Liam Hehir: How to make your mind up

Liam Hehir: How to make your mind up

If you’re still on the fence about how to vote, Liam Hehir says it’s probably more important for you to vote on the basis of your principles, and he offers a way to think about how these principles might align with the main party options.


Still undecided? Here’s how to make your mind up

If you are still torn on how to vote, you’ve only got a day or two to make up your mind. Time is running out. There are no extensions available from polling day on Saturday.

So how to make up your mind?

Firstly, you do not actually have to vote if you do not want to. Unlike Australia and some Latin American countries, voting is not compulsory. There is no legal obligation for you to do anything but register for the electoral roll.

It is sometimes said that if you do not vote then you forfeit your right to complain. That’s hogwash. The right to bring your grievances to the government, which is recognised in the Magna Carta, is older and more ancient than the right to vote.

If you are completely dissatisfied with all the options, there is nothing wrong with registering that opinion by staying home. It is a perfectly respectable choice. As is complaining about what the clowns who get in do subsequently.

It’s your God-given right as a New Zealander.

For many people, however, the franchise was such a hard-won thing that they feel a duty to exercise it. That’s a valid perspective too. However, it does require making a decision.

There are all sorts of online tools that purport to tell you how you should vote. The problem is that these are time-consuming and, in many ways, unrealistic. Scan social media and you’ll find lots of people posting about how these tools deliver advice they find completely unpalatable. That’s because they are based on a highly granular analysis of particular policy preferences that does not translate into government as it actually happens in this country.

In my view, it’s better to go for a method that relies on both objective considerations and your gut instincts.

The American conservative commentator William F Buckly Jr had a rule by which he would vote for the most rightward, viable candidate. That meant that in what the Americans call a primary election, he would vote for the most conservative candidate that had a realistic chance of winning. In the subsequent general election, he would apply the same rule – which might in the circumstances mean voting for a liberal Republican or a conservative Democrat

This is a good, workable approach that can adapted for New Zealanders of all political persuasions.

First, take note of the fact that only parties that poll over five per cent of the vote make it into Parliament. Votes for parties who do not reach that threshold do not count towards the allocation of seats and therefore the selection of the government. So one test for viability in New Zealand politics is to look for parties who are polling at least at or around five per cent in scientific surveys.

We have a second electoral threshold which is that parties with enough concentrated geographic support to win an electorate seat also get in. Votes for those parties count towards allocating seats in Parliament too. However, opinion polling in individual electorates is unreliable so, by default, the sensible measure of viability here should be incumbency

Under these rules, the viable options are the Labour, National, Greens and ACT parties. The chances are that none of those options will live up to your platonic ideal of a political party. Being collections of interests themselves, no political party can be a perfect vehicle for any political party.

So my advice is just to pick one of the four options based on which one is least out of kilter with your worldview at this point in your life. One version of this would look like this:

  • If you really like socialism and want much more of it, vote for the Greens.
  • If you think we could use a little bit more socialism, vote for Labour.
  • If you think we have enough socialism (and maybe a bit too much), vote for National.
  • If you think we need to seriously roll back the socialism we do have, vote for ACT.

You may formulate the question differently, of course. However, the point isn’t that the Greens are an out-and-out socialist party but that it’s the party most conducive to socialistic solutions to political problems. ACT, of course, are the opposite. Labour and National represent more pragmatic preferences rather than ideological commitments.

So having worked out which option most aligns with your view, just vote that way. Don’t stress about the strategic implications of voting for this party or that. Those are valid considerations for some but if you’re still on the fence at this point then it is probably more important for you to vote your principles.

Or the closest facsimile thereof.


Liam Hehir lives in the small Manawatu village of Rongotea. He has been a conservative columnist since 2013. He is a practising Catholic and sympathises with the aims of the National Party, for which he formerly volunteered in a variety of low-level roles.

This article can be republished under a Creative Commons CC BY-ND 4.0  license. Attributions should include a link to the Democracy Project.