who it will support (a la NZ First) they are only creating uncertainty and instability. I think it is perfectly fair that they have to overcome a higher hurdle to get into parliament. When a major party doesn’t want to help them win a seat, that’s a reflection on their suitability for cooperation.

    Proportionality, while it is good, is not the top priority of a parliament in my opinion.

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  8. Pete George (21,830 comments) says:

    Proportionality, while it is good, is not the top priority of a parliament in my opinion.

    What is your top priority? Certainty and stability? How can you be certain you can get that?

    If at last election National had got one less seat and any of Maori, Labour, Greens, Mana or NZF got one more seat how certain and stable would things had looked? If National got three less seats (that went to Labour, Greens, Mana or NZF)? Six less seats?

    No system will guarantee certainty and stability. That’s up to the elected parties and MPs.

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  9. backster (2,000 comments) says:

    Lower thresholds will favour the Left.Better the devil we have which still favours the left only less so.

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  10. Joel Rowan (99 comments) says:

    No, no system will guarantee it, but if you would read the rest of my comment, you will see why I think the one seat threshold should stay. Having a minor party in the middle who aren’t committed either way is good for proportionality but I think it’s potentially bad for stability, and very bad for accountability. That’s why I favour the 1seat/5% threshold system.

    At least where a one-seat threshold exists, minor parties can enter more easily (good for proportionality and representation of diverse views) but if they’ve been gifted a seat, they are committed to the loose alliance of parties they support (eg. Act wouldn’t quit the government lightly, because National could boot them from Epsom).

    So it should be more difficult for parties like NZ First to enter parliament, because they will refuse to declare who they support, and are not trusted by anyone. If David Shearer, for instance, were to help Winston to win an electorate, then NZ First would at least be accountable to Labour and the electorate, and if Labour were in government because of that, at least it would be a stable-ish coalition with some accountability to eachother. The government wouldn’t be held to ransom.

    The 5% threshold is suitable for maverick parties, while the 1 electorate threshold is good for parties that can win one where they have an agreement (or a tacit agreement) with a major party. For the example of Hone – at least everyone knows he’ll never support a National government. He’d offer confidence and supply to Labour, I’m sure.

    I think the current threshold system is good, and the two thresholds cannot be taken in isolation when they so clearly are intertwined. I cannot favour an option of lowering the percentage threshold while removing the electorate threshold.

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  11. Graeme Edgeler (3,222 comments) says:

    Backster, the main beneficiary of a lower threshold at past elections would have been the Christian Coalition, New Zealand First and the Conservative Party, and arguably ACT (I suspect at past elections (e.g. 2005) their support has fallen because of fears they wouldn’t make 5%)

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  12. Nookin (2,891 comments) says:

    My concern is highlighted by the recent comments on behalf of the Green Party where they announced that they were no longer prepared to play younger sibling any more and would be dictating their terms. I think we can reasonably expect that labour will recover some of the ground lost and will retrieve some of the voters who went to the Green Party. I have a concern that any party around the 8-10% threshold will dictate terms that are not necessarily consistent with good government.

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  13. Pete George (21,830 comments) says:

    Having a minor party in the middle who aren’t committed either way is good for proportionality but I think it’s potentially bad for stability, and very bad for accountability.

    Based on what?

    Take United Future. They have gone either way with both National and Labour multiple times. They have contributed to stability.

    If Peter Dunne had lost Ohariu but UF had got say 2.x% support and got three or four list seats (with no threshold) they would have gone in to coalition with National and would clearly have provided a more stable option than National have at the moment. But with the 5% threshold they would not have got any seats and National would be more precarious now.

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  14. Weihana (4,475 comments) says:

    DPF,


    Overall I think there is a case for removing the electorate threshold, but only if the party vote threshold is lower so that it is easier for parties to make it into Parliament. However, my mind is not yet made up on this issue, as if the threshold is made too low, then stable government is much more difficult, as we have seen in Israel.

    Both this blog and last weeks ignores the possibility of preferential voting for the party vote. This debate is not necessarily confined to the issues outlined and if enough noise is made the scope of the commission can be widened.

    Concerns with both the electorate seat threshold and the party vote threshold can be addressed with preferential voting for the party vote. You could retain a party vote threshold of say 3-5% and keep stability and you also make it easier to get into parliament because people wouldn’t be worried about the wasted vote.

    Preferential voting for the party vote does not undermine the essential nature of MMP in fact it makes MMP more true to its purpose. It is unfortunate that it is not being given consideration as a needed adjustment to the current rules.

