Newsroom Pro special on Election 2017's final result

In this email for subscribers sent on Sunday, we assess the increased chances of a left-leaning Government after National lost two seats after the counting of special votes. The result could have been 57 all between National and Labour-Green if Labour had been able to take just 5,000 more votes off National.

1. Chances of Labour-led Government rise

Most had expected the Greens to pick up one seat from National, but only a few expected both Labour and the Greens to win a seat each off National and narrow the gap to 56 to 54.

That was the best-case scenario for the Labour-Green bloc in its bid to convince Winston Peters it could govern with the help of New Zealand First's nine seats and have 63 seats in Parliament, rather than the bare minimum of 61 seats.

That leaves room for the usual 'accidents' of defections and possible by-election losses through a first three year term, and a small amount of room for some attrition for a second term.

One of Winston Peters' constant refrains in framing up the negotiations ahead is that he wants any Government to be stable and durable. Doing a deal for a combination with just 61 seats versus one with 67 seats was less defendable than one with 63 seats.

So the final result's confirmation of a 56 to 54 split between National and the Labour-Green bloc has increased the chances that Peters may feel more relaxed about choosing Labour-Green over National, even though it has fewer seats than National.

The gap now of two seats is much easier to sell as a close race than the six seat gap between National and the left bloc on election night.

It was notable that Winston Peters' first comments on Saturday afternoon was to say he had been vindicated by the shift in the final result, which puts him in a relatively stronger position to demand more concessions from National at least. He will at least feel less constrained by the 'moral authority' argument to go with the largest party.

2. A big swing to the left

It's too early to say yet why the special votes seemed to favour Labour and Green significantly more than the election night result, but it was in line with the experience seen in 2014 when National lost one seat to the Greens.

The big question is whether the record-high number of special votes included a youth 'tremor' of voters who enrolled and voted at the same time in the days before the election.

Enrollments before the August 23 end of regular enrollments were lower than expected and lower than previous elections for younger age groups, leading some to think the eventual vote would not include a 'youth-quake.' However, the surprisingly high number of early voters and special votes suggest something may have happened after August 23 to youth enrollment and voting. This was the first election where the two could be done together at the same time.

The Electoral Commission announced there had been 446,287 special votes cast overall, which was 17 percent of the overall vote and up from 384,072 (15 percent of total) estimated on election night. The turnout as a percentage of enrolled voters was 79.8 percent, which was up from 77.9 percent in 2014 and the highest turnout since 2005 (80.9 percent). The final enrollment rate was 92.4 percent of the eligible population, which was only just down on the 92.6 percent at the last election.

A full 47 percent of the total 2.63 million votes were cast in the two weeks before election day. The Electoral Commission's big push to make it easier to vote before election day with more booths set up in shopping malls and schools appeared to pay off with a higher turnout and a strong enrollment rate.

Chief Electoral Officer Alicia Wright told reporters she was pleased with the high turnout, which may in part have been due to the decision to put voting places in areas like supermarkets and malls for the first time.

“We had a focus this election on putting voting places where voters are...our biggest voting places were in those places, and we think that’s had a role to play," she said.

An electoral survey of voters which is done each election by the New Zealand Election Study is expected to give more detail on exactly who the extra Labour and Green voters were.

But the initial indications are that the high eventual enrollment rate, record high number of special votes, and the polls showing younger voters skewing heavily to Labour and the Greens meant a youth 'tremor' was a possibility.

There certainly was a swing from the right to the left, with a nationwide swing since the last election of 6.4 percent from National/ACT/United Future/Conservative to Labour/Internet-Mana/Green. That reduced the margin of the right over the left from 14.7 percentage points in 2014 to 1.9 percentage points.

Michael Appleton, an electoral analyst, calculated that Labour only needed another 5,000 votes to swing from National to Labour for it to take another seat. That would have matched National on 55 with Labour-Green on 55.

Both NZ First (on nine seats) and ACT (one) were unchanged, while there were no changes to the winners of individual electorates.

3. Ardern claims 'mandate for change'

Now the reframing of the debate has begun about which party has the 'mandate' or 'moral authority' to win the favour of Winston Peters.

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern said on Saturday she expected to become Prime Minister and the Labour-Green bloc had a 'mandate' for change because a majority voted against the encumbent Government.

National Leader Bill English argued the loss of two seats did not alter its position of strength.

“These results show that the majority of New Zealanders voted against the status quo, they show the majority of New Zealanders voted for change," Ardern told reporters in Auckland.

“This now means that we have a strengthened mandate to negotiate and form a durable, stable coalition government.”

Ardern said negotiations would now begin “in earnest” this weekend, with Labour mindful of both Peters’ October 12 deadline for a decision and the need to deal with complex policy issues.

“We’ll strike that balance about moving as quickly as we can and as responsibly as we can.”

Asked if she now expected to be Prime Minister after the Thursday completion deadline set by NZ First, she said, “Yes”.

She rejected any suggestion that National as the highest-polling single party should have any advantage in negotiations.

"I think on election night there was already a majority for change. I think that's been extended.”

Labour was well placed on policy, Ardern said, to complete negotiations, and would deal with NZ First and the Greens separately.

Asked why the public should believe it could be stable given NZ First’s history of instability within coalitions, she said Labour had proven it could successfully lead such arrangements from 2005.

When it was pointed out that stability fell apart with Peters standing aside as a minister amid scandal late in the term in 2008, she said only that that was the year when Labour lost the election.

4. Shaw ready to push back at Winston

Green Party leader James Shaw said the final results “push us closer towards the change of government that so many New Zealanders want”.

"I think on election night there was already a majority for change. I think that's been extended.”

Seeking to preempt any move from NZ First to sideline the Greens from a formal coalition, Shaw said his party would not give up ministerial portfolios if Peters demanded it.

"The Greens have always said that they want to be at the heart of the next Government," Shaw said.

"I also think the most stable form of government with a three-way coalition is a full coalition," he said.

For the Greens, Golriz Ghahraman will become New Zealand’s first refugee MP, while Labour’s Bay of Plenty candidate Angie Warren-Clark will now enter Parliament.

5. English stoic and in "strong position"

English argued the results confirmed National’s “strong position”, as it remained ahead of the Labour-Green bloc.

“It would have been nice to keep those two seats...but it doesn’t fundamentally change the equation," English told reporters at Lake Hayes near Queenstown.

“I don’t think it weakens it [National’s negotiating position] significantly at all, the fundamentals haven't altered. Now it’s really a matter of negotiating the policies and structure that are going to deliver a continuing strong economy.”

English said he did not see any need for a change to the MMP system, despite concerns expressed by some.

National’s drop means West Coast-based MP Maureen Pugh will leave Parliament after less than two years, while first-time candidate Nicola Willis has failed to hold on to her provisional seat.

6. 'I feel vindicated'

NZ First leader Winston Peters told Newstalk ZB on Saturday afternoon he was not surprised by the final results, and felt vindicated in his decision to wait for them.

"I think it was always going to change. And so the special votes were important for that reason. And knowing the facts now as we do have them puts us in a better perspective to make judgments."

7. Coming up...

New Zealand First announced late on Saturday that it would hold post-election discussions in Wellington on Sunday with National at midday and Labour at 3 pm.

Peters has previously said he planned to make a decision on who would be in Government by October 12, which is when the writs are due to be returned.

8. One fun thing

One thing clear from the final results was that the two opinion polls published in the last week of the campaign were almost exactly right.

This Dave Armstrong tweet had it right: "Unbugger the pollsters."

Have a great day.

cheers

Bernard