Political Parties and Electoral Success

August 13, 2009

I return to the comparison of which parties are represented in the German and New Zealand houses of parliament and seek to draw some conclusions about what influences party representation in Parliament. Drawing on my previous posts, and bearing in mind that this is just a blog and not an academic paper, I put forward three possible factors influencing party success in elections:

1. Electoral System. A very important factor in a party’s success is the rules under which it is playing the political game. Just ask the Greens, who were never represented in the House before the introduction of MMP but have been ever since.

2. Socio-Economic Factors. According to a typical left-right spectrum, this should be the key influence on party formation and influence, with socio-economic groups organising themselves politically in order to represent their interests in parliament. Perhaps the deciding factor behind the lack of a powerful extreme left party in NZ.

3. Political Culture. This is a very difficult concept in political science: Trying to define political culture has been described as being like ‘nailing a pudding to a wall’. However it is a concept which has lasting influence and appeal. It used to be referred to as ‘socialisation’ – the way that people were initiated into the way politics is done in their society. Phenomena like distrust of  ‘Kingmaker’ parties in NZ, caused by negative previous experience with them, can only be put down to something like political culture.

And as for which factor is most important: As you can see from the brief examples above, they all seem to be important – in different ways and at different times.

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One Response to “Political Parties and Electoral Success”

  1. Red Rosa Says:

    Certainly the decline of what could be called the ‘serious left’ in NZ is a big factor in voting changes over the last 50 years.

    50 years takes us back to Nash’s Labour government and the days of heavy manual work in mines, on wharves and in freezing works. The size and power of the union movement at the time was reflected in Labour Party membership and bloc voting at party conferences, so that Labour policy evolved accordingly.

    By the mid 80s much of this was changing rapidly – coal was declining and shifting to open cast, containerization had denuded the wharves of labour, freezing works were closing all over NZ.

    The shift from a blue collar to white collar workforce over 50 years has been worldwide, and NZ is no exception. This changing power base and ‘class’ attitudes must explain some of the current weakness of the Left, even within the NZ Labour party itself.

    Australia is an interesting exception. Possibly, greater union power there has improved real wages over the last 25 years better than the doctrinaire New Right policies in NZ.

    Maybe Dr Brash’s Commission can work this out!


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