At time of writing, there are two referendums scheduled to take place on the same day as the 2020 General Election. The referendum about cannabis law reform was scheduled long ago, but this week saw the news that there would also be a referendum about euthanasia at the same time. What will this mean for the election? Numbers man Dan McGlashan, author of Understanding New Zealand, looks at the statistics.
What these two referendums mean, in short, is that a number of people who wouldn’t otherwise have gone to the polling booths on Election Day will do so. While there, they are very likely to cast a vote for a party in the General Election. Those parties, therefore, will get boosted by the extra turnout caused by the referendums. This article looks at which parties are likely to be the beneficiaries of the fact there are two referendums at the same time as the Election.
Let’s deal with the cannabis referendum first.
The cannabis referendum will predictably bring out the sort of voter who votes for the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party. Some people will make the lazy assumption that, because the Green Party has been the one most visibly championing the cannabis law reform issue, many of the people brought to the polls on Election Day will vote for the Greens. This assumption is likely false for at least one major reason.
The foremost reason is that the people who vote Green already vote in large numbers. There are strong correlations between both having a university degree and earning six figures and being a Green voter. There are also strong correlations between all of these things and turnout rate. Therefore, the sort of person who was likely to vote Green probably already did so in the previous election as well, and so a cannabis referendum won’t change much for them.
I refer to this principle as the General Disenfranchisement Rule. This states that the more a person is disenfranchised (by major measures of social status), the less likely they are to vote. Therefore, moves that enfranchise previously disenfranchised people (such as referendums) tend to bring out people from the lower social echelons. They don’t tend to bring out new National, ACT and Greens voters.
These people from lower social echelons are the sort of person who, as mentioned above, tend to support the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party. In Understanding New Zealand I showed who these people are. As a general rule, ALCP voters are heavily Maori and are much more likely to be on the invalid’s benefit. They are doing it worse than supporters of any other party.
In other words, they are from categories that are hitherto heavily disenfranchised. For many of these people, deep resentment has built up regarding the cannabis issue, and if the referendum brings them to the polls they will not vote for Establishment movements. It follows, then, that there will be a considerable boost to the sort of party who already champions the underdog.
The ALCP, Labour, New Zealand First, TOP and the Greens will all split this vote (with the foremost named taking the most).
Regarding the euthanasia referendum, overseas research has shown that supporters of euthanasia tend to be young, left-wing and atheist. This means that this referendum will bring fewer otherwise disenfranchised people to the polling booths than the cannabis one.
The euthanasia idea deeply upsets elderly Christians, who, for whatever reason, feel that the terminally ill ought be forced to suffer as long as possible. However, the vast majority of these people would have come out to vote National or Conservative anyway. Therefore, holding a euthanasia referendum will not bring many extra voters to the ballot boxes on the conservative side.
On the other hand, many of the people who support a euthanasia referendum will be the sort of person who is appalled by Christian morality. These people tend to be young and educated, which means that they are on the margins of voting or not voting. They are less likely to vote Labour and ALCP, but will be more likely to vote Greens and for The Opportunities Party.
Many of these young people will be educated and, therefore, not as severely disenfranchised as the less educated voters who will come out for the cannabis referendum. This suggests that the overall electoral effect of the euthanasia referendum ought to be smaller than for the cannabis referendum.
The combined effect of these two referendums will be to bring a number of young, atheistic people in particular to the ballot boxes.
If the cannabis referendum induces young Maoris to vote and the euthanasia referendum induces young white people to vote, we can predict that this combined youth effect will see increased support for the Labour Party and the ALCP, with minor boosts to the Greens, The Opportunities Party and New Zealand First (who are falsely characterised as an old person’s party).
How large will this number be?
The correlation between turnout rate in the 2017 General Election and voting ALCP in 2017 was -0.63, which speaks to heavy disenfranchisement among cannabis users. Many of these people would not vote under ordinary circumstances. Because the cannabis referendum appeals directly to these heavily disenfranchised people, it could have a noticeable effect on turnout.
This suggests that the combined effect of the two referendums on otherwise disenfranchised voters will be enough to shift the electoral balance towards the centre-left by one to two percent, perhaps accounting for a couple of extra seats for the centre-left bloc. It’s not likely to be enough to decide the balance of power, but if the margins were otherwise thin enough it could be.
Understanding New Zealand, by Dan McGlashan and published by VJM Publishing, is the comprehensive guide to the demographics and voting patterns of the New Zealand people. It is available on TradeMe (for Kiwis) and on Amazon (for international readers).
If you would like to support our work in other ways, please consider subscribing to our SubscribeStar fund.