Saturday Update: The Nationals have retained the lead, with 46% to 42% for the combined Labour and Green vote. NZ First will be in position to play kingmaker.
Two nations are holding elections this weekend. Here are our previews and an open thread to discuss the results:
On Saturday, New Zealand will go to the polls to elect its parliament. New Zealand has a population of about 4.7 million, about the same as Ireland(about the size of the state of Louisiana) on two islands, North Island and South Island, that combined are similar in area to the state of Colorado. Since the Legislative Council (upper house) was abolished in 1951, the New Zealand Parliament has been unicameral, consisting of a 120 member (since 1996) House of Representatives (although extra seats can be created-description to follow below). Prior to the 1996 election, the size of the Parliament grew as the population grew. As part of a major electoral reform passed in 1993 and first used in 1996, the size was fixed at 120, and the method of election changed from all seats being elected by constituency (or electorate as they are called in New Zealand), to a mixed-member proportional system, where some seats are filled by electorate (elected by first past the post) and some by party list by proportional representation. Now the proportion of seats filled by electorate changes by population, with 71 of the seats being filled by electorate in this election.
64 of the 71 seats cover the general population (with the more populous North Island having 3/4 of the seats). The other 7 seats are seats reserved for the indigenous Maori people. People of Maori descent (about 18% of the population) may register either on the general electoral roll or a special electoral roll which allows them to vote for the Maori electorates. The 7 Maori electorates are overlayed over the general electorates, with 6 of them on the North Island, and the other covering the entire South Island.
Each voter gets two votes-a vote for their constituency member and a vote for a party that is used for proportional representation. Parties may achieve representation in one of two ways-either by winning an electorate seat, or by gaining 5% of the national vote. The number of seats a party is entitled to is determined by their overall vote share, with the party given list seats to add to the number of electorate seats they win to give them their total number. Often, a situation arises where the number of electorate seats a party wins is more than what they would be entitled to with their share of the national vote. In that case, 1 or more overhang seats are added to the total number of seats (the previous parliament had 1 overhang seat, so there were 121 total seats).
With the country’s move to a mixed-member proportional system, the influence of smaller parties has greatly increased, and it becomes difficult for any party to win a majority of the seats. No party has won a majority since the move to the system in 1996 (although National fell just one seat short in 2014). Thus the major parties need the support of minor parties to form government, whether in informal confidence and supply or formal coalition agreements. The parties can be broken down into 3 groups-the two major parties, the two significant minor parties that usually win multiple seats, and other minor parties that usually win 1 or 2 seats.
The two major parties are the center-right National Party and the center-left Labour Party. The National Party is led by Prime Minister Bill English. English was chosen to replace John Key as prime minister last December when Key resigned after he decided 8 years as prime minister was enough. English is getting a second chance as National Party leader-he led the party to a disastrous electoral defeat in 2002, but worked his way back and served as Minister of Finance (traditionally the 2nd highest position in government) under Key. Key was highly popular as prime minister, and led the party to three electoral wins. Where Key was very much a centrist (a style emulated by Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull), English is somewhat more conservative, particularly on social issues-as a Catholic he opposes abortion and also voted against the same-sex marriage bill supported by Key and passed by his government (National Party members were given a free vote on the issue), although English now says he supports same-sex marriage.
The Labour Party is led by Jacinda Ardern. Ardern, previously deputy leader, took over as the party’s leader last month when then-leader Andrew Little resigned after the party had been performing poorly in polls under his leadership. The change in leadership from the middle-aged Little to the young Ardern has given Labour a boost in polling, actually taking a lead in polls for a few weeks until recently (more on that below).
The two significant minor parties are the Greens and NZ First. The Greens and NZ First both usually win enough seats to be a significant player in any government (the Greens had 14 seats and NZ First 12 seats in the last parliament). The Greens, being on the left, are a natural potential coalition partner with Labour. A scandal involving former co-leader Metiria Turei and the popularity of Labour’s Jacinda Ardern however has cost the party support in polls, and some polls have them coming close to the 5% threshold, important for the party as they are not expected to win any electorate seats. NZ First is a populist/nationalist party known for its anti-immigrant stance. The party is led by Winston Peters, a former National MP who founded the party in 1993 and has led it ever since and is very much the face of the party. Peters could very well end up as a kingmaker as it appears there is a good chance either National or Labour may need its support to form a government. NZ First has supported both parties in the past-in a formal coalition with National in 1996 and in a confidence and supply agreement with Labour in 2005. NZ First seemed to have gotten along better with Labour in their two deals, which has some speculating that they are more likely to support Labour than National, although that is far from certain. However, a minor scandal involving Peters has hurt them in the polls, and one recent poll has them flirting with the 5% cutoff as well, and they may have to rely on Peters winning his current electorate seat to remain in Parliament. NZ First has been shut out before-failing to make the 5% cutoff in 2008.
