MMP: too complicated and not consistent

Firstly, I fully support proportional representation in New Zealand. FPP (first past the post) was a crock - having lived in “safe” electorates there was little point in getting out of bed on election day. The danger in criticising MMP is that such criticism can be used as a justification for returning to FPP. There are better PR (proportional representation) systems out there - STV (single transferable vote), for example.

What’s wrong with MMP? Fundamentally, the two votes. These two votes are complicated for people to understand and they are not equal and have different effects depending upon the electorate you are in.  How you should place your electorate vote to achieve the end result you want in parliament can be completely counterintuitive as I will show in a minute.

The situation is further complicated in New Zealand with the presence of the Maori electorates. These present seven electorates that are only eligible for voting in by Maori. They have a far more homogeneous set of political tendencies than the population at large and so again these “electorate” votes and seats carry unequal weight. The Maori Party has a great opportunity to game the system which I will elaborate on in a later post and get representation in the house at a much higher level than their overall percentage of votes.

A further failure of MMP is the wasted vote - that is, a vote for a party that fails to reach the 5% threshold  in the party vote or get at least one electorate seat. The Elections website states the following:

A party vote cast for a party that does not cross threshold has no impact on the number of seats other parties will receive.  In this sense it has the same impact as a non-vote - exactly none - except that the voter’s electorate vote will have helped decide that particular contest. 

In other words, if you’re going to vote for a party that isn’t going to cross the threshold  you may as well not vote for the party vote. The effect is the same. If you’re in a “safe” electorate then not much point in voting at all. Couple this with the results of the recent Elections survey where only 34% correctly identified how the threshold is reached and you have 66% of the population with the potential to waste their vote.

According to the Elections survey 67% of voters now understand that the party vote is the more important vote. Unless, of course, you live in Epsom - where because of another of MMP’s anomalies (that getting an electorate seat enables a party to cross the threshold) - your electorate vote is more important as it affects whether or not the Act party may get 2 seats in the House (based on similar polling in the last election). Voters in Epsom effectively get the opportunity to have 2 party votes.

An effective electoral system should be intuitive - MMP isn’t. Consider a left-leaning voter in Epsom - what is their best tactical voting strategy to best ensure a higher proportion of “left” seats in the House? It’s completely counter-intuitive. Their best option is to vote National for the electorae vote to try and ensure that Act do not win the electorate seat. The best overall result (seats in the House) is achieved by voting for a party they wouldn’t normally vote for. The Labour party should perhaps be instructing their members and followers in Epsom to vote National for the electorate vote - a dangerous strategy, as given people’s confusion and misunderstanding of MMP they may well vote National with their party vote. 

How certain can we be that the make-up of Parliament is a true reflection of what the voters intended? With MMP as the voting system, not very.

6 Responses to “MMP: too complicated and not consistent”

  1. Bernard Says:

    Great post. We are currently working on getting STV passed in BC next May.


    Bernard von Schulmann
    Victoria BC

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