A couple of weeks ago, Roy Morgan came out with an interesting poll:
The Nats were down (to 44%) and the Greens were up to a record level (17%) – and the centre left block of Labour-Green-NZF stood at 52.5%.
But Gary Morgan’s attached narrative concluded this:
“If a National Election were held today the National Party would likely be returned to Government, however a Labour/ Greens alliance could form Government.”
This puzzled me and some others. So I queried this with Roy Morgan. And the response surprised!
Let’s go back a step to the poll results first.
- National: 44%
- Labour: 30.5%
- Green: 17%
- NZF: 5%
- Maori: 1.5%
- Mana: 0.5%
- ACT: 0.5%
- United 0.5%
Now, based on these results and assuming that ACT, Maori, Mana, and United all retain their current electorate seats, that translates to the following seats in the House:
- National: 53
- Labour: 36
- Green: 20
- ACT: 1
- Maori: 3
- United: 1
- Mana: 1
- NZF: 6
- Total 121
Wait. Hang on.
How then did Gary Morgan conclude that “If a National Election were held today the National Party would likely be returned to Government”? (Interestingly, reported with any caveat in the NZHerald.)
How exactly is a National-led government able to garner the necessary 61 votes on matters of confidence and supply? The present coalition (Nat-ACT- Maori-United) only has 58 votes?
Sure, technically, NZF could join the coalition. But Key has ruled out working with Winston.
And, perhaps the Greens? Again, a remote prospect.
Put bluntly, based on these numbers, I think there is no realistic prospect of the National government being returned to power. Instead, a Labour-Green-NZF coalition would be most realistic to report.
Gary Morgan’s narrative didn’t look right.
But there might be some explanation. Perhaps the 5% attributed to NZF was rounded up. If so, they failed to make the threshold and the numbers switch back to a National-led government.
Or different assumptions were made about the retention of electorate seats.
So, I queried Roy Morgan about the poll.
Well, no. I was assured that the 5% figure accorded to NZF was sound and accurate to 1 decimal point (ie, the poll had NZF somewhere between 4.95-5.04%). Pretty much bang on 5% then.
Roy Morgan’s poll manager, Julian McCrann, explained the narrative as follows:
“If one assumes that NZ First fail to gain the threshold (which they failed to do when polling 4.5% pre the 2008 NZ Election). It is most likely with that sort of breakdown that National would again form Government with the support of the Maori Party, ACT NZ and United Future.
If NZ First did gain the threshold convincingly (as they did in 2011 when our final pre-election poll showed NZ First on 6.5%), they would likely be a part of a possible left-leaning alliance Government.
The simple fact is that results like these would create a close election, although at 44% we believe the National vote is high enough for it to be returned to Government. As the party with clearly the highest primary vote it would have first call on trying to form Government under convention.”
Hang on again. This seems even more confusing:
First, the narrative is apparently not based on the translation of the poll results into seats in the House. It’s based on the possibility of different results being achieved. Sure, polls always have a margin of error (here, for example, Julian indicated the margin of error for NZF support was around 1.4%).
However, I thought it was pretty standard for polls to be interpreted, in the first instance, based on the snap-shot of support at the time.
Of course, that might not translate into outcomes at an actual election. But we appreciate that.
Secondly, the reference to some convention that “the party with clearly the highest primary vote it would have first call on trying to form Government” is just plain wrong. The highest polling party does not have any suggest right or first call.
The point has been clarified a number of times in the MMP era, even though to-date the highest polling party has so far been in a position to garner majority support for a governing coalition.
For example, the Governor-General Sir Michael Hardie-Boys said in 1997:
"In a parliamentary democracy, the exercise of my powers must always be governed by the question of where the support of the House lies. It is this simple principle which provides the answer to those who sometimes suggest that in situations like that encountered by New Zealand after the last election, the head of state should simply call on the leader of the largest party to form a government. Size alone provides no reason to prefer a party if its leader does not appear to have the support of a majority of the House. It is better to wait for negotiation among the parties to produce a majority."
(Harkness Henry address; http://gg.govt.nz/node/471)So, in my view, the narrative just doesn’t stack up.