New Zealand’s electoral system gives it a parliament which represents voters. Its winner-takes-all executive government, however, remains unrepresentative.* (This is a follow on from the earlier column on coalitions.)

This paper tries to evaluate various coalitions on the basis of their political ideologies. It uses the scores given to parties by the TVNZ website Vote-Compass, which identifies two dimensions: Right-Left and Social Conservative-Social Progressive. The party scores are derived from coding the party positions over the thirty attitudinal questions by a combination of interpreting the party statements and after dialogue with the parties. 

 (Note that I have carried out some simple transformations of their scores which means the average New Zealand voter is 0 on the right-left dimension and 0 on the conservative-progressive dimension and that the standard deviation across all scores is 1 in each case. These are trivial changes and do not affect the results.)

Table I: The Ideological Positions of the Parties



+Conservative/ Progressive-


National Party




Labour Party




New Zealand First Party




Green Party




ACT New Zealand




The Opportunities Party




Maori Party








United Future








All Voters




Table I gives the Vote-Compass (transformed) scores for ten parties together with the score for All Voters. **

 It shows National at 1.05 on the right-left spectrum which means it is 1.05 standard deviations to the right of the average voter. National’s score on the conservative-progressive dimension represents 0.90 standard deviations more conservative than the average voter. In contrast Labour is -1.00 and -0.82 which makes it to the left of average voters and also more socially progressive. Intriguingly it is almost exactly as extreme as National but in the opposite direction.

On the right-left dimension, Vote-Compass thinks the right-wing parties are ACT (the most extreme), National, Conservative,  and the Maori Party. The other six are to the average voters’ left: UF (very slightly), TOP, NZF, Mana, Labour and Greens (the farthest left).

It thinks that socially conservative parties are Conservative, ACT, National, and NZF. United Future is again near the middle. The socially progressive parties are, the Maori Party, Labour, TOP, Mana, and the Greens (the most socially progressive).

The numbers are calibrated so that the average voter is (0,0) but that need not be true for parliament. In fact it is almost, at (0.02, 0.08). The small differences are because parties which did not win seats were, on the whole, slightly more left and slightly more socially progressive.

(If parliament had no list seats and had the same electorate seat allocation as in the recent election it would be 0.23 standard deviations to the right and 0.21 standard deviations conservative. So it would be unrepresentative of the population. Because voters change their choices in a Front-Runner election, this is hypothetical, but it illustrates how unrepresentative a parliament can be under the FR system.)


TABLE II: Governments



+Conservative/ Progressive-


All Voters
























WTA in a FR election




However, Table II also shows that while the next parliament may be representative, any of the four coalitions will not be.*** One, L/NZF/G, would be strongly to the left and socially progressive; the other three, dominated by National, would be strongly to the right and socially conservative. (The closest there is to the population average would be the Grand Coalition of National and Labour.)

Perhaps, ironically, the coalition outcomes look about as extreme as a Front Runner parliament. However if there had been such an FR parliament, it is probable that National would have been elected to govern alone as winner-takes-all. In which case the executive government would have been even less representative of voters.

In summary, while New Zealand democrats may be satisfied with the MMP electoral system which gives the public a parliament which reflects their values, they must be uncomfortable about the resulting executive government.  It may not be as extreme as the one the Front-Runner system would give them but it still does not reflect the populace.

Perhaps the logic of an MMP parliament is a minority government. (It might be buttressed by minor parties which provide supply and confidence but no guarantees on individual policy.) Such minority governments have occurred more often in parliamentary systems in other countries than you might expect, but  as far as I know they have never been dominant in any one of them.

In principle when there is a minority government, parliament, which is more representative of what voters want,  would be driving policy more. That is a bit like some governments we have had in the post-MMP recent past. They seemed to be anomalous, but they may only seem so from a Front-Runner perspective.****                                                                                                                       

* The original paper, publihed with election night outcomes has been updated to the final outcome. There are small numerical differences but no substantive changes. For the records the specials votes were 0.20 standard deviations to the left of election night votes, and 0.24 standard deviations more socially liberal.

