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Results from the 1998 NZES

The Questions and Response Frequencies

Comparative data for certain questions comes from the 1996 New Zealand Election Study. For details see Vowles, J., Aimer, P., Banducci, Susan., and Karp, J., ed., Voters’ Victory? New Zealand’s First Election Under Proportional Representation. Auckland, Auckland University Press, 1998.

The questions below are in the order asked of respondents.

1. On the whole, are you satisfied or not satisfied with the way democracy works in New Zealand? (PROBES FOR EACH RESPONSE EITHER:)Very satisfied or fairly satisfied? Or not at all satisfied or not very satisfied?
 

    1996 Election July 1998*
1 Very Satisfied
19
4 (4)
2 Fairly satisfied
54
39 (41)
3 Not very satisfied
24
34 (36)
4 Not at all satisfied
7
18 (19)
99 Don't Know  
5
  N
4063
535

*The question at the 1996 election was asked without a ‘don’t know’ option. The figures in brackets exclude the July 1998 ‘don’t know’s.

Since 1996, satisfaction with the way democracy works in New Zealand among a majority (73 percent) has been reduced to a minority in 1998 (45 percent).

2. By the way, do you happen to recall which parties are currently part of the government?
 

Don't know
 6
Only one
3
Correct (National and NZ First)
74
Two parties, at least one wrong
2
More than two parties
17
535

Only three out of four New Zealanders can correctly name the two parties currently part of the government. Some respondents may have confused ‘part of the government’ as implying representation in Parliament. However, only 1.4 percent named six (the actual number of parties in Parliament) and 3 percent named five (assuming that some could have forgotten the single-member United party represented by Peter Dunne).

3. Some people say that MMP has been a disaster and we should get rid of it as soon as possible. Others say that MMP has been a success and we should keep it. Others say that it is too soon to tell.

Which is closer to your view?
 

1 Get rid of MMP
 42
2 Keep MMP
5
3 Too soon to tell
47
99 Don't Know
5
N
535

If given the option, New Zealanders are apparently willing to allow more time to pass before giving their verdict on MMP. Given this, apparent support for a referendum on MMP in the near future suggested by other polling may express support for referendums in principle rather than an intense concern to have an electoral system referendum soon.

4. We would like to ask you a few questions about first past the post and MMP.

First, please listen to this statement carefully.

a) A party with 15 percent of the votes cast across the whole country will receive about 15 percent of the seats in parliament.

Can you tell me if that is true or false under first past the post?
 

1 True
 21
2 False
58
99 Don't know
21
N
535

The correct answer to this question is "false". A majority understand that the so-called "mechanical effect" of first past the post electoral systems means that minority parties get little or no parliamentary representation. However, 40 percent appear unaware that first past the post electoral systems provide for little or no representation for minority parties.

b) Is it true or false for the party vote under MMP?
 

 1  True
 47
2 False
28
99 Don't know
26
N
535

The correct answer to this question is "true". Only just under half understand that MMP is an electoral system which facilitates representation of such minority parties consistent with their shares of the votes.

5. Again, please listen carefully to this statement.

A party with the most votes across the whole country will receive the most seats in Parliament.

Under which system, MMP or first past the post, is this more likely?
 

 1 MMP
 46
2 FPP
42
99 Don't know
12
N
534

Less than half of New Zealanders understand that MMP is more likely to ensure that the party with the most votes will win the most seats.

Questions 2, 4 and 5 indicate that New Zealanders have quite low levels of political knowledge. In particular, about half do not appear to understand that MMP is a proportional electoral system, and what that means.

While this level of knowledge is somewhat disturbing, it is not entirely unexpected. Research indicates that in all democracies political knowledge is lower than many might hope. There is little or no education about politics in New Zealand schools. Electoral systems are complex institutions, and detailed knowledge about them is confined to a minority of experts. Many people have little interest in politics, and as elections are held only every three years, citizens have little incentive to acquire and retain knowledge about how votes are cast and counted.

Because understanding about electoral systems is relatively low, the next questions are designed to probe into New Zealanders’ expectations about electoral systems, leaving aside the labels MMP and first past the post. The questions are designed to establish whether people agree or disagree with proportional representation when particular practically relevant hypothetical choices about electoral outcomes are put to them.

6. Thinking now more generally about how we elect our Parliament:

Do you think that a party that wins 15 per cent of the votes cast across the whole country should receive about 15 per cent of the seats in Parliament, or less than 15 per cent of the seats?
 