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  15. AG (1,727 comments) says:

    @Graeme; “Why wouldn’t we become like Finland or the Netherlands?”

    Exactly! See here: http://www.germanlawjournal.com/pdfs/Vol08No12/PDF_Vol_08_No_12_1133-1146_Articles_Leenknegt.pdf

    “Since 1917, the outcome of elections usually leaves open various options for
    government coalitions, making cabinet formation a much more complicated
    process. The formation of a Dutch cabinet is almost without exception a long and
    tedious process, and usually takes several months. This is caused by the fact that
    the largest party rarely wins more than a third (fifty) of the total number of seats,
    and often considerably fewer seats. In most cases, the two largest parties together
    do not even command a majority in the lower house – seventy-six seats, half the
    total number of seats plus one – so that the formation of a stable cabinet requires a
    third party. And that still leaves open the question whether those two or three
    parties can find enough common political ground to cooperate within a cabinet.
    … The formation process, which usually results in elaborate coalition agreements,
    causes a strong monistic relationship between parliament and the cabinet. The
    parliamentary majority that supports the cabinet mainly serves to enable the
    cabinet to realize its policy plans. This monism has given rise to democracy based
    on the seeking of consensus. Important decisions are taken in informal meetings of
    the most powerful politicians, captains of industry, and other stakeholders, while
    parliamentary procedures sometimes seem to be little more than stage
    performances.”

    This is what you want for New Zealand, yes?

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  16. Joel Rowan (99 comments) says:

    Yes, but he hasn’t Ohariu, because both National and Labour have (at different points) allowed him to carry on winning it. He is no maverick.

    They pushed Winston out of Tauranga because he wasn’t trusted. That’s my point. At the 2011 election, Dunne was committed to National’s government, and to reward him for that, National stood Katrina Shanks to try and pick up some Party Vote. But at the same time, he’s only there because the people of Ohariu still trust him.

    I think the 1 seat threshold improves accountability for minor parties, which is what I’ve been trying to say. No system is going to be perfect, but I think the one we’ve got now is as good as its going to get. What you’re talking about is a totally hypothetical situation relating to party vote. UF was not going to get any more party vote if the threshold was lower – it was obvious that he would continue to pass the 1 electorate threshold.

    It is good for proportionality, but not at the expense of accountability, and it helps with stability. I don’t think “collusion” or “dirty deals” between parties in electorates is a bad thing. It gets more views represented and multi-party governments are good, but I don’t want to see it easier for maverick parties to get in.

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  17. toad (3,654 comments) says:

    @Nick R 3:22 pm

    Agreed. The “one seat” threshold is a rort. Both National (Epsom, Ohariu) and Labour (Wigram) have exploited it in the past to get more effective representation than their Party votes warrant.

    Time to get rid of it.

    And, DPF, O think it is the political cultures of Israel and Italy that cause the political instability – not the low threshold. We really don’t have extremist parties here that get any significant support. National, Labour, Greens, and (dare I say it) NZFirst are all pretty much mainstream. ACT, in one or more of its incarnations, could probably be described as extremists by some, but really no more than the FDP in Germany.

    Reality is that there is no significant support for extremist fundamentalist Christian parties (note, Andrei, Lucia Maria), fascist parties (note Kyle Chapman), or the ragtag remnants of the supporters of Soviet and Maoist communism.

    So why not have a Parliament that is completely proportional to the votes the parties standing receive?

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  18. tas (530 comments) says:

    Weihana: I intend to make a submission to the MMP review promoting transferrable party votes. On the off chance they take it seriously, I think it would be a great compromise solution to the threshold issue.

    I don’t have strong views either way on the electorate loophole. However, I note that every party except National and Labour has at one point depended on it. (Including the Greens who might not have got their foot in the door without Coromandel up their sleeve in 1999.)

    To those who are advocating no threshold: Much of your reasoning is based on the assumption that voter behaviour will not change if the threshold is removed. In 1996, a lot of new parties appeared on the scene, because it was suddenly easier to get in. If we drop the threshold entirely, even more parties will pop up. I think it would have a negative impact on our politics—it won’t suddenly make us Israel, but adding a smattering of nutcases to parliament is not going to add much to our government.

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  19. Joel Rowan (99 comments) says:

    I like the idea of a transferable party vote. It could make a big difference. Imagine in 2011, if the votes of the Conservatives had been transferred – Act might have got Don Brash in, National might have got 61 seats. Equally, United Future or NZ First could have been the beneficiary. (Likely a big mixture, I know, but it would have been enough to make a difference). I think I’ll put that in my submission too. I think only a second choice should be allowed though – If you vote for two nutcase parties, your vote deserves to be wasted.