** Vote  Compass does not give scores for very minor parties which together obtained about 0.6 percent of the vote.

***The calculations assume that the elected MPs reflect their voters. In fact they may not.

**** The same calculations using the Political Compass scores give very similar conclusions.


Comments (8)

by Charlie on October 07, 2017

The axes are wrong!

Not your fault Brian, but in ripping off 

political compass changed the dimensions. Maybe theyre protected by copyright, I dunno. As it is the chart now makes little sense.

The correct axes should be:  Left/Right and Authoritarian/Libertarian which would give an entirely different result.

by Brian Easton on October 07, 2017
Brian Easton

Charlie, I used the Vote-Compass (promoted by TVNZ) scores rather than the Political-Compass ones for the column. It uses a different second dimension: Social conservative/social liberal instead of Autoritarian/Libertarain.

I originally used the Political-Compass scores but was uneasy about them, since they classified TOP as extreme right, ACT's and National's were virtually the same, and the relationship between National and Labour seemed not quite right. More fundamentally I could not find any documentation of how Political-Compass compiled their scores.

So I went to Jack Vowles who steered me to the TVNZ scores (although you have to go through the whole bloody questionaire to get to them) and explained how they were compiled. The outcome scores seem much more sensible too. So I used the Vote-Compass scores. 

As the final note observes the Political-Compass scores do not give a very different conclusion. While parliament will reflect voters' views, any government will not. 

(I can put up the tables based on the Political-Compass scores if anyone is interested.)


by Katharine Moody on October 07, 2017
Katharine Moody

I thought Political Compass got TOP right - close followers of Friedman on my reading. His UBI proposal being negative income tax and he was also in support of a land value tax. 

by Brian Easton on October 08, 2017
Brian Easton

I had a number of freinds, Katherine, who would place themselves on the left and found that TOP most closely reflected their views. (I dont think they voted for TOP because they thought it would not reach the threshold.) 

by Katharine Moody on October 08, 2017
Katharine Moody

Yes, I think many people viewed TOP policies closer to Labour/Green, than National. But, to my mind market priced, tradable water rights and polluter-pays mechanisms (as examples) are very (neo)liberal economic premises as a way to manage environmental pressures. 

I find the old notions of left and right very blurred these days. Political preferences seem to me to be more based on trust in market (i.e., SHAs/PPPs) vs regulatory (i.e., Kiwibuild) mechanisms with respect to addressing the 'wicked' problems, and the general form of taxation (i.e., whether an emphasis is placed on taxing labour and consumtion vs wealth (capital accumulation) and profit).    

by Charlie on October 08, 2017

This is all very wonky. 

Looking at the chart here:

How can they have ACT as authoritarian when they're libertarians?

One wonders who is making this stuff up



by James Green on October 09, 2017
James Green

This seems like a good time to plug my idea of what a political compass should look like:

We live in strange times when an orthodox, mainstream economist like Gareth Morgan is now considered to be on the left politically.

It seems the idea of taxing income from capital above more than bare-bones levels is radical. Taxing capital income at the same rate as salary income (minus inflation), now that is a truly radical idea.

by Katharine Moody on October 09, 2017
Katharine Moody

Yes, interesting James. This is one of my favourite academic articles on political ideology - where the author suggests globalism (as the dominant ideology of our times) has two centrist variants - market globalism and imperial globalism - and emergent ideologies taking their places on the left and right of this spectrum;

@Charlie - ACT is an oddity. Although it talks up libertarianism it's actions in policy 'wins' have been quite the opposite. The three-strikes law, the Auckland Super City (the amalgamation decision being made in an authoritarian manner - in other words, with no reference to the wishes of the electorate) and charter schools (having been exempted from the Official Information Act). So, authoritarian in action and libertarian in theory.  And although they promoted 'Freedom to Build' as their anti-regulatory planning policy regarding Auckland - when his GZ constituent 'rights' for their children to attend the Grammar Schools was threatened by apartment block building in the area - he went all out to protect those 'rights' that didn't exist;

A very authoritarian view/approach - freedom to build anywhere - as long as you deny the children of the new apartment dwellers their right to attend the local school.



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