 
 

 1 15 percent of seats
 62
2 Less than 15 per cent
30
99 Don't Know
8
N
535

Most New Zealanders appear to believe that minority parties should receive parliamentary representation consistent with their shares of votes. About a third oppose proportional representation in this situation.

Those who opposed proportional representation were asked: What share of seats do you think a party with 15 per cent of the votes should get then approximately? The following table includes all respondents,including those who chose 15 per cent of seats in the original question.
 

 None
  1
 1-4%
3
 5-9%
8
 10-14%
7
 Less unspecified
5
 15%
62
 Don't know
14
 N
531

Some of those opposed to proportional representation for minority parties are prepared to concede them a higher share of seats that would be likely under first past the post in New Zealand. This would be facilitated by a supplementary member system.

7. Imagine that a party wins the most votes in an election with, say about 40 per cent of the votes. Do you think that party should get about 40 per cent of the seats, or should it get more than half of the seats so that it can govern on its own?
 

1 About 40%
 61
2 More than half the seats
30
3 Somewhere between
2
99 Don't Know
7
N
510

A similar majority of voters believe in the principle of proportional representation when it is applied to major parties. Presented with the possibility of the a "manufactured majority" produced by first past the post, allowing the most popular party to govern alone with only 40% of the votes, most voters still prefer proportionality. Given the importance of the principle, the following question more explicitly forces a choice between proportionality and the single party government more likely to be fostered by first past the post.

8. Which of the following is most important to you?

That one party has more than half the seats in Parliament so that it can govern on its own?

OR

That parties have about the same shares of seats in Parliament as their shares of votes?
 

 1 One party more than half
 44
2 Same shares
51
99 Don't Know
5
  N
510

As we shall see from a later question, New Zealanders’ experience of coalition government has led them to prefer single party government. Bringing this preference to their attention, because of the greater difficulty of achieving single party government under proportional representation, the majority for proportional representation shrinks. Applying standard error criteria (the + or - 4.5%), we cannot definitely say whether a majority favours proportional representation of first past the post, but it is most likely that a small majority still prefer PR.

9. If there was another referendum on the electoral system held today, would you vote to replace MMP or would you vote to replace it with an alternative electoral system?

(IF AN ALTERNATIVE) What type of electoral system would that be?
 

 Would not vote
 1
 MMP
34
 FPP
34
 STV
3
 SM
2
 Other
19
 Don't know
7
 N
535

This question is open-ended with respect to alternative options to MMP. It produces a level of voter support for MMP close to that indicated by other surveys, notably those conducted for the National Business Review. However, the absence of a forced choice of an alternative reduces support for first past the post considerably as compared to other surveys. Another 3 per cent support STV, another proportional system, but only 2 per cent support the SM system advocated in the National Business Review.

10. We would like to know what you think about each of these political parties. Please rate each party on a scale from 0 to 10, where 0 means you strongly dislike that party and 10 means that you strongly like that party.

Data in the table gives the average or mean score for each party among all respondents.
 

   Mean 0-10 N
 National
5.0
525
 Labour
5.25
525
New Zealand First
1.98
506
 Alliance
3.88
521
 ACT
2.78
487

11. Thinking about all current MPs of any party, which one would you personally prefer to be Prime Minister?
 

 1  Shipley
 26
2 Clark
20
3 Anderton
9
4 Peters
2
5 Prebble
2
6 Moore
5
7 Bolger
2
8 Other
6
99 None
14
10 Don't Know
14
Refused
1
N
535

Choices of preferred Prime Minister are consistent with those expressed in recent polls conducted for the National Business Review and Television New Zealand.

12. a) Now I have a question about the performance of the Prime Minister. How much do you approve or disapprove of the performance of Jenny Shipley? Give me a score of between 0 and 10, 10 if you strongly approve, and 0 if you most strongly disapprove.

b) How about the performance of the Deputy Prime Minister. How much do you approve or disapprove of the performance of Winston Peters? Give me a score of between 0 and 10, 10 if you strongly approve, and 0 if you most strongly disapprove.
 

   Mean 0-10
N
 Shipley
5.09
525
 Peters
2.60
528

13. At the next election, what sort of government would you prefer - a government made up of a single party or a coalition government made up of more than one party?
 

