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Making sense of the polls

NZ First to hold balance of power after election; far-right AfD wins 12.6% in Germany

With all election night votes counted at yesterday’s New Zealand election, the conservative National won 46.0% of the vote (down 1.0 point from 2014), Labour 35.8% (up 10.7 from an abysmal 2014 result), the anti-immigrant populist NZ First 7.5% (down 1.2) and the Greens 5.9% (down 4.9). These results are not final; special votes will be added on 7 October, and these special votes have favoured the left in past elections.

Seats are awarded in proportion to the vote share of qualified parties (those parties that receive at least 5% of the vote or win a single-member electorate). On the preliminary results, National won 58 of the 120 seats (down 2 from 2014), Labour 45 (up 13), NZ First 9 (down 2) and the Greens 7 (down 7).

The right-wing ACT party held its only single-member electorate, but did not qualify for additional seats. The Maori Party and United Future have been kicked out of Parliament after failing to win an electorate seat. Overall, 4.3% voted for parties that did not qualify, and these votes were effectively wasted.

On the preliminary results, National and ACT have 59 of the 120 seats, and Labour and the Greens 52. The left parties are likely to gain a seat from National when results are finalised, but NZ First’s 9 seats will be crucial in the next Parliament. It is the first time NZ First has had a balance-of-power role since the 2005-08 term, when they supported Labour.

Two weeks ago, Labour was ahead of National in the polls, and a Labour/Greens government looked plausible. However, final polls conducted last week had National recovering to a large lead over Labour, and the results have confirmed these polls. If National wins over NZ First leader Winston Peters, they will have governed for four consecutive terms.

In Thursday’s article, I explained that I thought the biggest reason for National’s surge back was the waning of Labour leader Jacinda Ardern’s popularity as a vote motivator, while the strong NZ economy was a big positive for National.

While Labour’s vote improved 10.7 points from 2014, this was from a woeful 25.1% at that election. In addition, the Greens lost almost 5 points, so the overall left vote was up 5.8 points on 2014. For a Labour/Greens government to be plausible, Labour needed to lift its vote into the 40’s. Given the polling two weeks ago, the results are disappointing for Labour. However, Labour’s vote share was its best since 2005, following three disastrous elections in a row.

After nine years in government, a 45% vote share for National is very good for them. I expect National’s current 46.0% to decline slightly once all votes are counted.

While additional votes remain to be counted, the polls appear to have overestimated Labour and the Greens and underestimated NZ First. NZ polls still predominantly use live phone polling, and this may be skewed towards politically correct parties.

Far-right AfD wins 12.6% in Germany as major parties slump (Monday update)

The German election was held yesterday. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) won 33.0% of the vote (down 8.6 points on 2013), the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) 20.5% (down 5.2), the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) 12.6% (up 7.9), the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) 10.7% (up 6.0), the Left 9.2% (up 0.6) and the Greens 8.9% (up 0.5). Turnout was 76.2% of registered voters, up 4.6 points on 2013.

As the CDU performed far better in single-member electorates than their party vote implies, there was a large overhang, with the size of Parliament increased from 631 members in 2013 to 709, 111 seats above the minimum number of 598. The CDU won 246 of these 709 seats, the SPD 153, the AfD 94, the FDP 80, the Left 69 and the Greens 67 seats. In 2013, the FDP and AfD had just missed the threshold of 5% to enter Parliament.

355 seats are required for a majority. The SPD has said it will leave the current government. As no other party will deal with the AfD, Merkel’s only realistic option without the SPD is an awkward CDU/FDP/Greens coalition. If a new government cannot be formed, there may need to be another German election.

I think the AfD’s rise can be attributed partly to the SPD’s failure to offer a left-wing alternative to Merkel. As the CDU and SPD have been in coalition from 2005-09, and again from 2013-17, the two parties appear close. This election shows that extremist parties can flourish when the established parties are too comfortable with each other.

German polls tended to have the CDU too high and the AfD too low, probably due to herding. The final INSA poll, conducted 21-22 September, was better than other polls in picking up a late drop in CDU support and an increase for the AfD.

In German elections since the Second World War, the 2017 election is a record low for the SPD and the second lowest result for the CDU.

Note: The official results linked above include the Bavarian Christian Social Union as a separate party. It is effectively part of the CDU, and I am treating it as such. The second vote is the important party vote, the first vote is the electorate vote.

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