Looking at turnout

I’ve had the pleasure of spending a sunny Sunday afternoon looking at the turnout numbers of the 2011 general election. The total turnout was only 74.21% (down from 79.46% in 2008). In raw numbers, that’s 2,257,336 votes cast, as opposed to 2,356,536 – despite the growing population.

2011 turnout. Click to enlarge

Wellington Central has this time taken out the title of highest turnout, beating the 2008 champion, Otaki (I am expecting a call from Mrs Keall). At a guess I would assume this has a lot to do with both Labour and the Greens running strong get out the vote (GOTV) strategies – perhaps the only place in the country where two parties manage this.

At the other end of the spectrum, we again have all seven of the Maori seats, followed by the three South Auckland Labour strongholds (Manukau East, Manurewa and Mangare). The continuation of this trend is particularly disappointing. Some may find it surprising given that this year there were four parties running strong campaigns in the Maori seats (Labour, Maori, Mana and Greens) – the simple fact of the matter is that Maori are far more disassociated from the political process than perhaps any other group in society.

I’ve also analysed the swing in turnout…

Turnout swing. Click to enlarge.

The dramatic dip in the vote in Botany stands out. Perhaps this is due to them having a by-election so soon, and local body elections (and a council by-election) last year. Are the good people of Botany simply suffering from election fatigue?

Before I pulled these numbers I had a theory that there would be a dramatic drop in turnout in the Christchurch electorates due to the earthquake. We certainly saw that to some extent (particularly Christchurch East, Christchurch Central and Wigram), but not as much as I expected. The other factor to take into account is that a lot of people have simply fallen off the electoral roll as they’ve moved away from Christchurch (the total number of people enrolled in these electorates has dropped significantly). There is more work to be done to see if they have since gone and enrolled elsewhere (and thus will have some pretty big impacts on the next boundary change), or if there are many earthquake refugees who are not even enrolled.

The big question is why did so few people vote?

All sorts of theories are being rolled out: flow on impact from the Rugby World Cup, lack of online voting, simple voter apathy. One thing that I think really did have an impact was having the National Party above 50% in the polls for so long – I’d hazard a guess that a lot of people didn’t cast their vote because it looked so certain that it would be a cakewalk to victory.

The Maori and Green parties are calling for an inquiry into the low turnout (a good idea, but it really does remind me of Saramago’s novel Seeing).

Radio New Zealand had a particularly interesting interview with Thomas Patterson, a professor of government and press at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. He looks at our low turnout and points out that it’s in line with global trends. Take a listen here.

I’d be very interested to hear what you think about our low-level of turnout, and what can be done to slow or stop the trend.

(Almost) Final results released

With the exception of judicial recounts in Waitakere and Christchurch Central, the final results of the 2011 general election have been released. Congratulations to Carmel Sepuloni in particular – knocking off a popular cabinet minister in a year when the tide is out against Labour is no mean feat. Commiseration to those who have lost their seats.

Turnout was only 74.21% (down from 79.46% in 2008). This is very disappointing. The pundits will be discussing this until the cows come home, and from the conversations I’ve had with others already, there are some interesting theories emerging. I’ll be looking at some of these issues in the coming weeks.

I’ll also be updating my Labour candidate vote statistics in the next day or two. I also plan to investigate the variance in party vote and turnout , electorate by electorate. I have some theories already I intend to test.

But for now, I’m off to celebrate with the good folks from the Campaign for MMP. They can be particularly proud of their 57.77% result.

Not all publicity is good publicity

As has now been widely reported on the internet, Rick Perry now holds the honour of having the most disliked video on the internet. Via The Daily What

Important Internet Milestone of the Day: It’s official: Rick Perry’s homophobic campaign ad has more dislikes than Rebecca Black’s “Friday” (embiggen), making it the most hated video in YouTube history.

Congrats, Rick. No one has ever deserved anything more than you deserve this.