There are three other minor parties who had representation in the last parliament. The Maori Party had 2 seats-one Maori electorate seat and one list seat. Although the Maori Party has a center-left orientation, it has had a confidence and supply agreement with National in the last 3 parliaments. The conservative ACT Party held 1 seat (an electorate seat) in the last parliament and has a confidence and supply agreement with National. The centrist United Future Party had one seat in the last parliament(an electorate seat, although as their national vote was not enough to give them any seats, they were the source of the overhang seat). United Future has had confidence and supply agreements with both parties, however as their leader is retiring, they are not expected to have representation in the next parliament.
National had a consistent lead of 20+ points in the polls until Jacinda Ardern took over as Labour leader, her personal popularity (called Jacindamania) caused them to steadily rise in the polls throughout August until Labour took their first lead in early September. But as Jacindamania has worn off and National’s attacks on Labour’s policies have taken hold, National has taken back the lead in the last week, with a polling average of 45% to Labour’s 37%. The Greens are polling at 7% in the average of polls-putting Labour and the Greens together essentially at the same level as National. One seat projection has National at 55, Labour with 46,the Greens 9 and NZ First with 8. Maori and ACT would get 1 seat each. This would mean likely either a National/NZ First or a Labour/Green/NZ First government. Although the possibility has been talked about at least some in the media, the chances of a National/Labour grand coalition is considered highly unlikely, if not impossible. Polls close at 7 PM local time on Saturday (3 AM EDT in the US).
Germany: (thanks to shamlet for writing the Germany preview)
Then on Sunday, Germany will be holding its parliamentary election. Germany has a population of about 83M and a land area slightly larger than New Mexico. The parliament (Bundestag) contains a variable number of members set by a complex formula, but is usually slightly larger than 600. The German electoral system is in practice a pure party-list proportional system with a 5% threshold. Voters get to vote for a constituency rep and a party preference, but each constituency seat costs the winning party a proportional seat, and the ultimate composition of seats is determined solely by the relative vote shares of the parties that cross 5% (or who don’t get 5% but win 3 constituency seats, but that provision is essentially never triggered).
Germany’s government is a grand coalition of its two largest parties. But for the last 12 years one party, the Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) has been in the lead of government in the personage of Chancellor Angela Merkel. The CDU/CSU is a notionally center-right conservative party, but in recent years it and Merkel have generally behaved more like a liberal centrist party of a Bloombergish nature. Indeed, the CDU’s defining position is not really anything typically conservative or Christian-Democratic, but rather its staunch defense of the European Project and open immigration. The CDU has been polling well in the lead at around 35-40%, and there is essentially no doubt that Merkel will be re-elected as chancellor for another term. However, because of the CDU’s centrist nature, there is wide latitude for its coalition partners to pull governance left or right, and who ultimately joins the CDU in government will have a major impact on policy.
The junior coalition partner is the Social Democrats (SPD), a standard-issue European socialist party (indeed, it is generally considered the model for most first-world social-democratic parties) that is about in line with American BernieBros. The SPD, led by the former President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, has been in an uneasy Grand Coalition with the CDU two times, which has caused it some issues on its left flank. The SPD is polling around 25% and has essentially no chance to form government, but may once again join a Grand Coalition if more ideologically-coherent pairings don’t work out.
Four other parties are expected to enter parliament; all are polling in the high single digits. Two small parties are key to government calculations. The German Green Party, arguably the world’s most successful Green Party, is probably best thought of as a more fiscally moderate version of America’s Greens, which puts it within the mainstream center-left of the German spectrum. The Free Democrats (FDP) are a libertarian (by European standards) party that would be close to moderate establishment Republicans in the US, though its socially libertarian bent has been growing stronger in recent years. The FDP is expected to re-enter parliament this year after just falling just short in 2013. Then there are two other parties that are not expected to be a part of government calculations. On the far left, there is Linke, a descendant of the former communist eastern party that preaches a fairly typical form of European neo-communism. Its radical nature and personality tensions have historically made it an unacceptable coalition partner for even the SPD. On the far right, there is a new party, the Alternative (AfD), that is set to enter parliament. The AfD is still finding its legs ideologically, and its short history has featured ongoing battles between its hefty number of factions. For a small party, it’s a home for an incredible ideological diversity of opinions outside the German mainstream: old-UKIP style upscale euroskeptics, Americanesque social conservatives, LePen style working-class nationalists, and even some Jobbik style borderline neo-Nazis. It’s unclear which of the various ideologies of the party will emerge dominant, but unsavory characters are prominent enough for all other parties to flat-out exclude working with the AfD in coalition.
Unless polls are off by a wide margin or one of the four smaller parties fails to make the 5% threshold, you can say definitively that no coalition is possible that excludes the CDU. (A SPD+FDP+Greens+Linke combination could still theoretically occur, but Linke and FDP together in coalition is so improbable as to be absurd). So the coalition negotiations are really between the CDU and three potential partners: SPD, FDP, and Greens. Merkel’s first choice is likely a return of the CDU-FDP coalition that she led until the FDP lost parliamentary representation in 2013. That pairing would form with no issues if the seats are there; however, it seems likely the two will fall short of a majority. The second choice for Merkel is likely a “Jamaica” coalition of CDU, FDP, and Greens, which will likely clear the majority mark. However, ideological tension between the FDP and Greens may make this trio hard to form, which would likely put the CDU and SDP back together in another Grand Coalition.