The Dim-Post

October 11, 2016

A theory on local government voting and turnout

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 7:23 am

The other day I wondered what was driving left-wing success in local body elections. I wonder if it’s a combination of things:

  • Decline of traditional media. Younger demographics (<50) especially are getting their news online, and mostly about celebrities and kittens instead of about local politics and local politicians. So they feel less informed and less invested in outcomes.
  • People tend to vote on the basis of social and/or group identity, rather than policy or ideology, and that privileges the left-wing candidates affiliating with political parties – even though nationally those parties are quite unpopular – as opposed to right wing candidates running as independents who have no identity affiliation.

21 Comments »

  1. (1) The dominant voting block in local body elections is the elderly (>50).

    (2) Your argument seems to be that people would rather vote for someone from an organisation they don’t like and think can’t govern than someone not from an organisation. That seems … unlikely to me. Also, if “people tend to vote on the basis of social and/or group identity”, then why did “Auckland Future” fail so spectacularly in spite of National’s popularity?

    Comment by Andrew Geddis — October 11, 2016 @ 8:14 am

  2. The dominant voting block in local body elections is the elderly (>50).

    Exactly! People who still follow local politics are more likely to vote.

    Your argument seems to be that people would rather vote for someone from an organisation they don’t like and think can’t govern than someone not from an organisation. That seems … unlikely to me.

    I think it works like this.
    Labour supporter->sees Labour candidiate->Votes->For them.
    National supporter->sees a bunch of ‘independent’ candidates they know nothing about->Does not vote

    Also, if “people tend to vote on the basis of social and/or group identity”, then why did “Auckland Future” fail so spectacularly in spite of National’s popularity? Because only a tiny number of political elites knew what ‘Auckland Future’ actually was.

    Comment by danylmc — October 11, 2016 @ 8:27 am

  3. I think if you want to make much sense of this issue you need to see how it has changed over time.

    A.

    Comment by Antoine — October 11, 2016 @ 9:06 am

  4. I agree with both points. But I also think a lot of classic local Government issues such as housing or transport tend to play better to leftish candidates anyway. The rightish candidates in Wellington were left with roads (boring at best, toxic at worst), or economic management. The latter point always seems to come down to cutting waste and not increasing rates. Candidates have been promising that for decades and can never deliver it, so it is just white noise for most people, I reckon.

    Comment by Nick R — October 11, 2016 @ 9:13 am

  5. First Past the Post must play a role in Auckland. The last two local body elections saw a clear majority of all votes elect no one at all to Auckland Council. I know I voted tactically to avoid splitting my vote among competing people. I’d suggest the centre-left offered fewer targets for voters…while the right was fragmented between two major factions and many of the independents as well. Factor that in, and the centre-left didn’t do any better in Auckland than they do nationally.

    Comment by truthseekernz — October 11, 2016 @ 9:24 am

  6. Danyl, hence the reason that Labour is moving back towards branded candidates after years of trying to play the independent game in most local bodies. It was very hard to turn-out left voters without clear branding.

    You are right about Auckland Future and if they had been branded with National Party blue they would have done better, but there are deeper issues with the fragmentation of the right that will need to be addressed before they do.

    Comment by RHT — October 11, 2016 @ 9:35 am

  7. Two comments.

    In Wellington at least the core policies are not heavily contested, so not much motivation to turn out for change. We had three mayors who all had different personalities but very similar policies – Wilde, Blumsky and Prendergast. Celia is the outlier but did not appear to have a big impact on the wider policy settings, Island Bay cycle lane aside. That consensus may be fraying – living wage and traffic – but not yet enough to motivate a major push one way or another.

    Also, as your first point notes, back in the day there was a lot more coverage of local body politics – far too much for many people – The Evening Post had two reporters at least full time on Wellington City alone plus others who dealt with the Hutt councils and Porirua plus all the community newspapers covered local body still in great detail.The Dom coverage was less over the top but still far more than now.

    Comment by Tinakori — October 11, 2016 @ 9:45 am

  8. Why can’t you just admit you won because your policies are highly favourable to the voting electorate? Why the need to look for these “strange combinations” of things?

    Local body left wingers are really good at making house prices go up. If you own property and want get rich quick, vote left wing. Left wingers will restrict the supply of housing all day every day.

    Parliamentary right wingers are really good at making house prices go up. If you own property and want to get rich quick, vote right wing. Right wingers will free up investment channels, decrease taxes and increase immigration all day every day.

    Centrist floating voters vote for ourselves and our best interests. For the vast majority of older (>50) centrist voters, the biggest asset class is their house. The left wins local body elections, because they have the best policies for the voting electorate.

    Comment by unaha-closp — October 11, 2016 @ 10:10 am

  9. I don’t understand why party politics is seen as such a significant thing. Phil Goff, Justin Lester and Lianne Dalziel all align themselves with the Labour Party, but unlike Parliament it’s not as if they’re at the top of a voting majority of Labour, is it? They represent the council and the city and chair meetings. How much influence does a Mayor have beyond that? Appointing committees, maybe? http://www.legislation.govt.nz/act/public/2002/0084/latest/DLM5679200.html

    My theory (probably wrong but I try) is that many voters don’t care a jot about party alignment. They just go for name recognition, watch a few soundbites, and possibly (because as @Tinakori pointed out there’s very little local media coverage these days) read that booklet with a paragraph that the candidate submitted to the Electoral Commission at the time of nomination.

