Bryce Edwards writes that this year is going to be the ‘year of the microparty‘:
However, it’s possible that the 2014 election year will be the year of the ‘micro party’.
While ‘minor parties’ might be classified as those parties normally receiving 5% to 15% support, ‘micro parties’ can be defined as those regularly inhabiting the space below the 5% MMP threshold. In this category we are seeing an array of new parties emerging, fighting for relevance alongside existing micro parties, and possibly having a considerable impact on the campaign and the final result.
Two of the parties cited are Kim Dotcom’s party and the Civilian Party. Technically the Conservative Party is also a micro-party, since it’s way, way south of where it needs to be to get into Parliament without an electorate seat.
This will definitely be the year of the media paying lots of attention to micro-parties as people like Colin Craig go to absurd lengths to get coverage. But reading some of the political science about microparties and protest voting makes me doubt how much influence they’ll have on the outcome.
The international research indicates that people cast protest votes when they’re confident that their most-favored candidate is going to win; they cast a vote for a fringe or joke party to send that candidate a signal hoping to influence future policies.
Does that model work in New Zealand’s MMP environment? I don’t know. In 2008 – an election which the John Key-led National Party was widely tipped to win and did by a comfortable margin – the ‘Bill and Ben Party’ founded by two comedians contested the election and received 13,016 (0.56%) of votes. I’d expect most of their support to have come from younger voters in left-leaning urban regions with high numbers of students. And they did do well in Palmerston North. But their most successful electorates were Invercargill, Rangitata, New Plymouth and Rangitikei, all of which have huge National majorities. So maybe the ‘signal to favored party’ model holds true to New Zealand elections?
If it does then 2014, in which the outcome is (currently) highly uncertain could be a really bad year to be a Microparty. If you like John Key, have a few quibbles about him but still want him in government you’re not going to ‘send a message’ by voting for The Civilian. And it helps explain why Colin Craig’s extraordinary media coverage hasn’t seen him gain in the polls.
The impact of the Kim Dotcom party is a bit harder to nail down. My gut feeling is that people aren’t going to give votes to a foreign national with a past history of criminal convictions who is facing extradition to stand trial in the US. But Dotcom’s formidable intellect and vast fortune make him highly unpredictable. I think he might take votes off the Green Party? Maybe? And maybe younger male National voters who think reducing World of Warcraft server latency is an important policy? But my best guess is that he’ll get less than 0.5%.