Labour and the environment

I missed this at the time, but Bruce Hawker has helpfully done a decent write up.

In the lead up to the ALP conference two weeks ago, a group of titans of the ALP from the 90s and 00s have released a public statement in support of Labor’s efforts on sustainability and combating climate change. Here it is…

We the undersigned:

1. Acknowledge that effective climate policy must be informed by science and global carbon pollution must peak and begin to decline rapidly within the next 10 years.

2. Congratulate the Prime Minister and her government on achieving a price on carbon: a vital first step towards achieving this goal and, with it, a secure, strong and prosperous low carbon economy.

3. Believe this vital national reform stands in the great Labor tradition of bold change in the national interest.

4. Regret the toxic and crude nature of the recent Australian debate and believe there is work for the Labor movement to help re-build consensus with government, civil society, workers and business on climate change.

5. Consider that tackling climate change, building resilient communities and achieving more sustainable ways of achieving economic growth and human betterment will be a key task of any Labor Party or social democratic party in the world in this century.

6. See enormous opportunity for our country in many of the technologies required to reduce emissions.

7. Assert we must maintain the Labor movement’s determination to continue to develop and implement the policies necessary to drive public and private capital towards a low-carbon future.

Bob Carr
Premier of New South Wales 1995-2005

Steve Bracks
Premier of Victoria 1999-2007

Peter Beattie
Premier of Queensland 1998-2007

Geoff Gallop
Premier of Western Australia 2001-2006

Mike Rann
Premier of South Australia 2002-2011

Clare Martin
Chief Minister, Northern Territory 2001-2007

Jon Stanhope
Chief Minister, Australian Capital Territory 2001 – 2011

Hawker discusses how important the signal that this statement sends is, particularly for the ALP…

At times, some modern Labor administrations have de-emphasised environment protection as a priority. ‘Brown’ influences, hostile to the natural environment have unintelligently taken hold.

The consequences have always followed this pattern – environment protection was set aside, Labor’s popular support declined and the Green political party grew in strength.

This is obviously in relation to Gillard’s back-down on aspects of their new carbon tax towards industry. It’s a very valid point. I think the problem in New Zealand is quite different, but it is still a very relevant issue.

The New Zealand Labour Party has a very strong tradition in the area…

  • One of Norman Kirk’s major policies that got the 3rd Labour government elected was a strong endorsement of the Save Manapouri ideas, followed by the establishment of the Guardians of Manapouri.
  • In 1987 the 4th Labour government established the Department of Conservation (which might I add the current National government is threatening major cuts).
  • The 5th Labour government introduced New Zealand’s first ETS, and continued the fight in areas of conservation and environmental innovation.
  • In 2011 Phil Goff’s Labour opposition campaigned strongly on bringing the agricultural sector into the ETS on time, and using the extra revenue that would generate to fund extensive spending in research tax credits.

These are just off the top of my head. There is a heck of a lot more.

My point is that in New Zealand, Labour has a long, proud history of protecting the environment. However just like in Australia, that is not how our party is seen, and because of that we are losing votes to the Greens.

Is this a problem of policy or communication? Do we not have a clear enough idea about what we want to do in this space, or do we not communicate it well enough with the public?

The value of the leadership road show…

Stephen Franks, a man who has never placed a particularly high value on democracy, has some criticisms of Labour’s leadership road show. I know many on the left will dismiss his opinion out of hand due to his political stripes, but he does make some well reasoned arguments that are at least worth having a quick think about…

Internal candidate debating competitions are deeply flawed exercises in democracy. They cannot perform the main function of an election campaign. They cannot explore and expose the critical weaknesses of the candidates. If they did tease them out they would wound the party privately and publicly. Little damage is more long-lasting than the damage from publicised frank assessments of weakness by close colleagues.  So intraparty primaries become competitions in public self praise, with little risk of contradiction. Sure there may be cunning allusion, comparison by emphasis. But formally the candidates can only highlight their own attributes, and stay away from the dangerous territory of exploring their competitors’ weaknesses.

