Gobbling up its partners

There have been a lot of comments in recent times about how National is gobbling all its potential partners up (sounds like a black widow eh) and that somehow they should stop this.

Now I understand why some people are saying this, and I am known myself as being “ACT friendly” in that I certainly regard a National/ACT Government as an excellent outcome both in policy terms but also that I have high regards for ACT MPs like Rodney, Stephen and Heather who I think would contribute well as Ministers (as would most National MPs).

However I do not accept the way for this to be achieved is for National to not campaign for the party vote. There is a separate debate about tactical voting with the electorate vote, but I’ll post on that separately. This is about the party vote.

I want to have a look at the logic of this complaint about National by making a number of propositions. They are:

1) Every party campaigns for the party vote, and can never suggest a party vote goes elsewhere

No party can ever afford to suggest that voters should not cast their party vote for them. If you do that you are dead. National says party vote National, Labour says party vote Labour, ACT says party vote ACT etc. You can never be ambiguous on this message. If you are you get 21% of the vote not 46%.

2) Being the biggest party in Parliament is vital

It is vital that National is the biggest party in Parliament. United Future, and quite possibly NZ First, have said they will offer initial support to the biggest party. There is also an immense psychological advantage of being the biggest party.

3) Leading in the polls is important

The media don’t tend to report CR vs CL scenarios as their headlines. They report National vs Labour. And it is important to lead in the polls as they can be self-fulfilling prophecies. People like to back “winners”. If Labour is at 38%, one needs National at over 40%, not at 35% and with other CR parties at 8% between them.

One reason National got savaged last time is because it was so far behind Labour it was seen as irrelevant, even though in reality the CR vs CL margin was not great.

4) Parties do not control their voters

Parties can advise supporters, but they can not direct them. Parties can not unilaterally decide how people vote. And those voters can get quite feisty and independent.

5) Subtle messages are difficult

It is certainly true that it can be a bad idea to have large wasted vote from parties just under the threshold. I totally accept that if for example the Greens are at 4.9% then it is sensible for some Labour voters to vote Green to ensure that vote is not wasted.

However one can not simply say “We want every 20th Labour voter to vote Green”. Who votes Green and who stays with Labour? One could end up with Greens on 10% and Labour on 30%.

6) Wasted vote is not always bad

In 1996 the Christian Coalition had a wasted 4.3% of the vote. Many in National thought this was a good thing as they were seen as undesirable (something undeniable in hindsight with Capill). This election NZ First could get 4.6% (last poll result) wasted vote. However as he has not pledged that to either side, then why would one save him? And could you trust him even if he said he was supporting you?

7) The amount of wasted vote is important

Even if you have a party known to support you, and seen as dependable, the amount of wasted vote is important, especially looking at whether it will affect who gets to form a Government. If Labour has a 10% lead over National and the Greens are at 2% Helen Clark would say “so long suckers”. If Labour is 1% behind National and the Greens are at 4% then Helen might pose for a photo opportunity with Jeanette. She’ll never say vote Greens but she’ll send signals.

8) Many of these factors are not apparent until the final couple of days

Goes without saying.

So for my 2c worth National is doing exactly the right thing. A total fixation on the party vote, and getting a solid lead over Labour. This is vital.

As I said the electorate vote can be a bit more complicated and I’ll post on that later. I will not comment on a particular seat with that, but in generalities.

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