Coat-tailing has ensured political diversity under MMP

By   /   June 9, 2014  /   10 Comments

TDB recommends Voyager - Unlimited internet @home as fast as you can get

There’s too much grumping about the “coat-tailing” provision of MMP, whereby a smaller (lower-voting) party can bring in extra MPs (in proportion to their party vote) if they win an electorate seat.

There’s too much grumping about the “coat-tailing” provision of MMP, whereby a smaller (lower-voting) party can bring in extra MPs (in proportion to their party vote) if they win an electorate seat.

Coat-tailing has helped us get around the main problem with our MMP system, which is having too high a party vote threshold (5%) for a new party trying to enter parliament.

Consider this. Every new party entering Parliament under MMP has either had a sitting MP likely to be re-elected in their electorate seat, or a candidate on the road to winning an electorate seat (such as Richard Prebble who was successful in Wellington Central for ACT in 1996, and Jeanette Fitzsimons who was successful in Coromandel for the Greens in 1999).

It’s true that ACT and the Greens got past the 5% party vote threshold in the two cases I have mentioned (ACT with 6.1% in 1996 and the Greens with 5.16% in 1999) but this probably wouldn’t have happened without the confidence of potential ACT and Green voters that their votes wouldn’t be wasted – because of what we now describe as the coat-tailing provision.

We have one of the most politically diverse (and politically representative) parliaments in the world, and that is something we should be proud of. It could be about to become even more representative, giving almost everyone a party to vote for that matches their own concerns.

If Internet Mana, ACT, United Future, Maori and the Conservatives gain electorate MPs, Parliament will be made up of the following parties, starting from the Right:

ACT (far neo-liberal Right)
Conservative (moral conservative Right)
National (centre-Right)
United Future (centre to centre-Right)
New Zealand First (populist, nationalist anti-immigration)
Labour (centre-Left)
Maori (indigenous/centre to centre-Left)
Internet (internet freedom-Left)
Green (eco-Left)
Mana (indigenous-Left)

I’m not saying that all those parties will make it. ACT is declining (after extreme neo-liberal policies were discredited in the global financial crisis), the policies of Peter Dunne’s United Future are hard for New Zealanders to get a grip on, the Maori Party is suffering from competition with Mana, and the Conservatives (who have the potential to grow their support) could still fall short of winning an electorate seat.

On the Left, there are few significant policy differences between the Green Party, Internet Party and Mana. It is more that the three parties are attracting supporters to the Left through different entry points, and each party has somewhat different priorities. Clearly, the Greens are biggest of the three parties, with good eco-Left policies which cover most political bases. To an extent, the Greens and Internet Mana are competing with each other for the Left party vote, but at present both seem to be growing their vote. If Internet Mana brings new people into politics that is a good thing.

I believe we should keep the coat-tailing provisions until we lower the party vote threshold to two or three percent. I don’t rule out abolishing the threshold altogether, so that around one percent of the vote would be enough for a party to get an MP. Several European parliaments have low thresholds. Denmark has 2% and the Netherlands system is effectively on a 1% threshold.

Want to support this work? Donate today
Follow us on Twitter & Facebook


  1. kevin says:

    I agree Keith.
    Make the threshold, the equivalent of one MP. i.e. about 0.6% ???
    Why should someone be disadvantage because they want to vote for a party but they live in the wrong location?
    I can understand if that’s too extreme for some to ‘buy into’, and thus I would settled on two MP’s votes, e.g. about 1.2% of the popular vote.
    But the 5% (or 4% hinted at) is WAY way too high, and ONLY favours the big two (maybe the Greens too???) parties. And is thus UNDEMOCRATIC, IMHO

    • Michal says:

      Ditto we shouldn’t have a threshold, enough votes for anyone to get a seat should be it, otherwise the people that vote for that person/party then their votes don’t count either and why shouldn’t they.

      Of course none of the main players want this they will lose MPs, the main players still act as if it is FPP.

    • Korakys says:

      1 MP = 0.8333% (assuming 120 MPs)

      • Korakys says:

        For reference:
        2 MPs = 1.666%
        3 MPs = 2.500%
        4 MPs = 3.333%
        5 MPs = 4.167%
        6 MPs = 5.000%

  2. Michal says:

    I wonder Keith whether you would have called Labour centre-left a couple of years back. I just see them as centre these days, I like that quote that Minto makes ‘only a cigarette paper between the two main parties’ in terms of where they are. Or National lite!

  3. e-clectic says:

    The main objections to FPP are that it’s election by electorate boundary and election by marginal seats. Under FPP if you lived in a “safe seat” electorate there wasn’t any point in getting out of bed on election day. The fate of the country hinged on a few electorates – not fair and not equitable.
    My objection to coat-tails is that it perpetuates this unevenness and is inequitable as voters in some electorates effectively get two party votes. Why should voters in some electorates have more voting power than those in others?
    The threshold has to be lowered – definitely, and wasted votes need to be transferable – but retaining coat-tails isn’t equitable despite the diversity it brings.

  4. Korakys says:

    I think the threashold should be 3.4% (4 seats). Reducing it much below that could result in the kind of excessive fragmentation seen in Israel.

    Increase the number of electorate seats required to make party lists effective (coat-tailing requirement) from 1 to 2.

    Introduce preferential voting (instant run-off; ranking with numbers) for the electorate seats.

    Also, there should be an option to vote for blank seats, that is to say that for each 0.833% (assuming 120 seats) that the blank seats “party” gets, the number of total MPs in parliament reduces by one. The remaining seats are distributed among the other parties as normal.

    If an electoral system doesn’t get at least a 90% turnout then it isn’t doing it right.

  5. Naturesong says:

    I disagree with your political designations, so have supplied updates.

    ACT (far neo-liberal Right)
    Conservative (moral conservative Right)
    National (centre-Right populist corrupt)
    United Future (centre to centre-Right)
    New Zealand First (populist, nationalist anti-immigration)
    Maori (indigenous/centre)
    Labour (centre right – still neo liberal)
    Internet (internet freedom-Left)
    Green (centre-Left; social democrat)
    Mana (indigenous-Left)

    The Political Compass, while shallow, provides enough information to ask questions about political leanings of parties.

    The following was published before the last election and seems prophetic;

    Given the Kiwi tendency to confuse critical thinking with the national no-no of “negative thinking”, National’s up-beat election posters probably hit the popular mood. While short on substance, the slogan Building a Brighter Future invariably accompanied by a shot of the ever-smiling John Key, should help deliver a second term. This time around, harsher cutbacks and a more full- throttle neoliberal agenda can be expected. By contrast, Labour’s Phil Goff, widely seen as decent but unexciting, features less prominently than local candidates.
    With the ideological gap between the main parties narrowing, issues of identity politics have largely replaced the great clashes of vision that older New Zealanders remember. Politicians of conviction seem increasingly outnumbered by politicians of mere career.

    • Korakys says:

      My take, trying not to use the Left-Right scale.
      ACT (liberterian)
      Conservative (conservative)
      United Future (liberal-conservative)
      National (liberal)
      New Zealand First (liberal-nationalist)
      Maori (liberal-indiginous)
      Labour (liberal)
      Green (liberal-environmentalist)
      Mana (socialist-indiginous)
      Internet (who knows?)

  6. kmccready says:

    Thanks Keith, I think many NZers aren’t aware the coat-tailing ONLY happens in proportion to the Party Vote. What I don’t understand is why no one except me is talking about using the preferential counting system for Electorate Seat votes. This simple reform would eliminate the pathetic need for ‘tactical voting’ if we are to stick with single member electorates.