Thursday, 29 September 2011

NZ Youth - increasingly rational

I, for one, celebrate the increasing rationality of today's youth:
Two months from the November 26 general election, one in four New Zealanders aged 18-29 aren’t enrolled to vote – something Electoral Enrolment Centre National Manager Murray Wicks is trying to change.
He says low enrolment “is the norm”, but this election the figures are skewed towards “an over-representation… in the 18-29 age group”.
The reasons are different for each person, Mr Wicks says, but two dominate.
“Voting’s not cool, it’s something that grown-ups do, it’s something that adults do, and it’s not interesting,” he says.
“There’s also that they just haven’t got around to it."
I've not yet seen a plausible instrumental story about why any individual should vote. Plenty of good non-instrumental stories - some folks think it's fun for its own sake, and who am I to question their utils?
He says young people need to be aware that their vote counts and will influence election results. “Their vote is important, their voice is important,” he says. “Whatever they choose to vote they’re making the decision for New Zealand and for themselves, rather than leaving it to other people to vote for them.”
That may be true of youth voters as a block, but it isn't true of any individual in that group. If iPredict's saying there's a 94% chance National forms the next government, the odds of any individual vote changing that are pretty slim. So too are the odds of any voter pushing any minor party from being just under to being just over the quotient for another list seat.

Elections NZ gives the St Laguë quota numbers from the 2002 election. The system divides each eligible party's vote by sequential odd numbers: 1, 3, 5, ... 53, ... 105. The largest quotient gets the first list seat, the second largest quotient gets the second list seat, and so on.

The last allocated list seat in that election went to National: their 425,310 votes divided by 53 gave the 120th largest quotient: 8024.717. Had there been a 121st seat, it would have gone to United Future, whose 135,918 votes gave it a quotient of 7995.176 when divided by 17. How many more votes would United Future have needed to have taken that 120th seat from National? 502. If some group of 500-odd National voters had stayed home, that 120th seat could have flipped over to United Future. Would that have changed the election outcome? No. Peter Dunne still would have gone into coalition with Helen Clarke.

To change the outcome of an MMP election, you either have to be the pivotal voter in a pivotal district like Ohariu-Belmont or Epsom, where a minor party's election lets it bring in a few other MPs, or be the voter who changes the quotient on the 121st list seat sufficiently to flip the ordering of the 120th and 121st quotients, or be a pivotal voter in a district that generates an overhang. And, on top of that, the change in the composition of Parliament has to be sufficient to either change the governing coalition or the substantive power of members of the coalition. In the 2002 example above, Peter Dunne's jumping from 8 seats to 9 is unlikely to have had any substantive effect.

Alas, most folks prefer the veil of self-deception, imagining that their vote really does make a difference. No Right Turn says voting is a weapon youths can use against their failing elders. Maybe. But it's a weapon not unlike a one-use eyedropper when trying to drown an elephant.


  1. There is always the argument that if you dont vote, you cant complain about what politicians do.

    I havent found it particularly binding on me, though, so I am not sure the effect is that strong.

  2. I hate that argument. Heads you don't vote and you can't complain; tails you did vote and you can't complain because you agreed to be bound by a democratic process and lost - you might as well whine that you lost at Snakes & Ladders.

  3. So by your argument everyone shouldn't vote because 1 vote by itself is like worthless. Please, don't let me stop you because for every person that doesn't vote mine is a bit more powerful...

  4. "Please, don't let me stop you because for every person that doesn't vote mine is a bit more powerful..."

    Which would increase the value of the vote, making voting rational.

  5. Speaking of weapons, one soldier voting for the allies (think WWII not Afghanistan), with their gun was unlikely going to have a deciding effect on the final out come. Should they have gone?
    They may have seen the cost of an axis win being 1000 0000 000 000 BU (bad units), they may have seen the chance of their action making the difference between who wins/losses being about 0.0000007364% and hence his expected worth being 7364 GU (good units)
    A bargain!
    Same with voting.
    Small chance, big impact, small cost, sounds worth it to me.

  6. Anon1: Does my forbearance from buying Otto tickets make you that much more sure of your chances of being a solo first division winner?

    @Gareth: Your argument requires that you know more about what's good for the country than do other voters. But you aren't going to be decisive unless half the country disagrees with you! That's when you break a tie. So you should then only vote if you know more than the typical voter. Is that consistent with eighty percent turnout rates? No. How can that eighty percent each rationally expect to know more than the median voter?

  7. We vote to select representatives, but also to send signals to those representatives.

    Your focus on the last seat makes no sense at all. Political parties can't differentiate between the first vote and the last vote. They have to court every vote simultaneously.

    If you are voting to send a message to politicians - which, as I understand, is a pretty normal thing for people to do - then this argument is entirely irrelevant.

  8. That makes no difference to the substantive result. As parties take no notice of whether their vote tally was 506355 or 506354, no signal is sent.