28 Aug 2017

Election17: Give your vote more oomph - Strategic voting 101

From Election17 - Backgrounders, 1:44 pm on 28 August 2017

Strategic voting is voting knowledgeably to make sure your vote helps achieve your hopes for a government that does what you want it to.

A good understanding of how MMP works helps for voting cleverly. If you’re not sure of the finer points read our primer.

John key with his wife Bronagh and son Max voting in Auckland.

Epsom has been a strategic electorate for several election cycles. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

There are four kinds of strategic voting

  •       Voting to make sure your vote isn’t wasted
  •       Voting strategically to achieve a policy
  •       Voting strategically to help a party or coalition
  •       Voting strategically to hinder a party or coalition

Some strategic voting influence is affected by your location, but everyone can increase the effectiveness of their votes.

Make sure your vote isn’t wasted

Firstly - tell your votes apart. You get two votes. They are not equal. For impact, the electoral vote is a localised weapon, but the party vote has a nationwide blast radius. The electorate vote is nice and can have a big impact in some locations – but – how you use your party vote is what decides the election.

Use your party vote with the most care. If you plan to split your votes between two parties the party vote is the one you give to the party you want in government.

Yes, in a few select locations the electorate vote can have wider impacts. We’ll get to that later.

If you give your party vote to a party that wins zero electorates and fails to get five percent of all the party votes, your vote is set aside and not factored into how parliamentary seats are divided among the parties. Instead, seats are divided proportionately according to the votes that do 'count'.

So, for example, if 10 percent of all votes go to parties that don't make it into Parliament, the seats are divided up according to the remaining 90 percent of votes. That means a party that got 45 percent of the vote (including discarded votes) would actually end up with 50 percent of the votes that 'count' and therefore, 50 percent of all seats in Parliament.

It's a bit more complicated in reality, but that's the simple(ish) explanation.

If you need a reminder about how the thresholds work read our MMP primer.

Voting strategically to achieve policy

You might think that to get a pet policy or project achieved you should just vote for the party that shouts loudest about it – but that isn’t necessarily right.

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Photo: RNZ

To think strategically about achieving your policy objectives you should ask yourself:

  • How much does this party support my policy?
  • Is this party likely to be in Parliament?
  • Will this party have much influence in a coalition to get this policy adopted?

Obviously voting for a party unlikely to have any MPs elected is not going to advance your cause.

But even for parties that will win MPs, how much of their policy platform they can enact will depend on how crucial they are to forming a government.

Minor parties can fulfil some of their pledges depending on post-election deals, but they're unlikely to get everything they ask for.

So balance how loud a party shouts about issues with how much influence they will actually have to carry out their desires.

Voting strategically to help or hinder

You may want to help a particular MP or party, or to hinder them. In a few cases your electorate vote could help decide whether a party enters Parliament at all.

First - an MMP reminder - if a party wins an electorate, they get a free pass into Parliament. They get that electorate MP and more MPs if required to match the proportion of the party vote they won, even if their party vote failed to reach the five percent threshold.

So for very small parties, winning a single electorate is all-important. In the 2014 election three parties got into Parliament by winning an electorate, despite getting less than five percent of the party vote. ACT and United Future each won a single electorate and got one MP. The Māori Party won a single electorate and got two MPs (by getting more party votes).

These were all battleground electorates, where voters can allow or deny a party entry to Parliament.

Deals between parties make some of these battlegrounds more of a fight. This is particularly true of the deal between the Māori Party and the Mana Party, who have  agreed not to stand in the same electorates, so as not to split the anti-Labour vote. It means voters not supporting those parties need to be equally clever to help their candidates.

How to vote strategically in the battleground electorates

The electorates that particularly hold this extra influence this election are Epsom and some of the Māori electorates. Below are electorates that some minor parties look likely to rely on to enter Parliament. For a party with more than five percent of the party vote, it is that party vote and not electorate results that determine their fate.

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ACT's hopes probably rely on its leader, David Seymour, being re-elected in Epsom Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Who: ACT Party

Where: Epsom Electorate - in the rich inner suburbs of Auckland.  

Why: The ACT party relies on winning Epsom to enter Parliament. Their candidate is the ACT leader David Seymour. 


Who: Mana Party

Where: Te Tai Tokerau, the far north Māori electorate.

Why: Mana Party leader Hone Harawira is relying on beating Labour deputy leader Kelvin Davis in this seat to get Mana into Parliament. Mana have agreed not to compete with the Māori Party for electorate seats.


Who: Māori Party

Where: Waiariki, the Māori electorate that runs from Tauranga to Taupo.

Why: The Māori party has two decent cracks at attempting to win an electorate. One is Waiariki, where Te Ururoa Flavell won handily last election. 


Of course, which electorates are important in this way may change during the campaign as party or candidate fortunes fluctuate.

Happy voting.

Here's all you need to know to actually go about casting your vote.

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