Since 1996, the NZES has asked people to rate themselves ideologically on a scale from 0 (left) to 10 right). The results are public up to 2008, and have been pretty consistent. There is never an absolute majority of either left wingers or right wingers, usually not even close, and the proportion of people who say they are perfectly centrist (5 on the scale), is around 25-30%. That is a huge bloc of voters perched right in the middle. Ideology in New Zealand is a bell curve, and a steep one at that.
We await the 2011 NZES results with interest.
Given this distribution of voter ideologies, it does not take a statistician to figure out that the left needs to do well with centrist voters in order to win. Same for the right. And, when you look at the NZES figures, that is what you find. In the three MMP elections where Labour took office, the left scored its three best results with centrists. In the two elections with public data where Labour lost – 1996 and 2008 – it had its two worst results with centrists. The difference – best to worst – in that period is over ten points.
This suggests there is real benefit to the left in trying to win the support of people to the right of Labour and the left of National, and that this benefit cannot be gained any other way. Without those people, getting the left enough seats to govern becomes virtually impossible.
Salmond is of course absolutely right. Elections are won in the centre. Of course one can sometimes redefine the centre, but this is very challenging.
Of course, there are different ways to woo those folk. Labour can moderate its own policy, alter which policies it emphasizes in the political debate, try to alter voters’ perceptions of National, or try to convince centrists to change their issue opinions and even their ideology. The last strategy, of convincing voters they are flat out wrong, is a favorite among activists of all stripes, because it requires change by others but no compromise or change on their own part.
That was a gentle slapdown to many of the Labour activists. It also applies to activists on the right who whine constantly that John Key has not scrapped Working for Families overnight.
So what do centrist voters want? One issue that has come up recently is welfare, with David Shearer giving a speech that included an anecdote about a person who was, officially, too sick to work but, in fact, not too sick to paint his roof. That, Shearer said, was not good enough.
In 2008, the last publicly available survey, the NZES asked voters about many issues, including welfare. 61% of centrists thought welfare “made people lazy” while only 18% disagreed. Even left-leaning voters were evenly split on this issue (39% agree vs 38% disagree). Moreover, clear majorities of both centrists and lefties also supported work for the dole. Again, this is unlikely to have changed much since 2008.
Of course, anyone expecting Labour to give in to every reactionary impulse among centrists and start proposing work for the dole schemes and a return to capital punishment (66% centrist support in 2008) is in for a long wait. But these results suggest that voters of all ideological hues want something less severe than that, too – parties should emphasize what they will do to make sure the welfare system is a hand up rather than a hand out, and is not open to abuse. That is what David Shearer did.
Would anyone actually suggest that Shearer was wrong on the facts? That our welfare system is never abused at all? Or that people who can work should work? Or that people who are capable of painting their own roof are probably also capable of, say, painting someone else’s roof?
As I have said, i think many on the left were being far too precious with their trenchant criticism of Shearer over that part of his speech.
Josie Pagani said that, in her experience, Labour is seen as “the party for beneficiaries;” Shearer was reminding everyone that Labour supports people who pay taxes, too.
Well that last sentence is debatable 🙂
I have spent the better part of 17 years – eight of those as a paid organiser for the Labour Party – practicing the ancient art of alchemy; turning supporters into volunteers, volunteers into members and members into activists. …
I make this point because I am deeply concerned about what’s going on with some members of the Labour caucus and the long term effects their behaviour will have on Party members and supporters leading into the 2014 general election. …
I can only hope David Shearer was misquoted on Newstalk ZB when asked if he was happy with the behaviour of his caucus. Labour Partymembers deserve better.
MPs just can’t indulge in this sort of disloyal, backstabbing, bitchy and frankly unkind behaviour . It will affect supporters and activists (not to mention the general voting public).
Labour, get it together.
You’re letting us all down.