Strate­gic vot­ing looks dicey as polls nar­row

Un­de­sir­able things can hap­pen when peo­ple do not vote for the party they pre­fer

Weekend Herald - - VIEWPOINTS - Our view

The nar­row­ing of the gap be­tween the ma­jor par­ties this week — putting them al­most neck and neck in the Her­ald’s anal­y­sis of the polls over­all — has prob­a­bly en­sured the elec­tion re­sult next Satur­day will be close.

Un­til the Reid Re­search poll for TV3 was pub­lished on Tues­day night, some Na­tional vot­ers were prob­a­bly look­ing at third par­ties, pon­der­ing how to in­flu­ence the com­po­si­tion of a Labour- led coali­tion.

The poll putting Na­tional 10 points ahead was out of line with most oth­ers re­cently but it put Na­tional firmly back in con­tention.

If it has dis­cour­aged strate­gic vot­ing, it will have done our pol­i­tics a favour. Un­de­sir­able things can hap­pen when peo­ple do not vote for the party they re­ally pre­fer. Vot­ing for a mi­nor party, un­less it i s your first choice, can have per­verse re­sults, par­tic­u­larly if the party is New Zealand First. Try­ing to pre­dict what Win­ston Peters might do is a fool’s mis­sion, Peters him­self has no idea what he will do un­til he knows the re­sults and sees which way the wind is blow­ing.

If Labour fin­ishes with more votes than Na­tional, he will prob­a­bly go with Labour. But if Na­tional wins nar­rowly he might still go with Labour, de­cid­ing his vot­ers want change. That as­sumes, of course that he re­tains the North­land seat and his party makes the 5 per cent thresh­old. Nei­ther looks as­sured at this point. NZ First’s share of the party vote de­clined this week and Labour’s resur­gence means Peters can­not count on the Labour vot­ers who helped him win the North­land by­elec­tion two years ago.

It is one thing to vote for a third party can­di­date in a by­elec­tion that can­not change the Gov­ern­ment, quite an­other to give your elec­torate vote to a can­di­date who might, or might not, put your pre­ferred party into power. Best to vote for the party you want un­less an­other party has given a ca­st­iron in­di­ca­tion of its in­ten­tion, as the Greens and Act have done.

NZ First and the Maori Party are the un­pre­dictable el­e­ments in the elec­tion, though it is likely the Maori Party would pre­fer to be in a Labour Gov­ern­ment this time. Its nine years with Na­tional, while im­por­tant for the party to es­tab­lish its abil­ity to work with both sides, has put it un­der stress. Its MPs rep­re­sented elec­torates that con­tin­ued to give the bulk of their party votes to Labour.

If Labour needs the Maori Party for a ma­jor­ity after the votes are counted next Satur­day night, the stress will be felt by Labour’s Maori MPs. The smaller party poses a threat to their hold on Maori seats.

If the Maori Party was to rule out an­other term with Na­tional what­ever hap­pens, it might greatly lift its party vote in Maori elec­torates, giv­ing it enough seats to be in a strong bar­gain­ing po­si­tion with Labour.

If the Greens clear the thresh­old, a three­some with Labour and the Maori Party could well take NZ First out of the equa­tion. That would be a bless­ing for both sides. It i s blem­ish on MMP that it al­lows the votes of mil­lions to be over- ruled on the whim of one in­di­vid­ual. But those who vote for Peters give him the lat­i­tude to do what he wants. They seem in­dif­fer­ent to what he de­cides, but there are fewer in his camp now than when the race be­gan.

Na­tional and Labour are both in con­tention as the cam­paign en­ters the fi­nal week, and their vot­ers will be con­cen­trat­ing on the con­test that mat­ters.

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