What should the MMP threshold be?

Last updated 08:45 14/02/2012

As New Zealanders voted to retain MMP, the law provides for a review of it to be done by the Electoral Commission. They will make recommendations to the Government on potential changes to our electoral system.

The commission has established a website where you can read more about the issues, and make a written submission up until May 31 (but if you want to also make an oral submission, then you should send your written submission in by April 5).

One of the most important issues is what percentage of the vote should a political party need to get, to gain list MPs in Parliament. Currently the threshold is 5 per cent. You can also qualify through winning an electorate seat, but I plan to discuss that issue in a seperate post.

There are basically four options for the threshold. They are to:

  • (A) - Increase it
  • (B) - Keep it at 5%
  • (C) - Reduce it
  • (D) - Abolish it
In general terms, the higher the threshold, the fewer parties will be in Parliament, and fewer parties will be needed to form a government. The lower the threshold, the more parties there will be in Parliament, and more parties will be need to agree to form a government. Also the higher the threshold, the more wasted votes you get.

(A) - Increase the threshold

If you increased the threshold to 7%, then it would have made no difference to the outcomes of the 1996, 1999 or 2002 elections. However in 2005 it would have meant that both NZ First and the Greens would have not made it back into Parliament.

In 2008, neither the Greens nor NZ First would have qualified under a 7% threshold, but in 2011 the Greens would have qualified.

(C) - Reduce the threshold

The Royal Commission recommended a 4% threshold, but Parliament legislated for a 5% threshold in 1993. If the 4% threshold had been implemented, then the Christian Coalition would have been elected in 1996, and paedophile Graham Capill would have become an MP, and possibly a cabinet minister. The Christian Coalition would have held five seats and the National/NZ First government would have had 59 seats instead of 61, and needed a third coalition partner.

A 4% threshold in 1999, 2002 and 2005 would not have affected the election outcomes. In 2008, though, it would have kept NZ First in Parliament and not allowed National, ACT and United Future to govern without striking a deal with either NZ First or the Maori Party. 

A 4% threshold would not have changed the 2011 election outcome.

(D) - Abolish the threshold

If the threshold is abolished, then a party would gain a seat in Parliament if they gained around 10,000 party votes, or around 0.4% of the vote. This would have changed the outcomes of all the MMP elections.

No threshold in 1996 would have seen the Christian Coalition get five seats and Legalise Cannabis two. This would again have meant the National/NZ First government could not govern alone.

In 1999, Christian Heritage would have got three seats, Legalise Cannabis one seat and the old Christian Democrats one seat.

In 2002 two seats would have gone to each of Christian Heritage, Outdoor Recreation and the Alliance, and one seat to Legalise Cannabis. Labour would not have been able to govern with just Progressive and United Future and would have needed a fourth party to govern.

In 2005, no threshold would have meant the Destiny Church party would have gained one seat.

In 2008, not only would NZ First have made it back in, but the Kiwi Party and the Ben & Bill Party would have won a seat each. The Ben & Bill Party might have held the balance of power.

In 2011, having no threshold would have seen the Conservative Party and the Legalise Cannabis parties gain representation.

I tend to favour doing what the Royal Commission recommended, and reducing the threshold to 4%. What do you think should happen to the threshold - should it be increased, reduced, or abolished?

David Farrar is a centre-right blogger affiliated to the National Party. His disclosure statement is here.

112 comments
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Carlos   #1   08:49 am Feb 14 2012

Just have 1st passed the post !

H   #2   08:52 am Feb 14 2012

Keep the threshold as it is, if you gian 5% support, you are a serious contender.

Just abolish the rule that allows parties that win an electorate seat, but win less than 5% to bring in extra members, that makes a farce of the voting system.

Marky   #3   08:56 am Feb 14 2012

Numbers of MMP reduced so that the Threashold ends up at 3%... ie 30 to 35-ish.

I prefer less MMP seats and lower threshold... I am worried that the religeous fanatics could hold the balance of power.

by the numbers   #4   08:59 am Feb 14 2012

You can't just look at a bunch of numbers and retrospectively apply a different threshold and assume all voters would have voted the same way. That is rediculous statistical analysis.

Increase it.   #5   09:03 am Feb 14 2012

The threshold for MMP should be raised to a much higher level. There are far too many Politicians in Government here for our country. The COST and Drain on The Tax Payers is ridiculous. Not only do Local Councils use the People as CASH COWS so do all these so called Political Parties. We need a new system, that truly represents what the majority of citizens want and require for good and accountable Governance.

DaveB   #6   09:03 am Feb 14 2012

I say raise the threshold to at least 7 percent. TRhe last thing we need is more minor or single-issue parties pushing their fringe agendas in the wrangle to form a government.

arnie   #7   09:04 am Feb 14 2012

5% is OK by me but I would like to see two things happen. Parties MUST stand in a electorate seat. And the party vote should be allocated only to the lists seat, in other words if a party got 10% of the list vote it should only get 10% of the list seats NOT 10% of the total seats.

Paul   #8   09:04 am Feb 14 2012

I agree the threshold should be reduced to 4% on the basis of fewer votes being "wasted" and parliament being more representative.

However this should be coupled with the reinstatement of a threshold for parties who win electorate seats. Hence if John Banks, Peter Dunne or Jim Anderton win their respective electorates they should get a seat in parliament, but not be able to take list MPs in with them unless their party vote gets to the 4% threshold.

Colin   #9   09:07 am Feb 14 2012

A 4% threshold would be fine as long as it applies even if an electorate seat is won. This would create an underhang that would tend to balance out the overhang created by the Maori seats.

Neil   #10   09:08 am Feb 14 2012

Under option D you have the wrong % to get a seat. In a 120 seat parliament one seat is .83% os the vote not 0.4% as you have stated.

But is that not what proportional representation means, the electorate gets parliamentary representation in proportion to the support of the electorate.


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