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  20. Pete George (21,830 comments) says:

    If we drop the threshold entirely, even more parties will pop up.

    Parties don’t just pop up. There’s a lot involved in starting up a party, and even harder for the media to bother to notice you, which is essential to get any traction. And the more parties that start up the harder it will be to get noticed and to get anywhere.

    It would take a huge change in voting culture to break the media and big party dominance and enable a smattering of special interest or independent parties to get anywhere nearparliament.

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  21. Viking2 (10,738 comments) says:

    Fiddle with MMP all you like but while Parliament sets its own rules with complete disregard for the voters and complete disregard for voting opinion coupled with the right of the might to whip the rest to voting in any particular way despite those voters opinions, then its just a complete waste of time and talk.

    The voters are not listened to once power is assumed and when voting most policies are never discussed, put in writing or even aired for voters to decide on.
    Any party policies become a compromise for the voter. Will she,s won’t she. I like this but don’t like that, but really do not have many options.
    Major policy changes need to be subject to referendum and whipping needs to be contrained to a narrow defintion of confidence and supply. If the Parliment can’t make that work then changing what the voter has to do won’t make any difference.
    Its the system stupid.

    Oh and as turkey don’t like Xmas do we think any entrenched overpaid pollies will want to overhaul their system. Unlikely.

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  22. Johnboy (13,424 comments) says:

    Your right V2.

    Tama Iti and the other uglies were probably on to something.

    Not that we can discuss it of course. :)

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  23. Graeme Edgeler (3,222 comments) says:

    This is what you want for New Zealand, yes?

    I don’t know that I’d have a problem with that. Pretty much my favourite time of law-making is January – when the House doesn’t sit. Almost invariably, the laws being passed by Parliament make things worse, add more regulation, decrease freedom. The occasional law is passed that actually makes things better, but for the most part, I’d welcome an enforced period of Parliament not mucking things up even more.

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  24. tas (530 comments) says:

    Pete George:

    If we drop the threshold entirely, even more parties will pop up.

    Parties don’t just pop up. There’s a lot involved in starting up a party, and even harder for the media to bother to notice you, which is essential to get any traction. And the more parties that start up the harder it will be to get noticed and to get anywhere.

    It would take a huge change in voting culture to break the media and big party dominance and enable a smattering of special interest or independent parties to get anywhere nearparliament.

    You are just reasserting the assumption that voter behaviour and politics will not change if we remove the threshold. (If that were true, there’d be no point in removing it, eh?) We saw in 1996 that lowering the bar for entry into parliament led to more parties trying and making it in. It doesn’t take a genius to see that lowering the bar further will have the same result.

    The Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party gets enough votes to win a seat despite getting zero media coverage, having zero funding, and having no chance of actually getting in. If that doesn’t convince you that more parties would pop up without the threshold, then I don’t know what will.

    Now perhaps there is a case to be made for removing the threshold, but don’t tell me that it won’t result in a bunch more parties polluting parliament.

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  25. Pete George (21,830 comments) says:

    You are just reasserting the assumption that voter behaviour and politics will not change if we remove the threshold.

    No I’m not. It will change whether the system we use is changed or not. It’s impossible to know if it would change more or less, for better or worse.

    Whether voter changes or not shouldn’t matter. It’s pointless trying to design a system that will stop voter behaviour from changing.

    Aiming for the most fair representative system should be our starting point, and there should only be variations to that if we know for sure it would be otherwise detrimental to democracy.

    The less variations to a simple democratic system the less chances of it being manipulated by politicians and parties.

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  26. big bruv (12,381 comments) says:

    The Nat’s need to do what Labour would have no issue doing if they were in power. The Nat’s must change MMP to suit themselves, adjust the threshold to 8-10% and thus rule out the scum Greens and Winston first.

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  27. AG (1,727 comments) says:

    But, Graeme, you proposed the Netherlands in the specific context of mentioning alternatives to the usual Italy/Israel examples of the problems of governing under a no-threshold model of proportional representation. If it turns out that the Netherlands has similar problems of forming governments and then only maintains them through a legislative term by imposing a neo-corporatist approach to policy formation and implementation (which, you have to ask … would that work here in NZ?), then at least one of your counter examples doesn’t do the work you appeared to want it to.