    Comment by izogi — October 11, 2016 @ 10:25 am

  10. @Danyl,

    But “people who still follow local politics are more likely to vote” seems to contradict your next claim that local elections are information poor events where voters don’t know who “independent” candidates really are aligned with and can’t see that “Auckland Future” is really a National Party front. So, one or the other, surely?

    Comment by Andrew Geddis — October 11, 2016 @ 10:54 am

  11. Could it just be that older people tend to vote for incumbents & status-quo types?

    Comment by Matthew Hooton — October 11, 2016 @ 11:22 am

  12. Could it just be that older people tend to vote for incumbents & status-quo types?

    But Brown beat Banks, Wade-Brown beat Prendergast, Dalziel (effectively) beat Parker (who realised he couldn’t win, so quit), Lester beat two “incumbents & status-quo types”.

    Comment by Andrew Geddis — October 11, 2016 @ 11:46 am

  13. I don’t think your first argument makes any sense – it seems predicated on the idea no one would want a ‘left’ wing local politician if they knew how badly the national ‘left’ wing party is doing. Simple tribal logic.
    I think it’s perfectly possible that ‘left’ wing policies are just as acceptable and competitive with alternatives as they ever have been and the national ‘left’ (i.e Labour) parties failures due to it’s inability to convince anyone it’s fit to govern is unrelated to local politicians credibility.

    Meaning I think it’s easily explained by the credibility of people in local body elections as opposed to lack of credibility elsewhere and nowt to do with ‘left’ policies vs. ‘right’ policies and long do I hope that local body politics remains distinct from national party results.

    But unfortunately our central governments insistence on inserting itself into local politics will probably eventually screw up local politics completely.

    Comment by Fentex — October 11, 2016 @ 12:55 pm

  14. Every candidate I saw in my voting booklet was independent or of a one-man party. I didn’t know anything of any of them outside of what was in the voting booklet. It is really hard to give a fuck under these conditions.

    Oh yeah, I already moved to a different city by the time voting closed too.

    Comment by Korakys — October 11, 2016 @ 2:27 pm

  15. You really need to analyse things on a city-by-city basis.

    For instance, I’d question whether Wellington City really is more Left-leaning in Local Council results than at General Elections.

    After the latest Local elections, WCC looks pretty evenly-divided between Left and Right (albeit with ambiguity surrounding one or two councilors).

    And yet at General Elections, Wellington City remains one of only two centres (the other’s Dunedin) where the Left continue to beat the Right (and if you add NZF to the Left as the Opposition Bloc then it’s a very easy win).

    So are the Left REALLY doing better locally ?

    Comment by swordfish — October 11, 2016 @ 3:00 pm

  16. Take the Rongotai seat as an example:

    2014 General Election
    Oppo Bloc 64%
    Right Bloc 36%

    (Or Left vs Right Bloc, excluding NZF and minor)
    Left Bloc 62%
    Right Bloc 38%

    2016 Local Election
    (Eastern + Southern Wards)
    5 Councillors Elected
    2 Green / 1 Labour / 2 Right-leaning Independents
    = 60% Left / 40% Right

    (admittedly too lazy to look at the detailed STV vote breakdowns, so I’ve just based it on the crude measure of number of councillors)

    Comment by swordfish — October 11, 2016 @ 3:26 pm

  17. Another thing driving the decline in turnout could be declining home ownership. If you’re seeing your quarterly rates bill you may feel more engaged than a renter who might not really have the cost of local govt front of mind.

    As for the relative success of the right/left in recent elections then the much debated here theory of competent vs incompetent campaigning probably holds true. Did any block on the right put together a good campaign? CitRats in Akl used to dominate on that basis.

    Comment by Richard — October 11, 2016 @ 5:43 pm

  18. “the much debated here theory of competent vs incompetent campaigning probably holds true”

    It’s funny, if Danyl has a single big political idea that he consistently pushes, it’s this one, but this time when it is a better fit than most, he abandons it and looks for another theory.

    Comment by Ortvin Sarapuu — October 11, 2016 @ 11:07 pm

  19. I think there is also a circularity here. A sensible person who decides to go into local government is more likely to join a Labour or Greens bloc because That’s how you get elected?

    A.

    Comment by Antoine — October 12, 2016 @ 1:44 am

  20. Lots of local body election coverage on my community facebook pages. Those with the most activity won (including a liar who was not challenged by the incumbent, who was invisible).

    Comment by MeToo — October 12, 2016 @ 4:37 pm

  21. Have you not thought that renters are less likely to vote as they do not perceive that the local government is relevant to them. it would be interesting to compare the reduction of home ownership with the drop in voting.

    Comment by Lucy — October 13, 2016 @ 7:08 am


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