John Pagani (who initially posted this article on Twitter, thanks for the heads up John!) is starting to agree with Franks on this matter….

There is a lot of truth in this criticism. After being initially joyful about the open contest, I’m having my doubts. It’s true that a genuinely open mutual scrutiny, as democratic elections require, is not really possible because of the potential for lasting damage.

I certainly see where they’re both coming from. We must remember that the caucus knows the four candidates much better than the party membership do. To send the candidates around the country campaigning against each other does introduce a large element of risk. Given that the media  and party members they’re meeting don’t have a direct say in the leadership contest, one could argue that it is needless risk.

That said, I think there are two important points to note.

Firstly, it’s likely that the different camps would have snipped at at each other, via leaks, even if it had been a totally closed campaign. During the last three years Phil Goff was constantly on the back foot, fighting off internal leaks. It’s not helpful in the slightest. Perhaps at least by having an open campaign and getting these things out in the open, we would be able to counter act some of the back room skullduggery.

Secondly, I see the current road show as a stepping stone.

On the Labour leadership

The elephant in the room that I’ve so far avoided blogging about is the ongoing Labour leadership contest; due to be resolved in five days time at the caucus meeting on Tuesday.

I have decided who my preferred candidate is, and I’m not going to pretend otherwise. But for the time being at least, I don’t think I will be publicly declaring that. If you want to engage in a debate on the merits of the various candidates, I’d recommend you comment on their candidate blogs at Red Alert.

As you’ll probably know, it’s a process that is decided by a secret ballot of the caucus – the 34 MPs.

In a pretty bold break with tradition the caucus have decided to do things slightly differently this time. While the vote will still rest with the MPs, the candidates have been engaging in a more open campaign than we’ve ever seen. They have been on TV debates, spoken about their merits, blogged, and they have also begun a series of meetings with party members around the country. In my opinion this is the biggest step forward. The idea being that the candidates speak, the members are then afforded an opportunity to ask questions, and then the members are welcome to provide other caucus members with feedback.

Some have quietly complained that they do not get a direct vote in the leadership. This is a valid criticism and one that must be taken seriously by the new leadership team, and the party, during its upcoming review.

I went to the Palmerston North meeting on Tuesday and the Wellington meeting last night. They both went very well. They’ve attracted large crowds of members, many of whom have renewed their memberships just to gain entry and others who haven’t been to a party meeting in many years. It goes to show that an open process can really inspire people to get involved.

Imagine how many more members we would have at the door if they were allowed a vote on the leadership?

I congratulate the caucus and the party for the way they have conducted this process, but I hope they see it as a stepping-stone on the way to something bigger and better. I’ll be having more of a think about what the process could look like in the future. I look forward to hearing any thoughts you have.

As an aside – on the whole this contest has been positive. This is exactly what we need. The National Party will spend the next three years trying to cut our new leader down, we don’t need to give them a head start. Because of this I was pretty disappointed to see one of the candidates attacking another in the Herald this morning.

My contribution on the scope of Labour’s review

To the Labour Party’s New Zealand Council,

I am writing in response to Moira’s email asking for feedback on the potential scope and format for the upcoming Labour review.
Rather than lay out any particular plan, which I have every confidence the council will be able to do for themselves, I felt it would be best if I highlighted some particular things I would like the council to consider.
  • The review must have as wide a scope as possible. Every aspect of what we do must be up for examination.
  • The review needs to be totally inclusive. Every member of the party needs to be able to provide feedback, and be listened to. From the leader and party president, to members who haven’t been to a branch meeting in a decade, to members who have joined in the last year but never been engaged in the party.
  • We must also seek out feedback and assistance from outside the party. We must look to our sister parties overseas, many of whom have very recently completed similar reviews, and also to other organisations and specialists in this field.
  • Set out a clear process and timeline. We may very well be able to chalk up some quick wins, but I have no doubt that this review will address some far deeper issues that will take time and debate to work through. We need to embrace this challenge.
Thank you again for the opportunity to provide ideas around the review process – I really look forward to contributing more in the near future.
With regards
Patrick Leyland

