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MMP voting system comes of age

Opinion Piece

MMP reached its 21st birthday with the 2017 election but there are signs some New Zealanders have either not got to grips with this proportional voting system, or are not inspired enough to vote under it.

Turnout for Saturday’s election was 78.8 percent according to the Electoral Commission, only a smidgen above the 2014 figure of 77.9 percent.

The demography of those voting remains firmly with the older age bracket. Figures released just before the election showed that while 97 percent of voters over 70 had enrolled, the percentage dipped as the age decreased — with the figure down to the mid-60s for those aged 18 to 24.

Final statistics will show exact figures but the turnout suggests that the hoped-for “youthquake” for Labour and the Greens did not materialise.

In fact, the party which can decide the make-up of the next government, New Zealand First, is dominated by older voters.

Equally interesting is the way MMP has not changed the basic support levels for the two biggest parties, National and Labour.

While their share of the vote has ebbed and flowed, they have managed to get about 80 percent between them for each election since 1996.

Certainly New Zealanders have learned to vote tactically, realising they can get the electorate MP they want while giving the essential list vote to their party. The prime example of this of course is Epsom, which has been keeping ACT on life support.

Maori on the other hand might have considered some tactical voting to save the Maori Party, but they did not. That shows a level of disenchantment with the party after its three terms in coalition with National.

Few people would argue for a return to the First Past the Post system now, but there will be continuing calls for MMP to be tweaked. The most likely change would be a reduction in the percentage needed to obtain list MPs as many believe the present 5 percent threshold is too high.

Any government can only gain a real moral authority by showing it has a majority behind it. That is hard to achieve when the young and the apathetic do not vote.