    Of course, you can support the no-threshold model on the basis that Government is bad and anything that stops it functioning (at least in its lawmaking sense) is thus good. That’s a valid argument (albeit a different one than you appeared to make before) … but I suspect the take-up for it will be limited (beyond, of course, this comment thread – I’m talking about the real world).

    Finally, even if you reduce the time that Governments have to make laws in, what makes you think the numbers of laws that are made would appreciably fall? And even if it does, what makes you think its the bad ones that would be reduced in number? Given the choice between (say) extending post-sentencing incarceration of “dangerous prisoners” or modernising the adoption act, which do you thin the Government would choose to spend its limited legislative time on?

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  28. Nick K (919 comments) says:

    Toad said:

    We really don’t have extremist parties here that get any significant support. National, Labour, Greens, and (dare I say it) NZFirst are all pretty much mainstream.

    The Reds are “mainstream”? What a ludicrous statement in so many ways. First, the Reds are extreme communists. Second, the use of the word “mainstream” is incredible considering the attack the Reds made on Dr Brash in 2005 over his use of the word. Pull the other one Toad. Your Red party is extreme, not mainstream.

    Reality is that there is no significant support for extremist fundamentalist Christian parties (note, Andrei, Lucia Maria), fascist parties (note Kyle Chapman), or the ragtag remnants of the supporters of Soviet and Maoist communism.

    Your Red party is an extreme fundamentalist party, and is also a ragtag remnant of Soviet and Maoist communism.

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  29. Graeme Edgeler (3,222 comments) says:

    But, Graeme, you proposed the Netherlands in the specific context of mentioning alternatives to the usual Italy/Israel examples of the problems of governing under a no-threshold model of proportional representation.

    I proposed the Netherlands as an example of a country with a proportional voting system and no threshold which is unlike Italy or Israel to suggest that to argue we’ll be like Italy or Israel if we have no (or a low) threshold is stupid. Maybe we’ll be like Portugal. Or South Africa. If we adopt a zero threshold, we’ll effectively become a one party state like South Africa.

    DPF’s line of argument ignores pretty much anything about history or culture that might lead to a country’s politics becoming a particular way. We are as likely to turn into Israel as we are the Netherlands or South Africa, by making this change. Which is not at all.

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  30. AG (1,727 comments) says:

    “We are as likely to turn into Israel as we are the Netherlands or South Africa, by making this change. Which is not at all.”

    Of course. But there’s still a point in looking at how having a no-threshold system has impacted on things like government formation and coalition practices in other places, right? Because if all comparative study is irrelevant because “NZ is different”, then the Royal Commission’s report in 1986 was in part based on a misguided theoretical approach.

    Further, if the claim is “having a no-threshold rule won’t really change anything because, given NZ’s history and culture, there won’t be ver many small parties elected”, then what’s the reason for the change? Surely it must be because there ARE potentially more smaller parties that could enter into Parliament … just not so many (I’m sure you’d claim and I’d agree) as to destabilise things to the Israeli/Italian extent. OK – but that then still involves a trade-off that has no one right answer … how much extra potential destabilisation (short of the Israeli/Italian extreme) is it worth having in order to get the extra representational benefit?

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  31. tristanb (1,133 comments) says:

    My solution to stay proportional: (it’s not very thought through, pulled it out of somewhere).

    1. Reduce threshold to 1%
    2. Get rid of Maori seats (as the Maori vote will affect the whole result proportionally, so nothing of value is lost)
    3. Reduce number MPs to about 100
    4. Number of MPs a party gets is based on rounded percentage of total vote.
    5. Get rid of the list made by the party
    6. MP list is based on electorate results

    e.g (using largely made up figures)
    National gets 47.3% of vote. This means 47 seats. The MPs who get in are the 47 with the highest percentage of their electorate vote.
    Bill and Ben get 0.6% – they miss out.
    Mana get 1.05% – they get one seat – this will be the electorate MP with the highest percentage of vote.
    Maori party get 5.6% – they get 6 seats.
    Peter Dunne wins his seat, but only get 0.6% of popular vote – misses out.

    This way MPs still have to be liked by their electorate and the country. Sure there’ll be gerrymandering, jostling for easy seats and the usual stuff you get with FPP, but the result will stay proportional. In terms of stability, this is not much worse than MMP, and at least we get 20 fewer MPs.

    Also, party leaders will get the same salary as other MPs. Perhaps a financial disincentive to be in opposition (i.e. if you’re in a coalition with the government you get 20% more salary) would help stability.

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