New Zealanders favouring second electoral system referendum

Monday 9 August 2010, 8:47AM
By New Zealand Business Council for Sustainable Development

New Zealanders are likely to vote for an opportunity to change the way the country elects its Members of Parliament.

Thirty eight per cent say they will vote to change to a different voting system and 32% to retain the current MMP one while 26% remain undecided, according to a new nationwide ShapeNZ survey of 2,261 New Zealanders.

When the undecided are invited to specify which option they most lean towards at present, the desire for change becomes firmer. The country then votes

• 46.6% for change from MMP
• 37.5% to retain the current MMP system.

After applying leanings, the number of undecided falls from 26% to 11.9%.

The 2010 referendum will ask voters if they want to keep MMP or change to a different system. In a second question, voters will choose their most preferred different system from four options. If there is a vote for change a second referendum will be held in 2014 to choose between MMP and the most popular alternative option.

The ShapeNZ survey indicates at present the country will vote to proceed to the second referendum and a run-off between MMP and another option.

New Zealanders regard the overall performance of MMP as better than the First Past the Post (FPP) system it replaced in 1996, though there are aspects of MMP voters dislike.

The ShapeNZ survey was commissioned by the New Zealand Business Council for Sustainable Development. Results are weighted by age, gender, ethnicity, personal income, employment status and party vote 2008 to provide a nationally representative population sample. The maximum margin of error is +/- 2.1 % on the national sample. The weighted sub-sample of 327 undecided voters has a maximum margin of error of +/- 5.4%. The survey was conducted between July 20 and August 2, 2010.

MMP’s overall performance compared with FPP

• 38% think MMP has been better than FPP (15% much better)
• 29% think it has been worse (8% much worse)
• 15% think it has been about the same
• 17% say they really don’t know.

MMP likes and dislikes

• 50% of voters support the diversity MMP brings to Parliament, even if it makes it harder for Government to take strong actions, whereas 31% oppose it, and 19% don’t know.
However, while voters like the diversity encouraged by MMP

• 41% of voters believe smaller parties with less than 10% of the vote have too much influence under MMP compared to 10% who think they have too little influence

• 43% of voters believe the compromise required to form a Government under MMP is bad, rather than good, 35%, while 22% don’t know.

• 13% of the voters like it that people who could not get elected to an electorate seat can go to Parliament on a party list, while 55% dislike this feature of MMP.

• 14% of voters like it that under MMP some candidates can lose in an electorate, but still enter Parliament on the party list. 50% oppose this feature.

• 36% disapprove of MMP making it harder to remove a Government compared with FPP, while 15% approve of this feature, 39% neither approve nor disapprove, and 11% don’t know.

The referendum process

At the 2011 referendum electors may vote to keep or change the current Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) voting system, then also vote for which one of four alternative systems to MMP they would prefer.

If there is a vote in 2011 to change the system, then the highest polling alternative system to MMP, from a choice presented in a second referendum question in 2011, will be run against MMP in a referendum in 2014. Any electoral system changes would take effect from the 2017 general election.

If a majority vote to retain MMP then a review of MMP will be conducted and any proposals to change the MMP system will be the subject of a referendum in 2014.

Part two results:

Part two of results from this survey will cover:

• The speed of reform – if New Zealanders want any changes in place for the 2014 general election, not the 2017 one as currently planned

• Knowledge on the alternatives to MMP: the large number who do not feel informed enough to make a decision, and

• What New Zealanders feel about extending the term of Parliament beyond three years.

The Business Council does not have a policy view on MMP reform. It commissions ShapeNZ research to provide the public with an opportunity to contribute to policy making.