1 Single Party
 59
2 Coalition/More than one
37
99 Don't Know
4
N
535

As suggested earlier, New Zealanders now dislike coalitions. However, significant minority support remains for coalition government, somewhat surprising given that, as we shall see shortly, the present coalition government is so unpopular.

14. If more than one party is needed to form a government, which of EITHER the National or Labour parties, would you most prefer to be in that coalition government? (IF THE RESPONSE WAS NEITHER OR DON’T KNOW, RESPONDENTS WERE FURTHER PROBED:) Which of the two major parties, National or Labour, would you LEAST prefer to be in that coalition government?

Responses to the probe were recoded to be consistent with the intention of the main question.
 

National
 42
2 Labour
49
3 Neither
5
99 Don't Know
4
N
535

15. Which other party would you prefer to be in that coalition government? (ONLY ASKED OF THOSE WHO INDICATED LABOUR OR NATIONAL IN QUESTION 14)
 

   

Labour Major choice

National Major choice

1 National
8
 
2 Labour  
17
3 New Zealand First
8
8
4 Alliance
59
13
5 ACT
6
40
6 Other
6
7
88 Refused
0
3
99 Don't Know
13
14
N
257
228

16. Do you approve or disapprove of the way the PRESENT Coalition Government is handling its job? Do you strongly approve or disapprove?
 

 1  Strongly approve
 2
2 Approve
13
3 Neither
10
4 Disapprove
25
5 Strongly disapprove
49
99 Don't Know
2
N
535

Only 15 per cent approve of the way the Coalition government handles its job, consistent with other polling.

17. What do you think of the state of the economy these days in New Zealand? Would you say that good or bad, or bad? Is it very good or very bad?
 

 1 Very good
 1
2 Good
11
3 Neither
20
4 Bad
38
5 Very bad
29
99 Don't Know
1
N
535

18. Generally speaking, do you usually think of yourself as National, Labour, Alliance, New Zealand First, ACT or some other, or don't you usually think of yourself in that way?
 

1  National
 27
2 Labour
26
3 New Zealand First
1
4 Alliance
3
5 ACT
1
6 Green Party
7 Other party
 1
8 Don't think in this way
38
99 Don't Know
3
N
535

19. How strongly (PARTY NAMED IN QUESTION 18), do you feel? Very strongly, fairly strongly or not very strongly? (TO THOSE WHO DON’T THINK IN THIS WAY): Do you generally think of yourself as a little closer to one of the parties than the others?
 

 1 Very strongly
 14

2

Strongly

34
3

Not very strongly

13
4

Close

24
5

None

15
99

Don't Know

1
 

N

535

20. Can you give me the names of any MPs from your area? (PROBE:) Any others?

(IF RESPONDENT RECALLS ONLY ONE ASK: ) Is that your electorate MP?

(IF RESPONDENT RECALLS MORE THAN ONE ASK: ) Which one is the MP for your electorate?

Data from these questions has not yet been analysed.
 
 


 
 

21. We'd like to know how much you agree or disagree with each statement. After the statement is read, please tell me whether you strongly agree, agree, disagree or strongly disagree with each statement.

a) Most Members of Parliament are out of touch with the rest of the country.
 

    1996 Election July 1998
1 Strongly agree
17
28
2 Agree
36
48
3 Neutral
21
5
4 Disagree
20
18
5 Strongly disagree
1
1
99 Don't Know
5
1
  N
4941
535

53 per cent agreed with the statement immediately after the 1996 election. The level of dissatisfaction with MPs has risen to an extremely high 76 per cent.

b) You can trust the government to do what is right most of the time.
 

    1996 Election July 1998
1 Strongly agree
2
0
2 Agree
29
26
3 Neutral
23
6
4 Disagree
32
47
5 Strongly disagree
12
21
99 Don't Know
4
1
  N
4933
535

44 per cent disagreed with the statement immediately after the 1996 election, and 68 per cent in July 1998. Both these questions clearly indicate the extent of increasing public disillusion the quality of their representation and about government responsiveness since the election. As the bias of the latter question is toward an expression of trust, this result is particularly disturbing.

c) My vote really counts in elections.
 

    1996 Election July 1998
1 Strongly agree
33
13
2 Agree
53
53
3 Neutral
8
4
4 Disagree
8
25
5 Strongly disagree
2
4
99 Don't Know
4
2
  N  
410*

Agreement that votes count is down from 86 percent to 66 percent, another indication of voter disillusion. These responses almost certainly relate to dissatisfaction with the present Coalition government and the circumstances of its formation.

