Rob Salmond responds to the attacks on Labour’s centrist strategy by taking a look at the data from the New Zealand Election study surveys:
The results are public up to 2008, and have been pretty consistent. There is never an absolute majority of either left wingers or right wingers, usually not even close, and the proportion of people who say they are perfectly centrist (5 on the scale), is around 25-30%. That is a huge bloc of voters perched right in the middle. Ideology in New Zealand is a bell curve, and a steep one at that.
Given this distribution of voter ideologies, it does not take a statistician to figure out that the left needs to do well with centrist voters in order to win. Same for the right.
I don’t think relying on people’s self-assessment of their political ideology is very valid. Most people consider themselves to be reasonable and moderate. Take a look at the political self-assessment distribution from 2008.
So you look at that and conclude ‘New Zealand is a center-right nation’, right? If you want to get elected you need to pivot to the right, right?
Not really. Respondents to the NZES survey are asked a variety of questions, and you can pick and choose which ones are most representative of true political ideology, but I’d argue that the question:
ONE represents the view that the government should reduce taxes and people should pay
more for their own health and education, and SEVEN the view that there should be a tax
increase so the government can spend more money on health and education. Where would
you place your view?
Gets to the heart of the left-right value debate. And here are the results for 1999 and 2008.
Still a bell-curve, but now strongly skewed to the values of the left – although far less left in 2008 than it was nine years earlier. And you could argue about why that is, but my hypothesis is that the National Party is really good at advocating for its core values. They didn’t look at this chart and think, ‘well, we need to win the center so let’s endorse Labour’s policies of taxation and state spending because they’re popular with voters’, they thought ‘we need to get out and make the case for a low tax economy with less government, because that’s what we believe in.’
Which takes us back to Shearer and his roof-painting sickness beneficiary. Sure, in the NZES survey the majority of voter opinion is bearish towards beneficiaries but that doesn’t mean left-wing parties need to concede the debate on that subject to the right. The numbers on public opinion do move, but they don’t do so by themselves.