When reviews go wrong

About this time last week the ALP broke out into yet another internal conflict. You could argue about the cause of the conflict until the cows come home, but the weapon used was Labor’s Review 2010. As reported by the Sydney Morning Herald

A SECRET Labor Party report has criticised the government led by Kevin Rudd as lacking purpose and being driven by spin and implies that the former prime minister or his supporters were behind the leaks that almost destroyed Julia Gillard’s election campaign.

It says the leakers ”should be condemned by the party”.

The report is the so-called sealed section of the 2010 election review conducted by party elders John Faulkner, Steve Bracks and Bob Carr and was never meant to be made public.

Obtained by The Sydney Morning Herald, the report’s findings will inflame tensions between Mr Rudd and Julia Gillard, which were on display throughout the three-day ALP national conference in Sydney which finished yesterday.

Mr Rudd was upset that his role as prime minister was clinically deleted from Ms Gillard’s opening speech on Friday and from a tribute to Labor’s handling of the global financial crisis.

The confidential report cites a period of drift and complacency for the Rudd government which began in mid-2009 after the opposition under Malcolm Turnbull was crippled by the Godwin Grech-utegate affair.

Internal research began to show public doubts about the government’s economic credentials, direction and priorities, despite its strong poll figures.

”Throughout this period there were 1900 press releases, however unlike with the earlier periods of government, there were no iconic issues for the public to latch on to,” it says.

”Ministers would make announcements and then move on to something different very quickly. In this context, the government was beginning to be seen by a portion of the population as lacking a core purpose and being driven by spin.”

The report accuses the Rudd government of being rich on themes, announcements and talking up a narrative but short on substance and follow-through.

This is damning stuff. But it was foolish, naive even, of the ALP and the Review’s authors to not expect this to happen.

New Zealand Labour’s review must be open, honest and far-reaching, but it cannot turn into a blame game. Leaks can and will happen, and I can just imagine exactly the scenario playing our over here. It’s not pretty.

Jobs and targeted tax cuts as economic stimulus

President Obama’s weekly address focuses on growing private sector jobs and the use of strategic tax cuts aimed at the middle class, and small business, to grow the economy. It’s working, and the Republicans aren’t happy.

Firstly, on jobs…

We need to keep this growth going and strengthen it. That’s why we’ve been fighting to pass a series of jobs bills through Congress – bills that independent economists say will create more jobs and grow the economy even faster. Because now is the time to step on the gas, not slam on the brakes.

One of the most insulting aspects of conservative attacks on welfare is that they see it in isolation. New Zealand’s economy contracted and hasn’t recovered. The unemployment rate has continued to rise. This isn’t because the Nats have made welfare more appealing – far from it. The issue is they are not creating enough private sector jobs.

You see, last year, both parties came together to cut payroll taxes for the typical middle-class family by about $1,000. But that tax cut is set to expire at the end of this month. If that happens, that same family will see its taxes go up by $1,000. We can’t let that happen. In fact, I think we should cut taxes on working families and small business owners even more.

Tell them not to vote to raise taxes on working Americans during the holidays. Tell them to put country before party. Put money back in the pockets of working Americans. Pass these tax cuts.

This sort of counter-cyclical economic stimulus works. The Rudd Government in Australia were even less targeted, with a massive cash injection into the economy by giving $800 to every Australian. Tax cuts targeted at the lower end gives money directly to people who will spend 100% of it. It’s not going to go overseas in investments, and it’s unlikely to be used on luxury products. It will go straight back into the local economy.

The answer to welfare problems is not to mess around the edges trying to look tough on the issue. The answer is to create jobs for these people to go to.