*Only asked of part of the sample.

22. Some people say that a government needs more than half the seats in Parliament. Others say that a government can govern the country with less than half the seats. What is your view?
 

 1 Needs more than Half
 57
2 Less than Half
36
99 Don't Know
7
N
380*

*Only asked of part of the sample.

A majority of voters think that minority governments cannot govern the country effectively. This is surprising since about half of the period 1993-1996 was under minority government, with few signs of public concern.

23. Currently about 29 per cent of the Members of Parliament are women. Do you think there should be more MPs who are women, about the same, or less?
 

1 More 
 41
2 The same
29
3 Less
5
4 Depends on candidate
18
99 Don't know
3
88 Refused
5
N
535

There is substantial support for increased womens’ representation in Parliament, or for its maintenance at present levels.

24. Currently about 13 percent of the Members of Parliament are Maori. Do you think there should be more MPs who are Maori, about the same, or less?
 

1 More
 17
2 The same
38
3 Less
18
4 Depends on candidate
18
99 Don't know
4
88 Refused
5
N
535

Considerable support exists for continued Maori representation in Parliament at present or even enhanced levels.

25. You probably remember that under MMP you get two votes. One is for a political party and is called a party vote. The other is for your local MP and is called the electorate vote.

Thinking about the Party vote which is for a political party. If an election were held today, which party would you give your party vote to? (IF DON'T KNOW:) Which party would you be MOST LIKELY to vote for?
 

 
% choices only
 
1 National
35
2 Labour
43
3 New Zealand First
2
4 Alliance
10
5 ACT
6
6 Green Party
0
7 Christian Heritage
3
8 Another Party
2
N  
492
   % all respondents  
 9 Will not vote
 1
99 Don't know
5
88 Refusal
1
N
535

These figures are closely consistent with recent Television New Zealand and National Business Review polling.

26. Now thinking about your other vote, the electorate vote for your local MP. If an election were held today, which party's candidate would get your electorate vote? (IF DON'T KNOW:) Which party's candidate would you be MOST LIKELY to vote for?
 

  % choices only  
1 National
35
2 Labour
43
3 New Zealand First
5
4 Alliance
11
5 ACT
4
6 Green Party
0
7 Christian Heritage
1
8 Another Party
1
N  
426
   % all respondents  
Will not vote  
99 Don't know
 18
88 Refusal
3
N
535

27. Do you happen to recall which party you cast your party vote for in the 1996 election?
 

  % choices only sample actual
1 National
39
33.8
2 Labour
29
28.2
3 New Zealand First
16
13.4
4 Alliance
8
10.1
5 ACT
3
6.1
6 Christian Coalition
4
4.3
7 Another Party
3
4.4
N  
449
 
  % all respondents    
0 Did not vote
4
4
8 Ineligible/overseas
5
5
99 Don't know
6
6
88 Refusal
2
2
  N
535
535

A combination of sampling error (within the margin of error*) and respondent recall error account for the differences between the figures and those at the 1996 election. Given these two explanations, the differences are relatively minor.

*The margin of error is higher (+ or &emdash; 4.5% at a 39/61 distribution) with a subsample of recalled votes of only 449.

28. Imagine that the 1996 election had been held under first past the post. Which party, do you think, would have won the election?
 

99 Don't Know  
1 National
16
2 Labour
57
3
25
88 New Zealand First
1
Refused
1
  N
535

57 per cent correctly estimate that National would have won under first past the post.
 
 

D. Table

Vote in Hypothetical Referendum (Question 9) by Support for PR versus a 'manufactured majority' (Question 8)
 
 
 

 
MMP
Other
FPP
All
Manufactured Majority
19
40
71
44
PR
78
53
24
51
Don't know
3
7
5
5
 All
 (33)
 (32)
 (35)
 N=510

 
 

() Row %

The table compares support for proportional representation as measured by question 8 against voting intentions in a hypothetical electoral system referendum (question 9). Support for proportional representation has majority status not only among those who would vote for MMP but also among those who would prefer options other than MMP or first past the post. Between a fifth and a quarter of voters in the MMP and FFP camps make choices in the hypothetical election outcome trade-off in question 8 which are inconsistent with their referendum vote choices. This may be because of low political knowledge and/or because their perceptions of MMP and FPP are shaped by other concerns and issues.
 
 




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