A Strange Inverse: US and NZ politics

Every political culture has its strange little rules: patterns and correlations that may or may not have anything to do with each other. Today I thought I would share one that very rarely gets mentioned – the habit of New Zealand voters of ideologically opposing the party that currently holds America’s White House.

More specifically, both New Zealand and the United States have a broadly leftist party and a broadly rightist party: Labour and the Democrats, National and the Republicans. The key is that when there is a Democratic US President, New Zealand generally elects National Governments, while when there is a Republican US President, Labour does better.

Consider the evidence. There have been twenty-four New Zealand elections since the Second World War (the twenty-fifth is being held next month).

  • 2014: Democrats and National
  • 2011: Democrats and National
  • 2008: Republicans and National
  • 2005: Republicans and Labour
  • 2002: Republicans and Labour
  • 1999: Democrats and Labour
  • 1996: Democrats and National
  • 1993: Democrats and National
  • 1990: Republicans and National
  • 1987: Republicans and Labour
  • 1984: Republicans and Labour
  • 1981: Republicans and National
  • 1978: Democrats and National
  • 1975: Republicans and National
  • 1972: Republicans and Labour
  • 1969: Republicans and National
  • 1966: Democrats and National
  • 1963: Democrats and National
  • 1960: Republicans and National
  • 1957: Republicans and Labour
  • 1954: Republicans and National
  • 1951: Democrats and National
  • 1949: Democrats and National
  • 1946: Democrats and Labour

This gives us:

  • Nine elections where National wins with a Democrat
  • Two elections where Labour wins with a Democrat
  • Seven elections where National wins with a Republican
  • Six elections where Labour wins with a Republican

But, wait, there’s more. You see, there were two elections (1960 and 2008) where New Zealand changed governments after America had also voted for change, but before the new President had been sworn in. If rather than focusing on the current incumbent, we apply the test of which party had been most recently elected to the White House, the figures become:

  • Eleven elections where National wins with a Democrat
  • Two elections where Labour wins with a Democrat
  • Five elections where National wins with a Republican
  • Six elections where Labour wins with a Republican

That gives us a quite noticeable seventeen out of twenty-four elections where the New Zealand electorate is splitting with the American one. This is more true of Democrats (eleven out of thirteen times, New Zealand votes National), whereas it is more even with Republicans.

But let’s take a look at the seven elections where the two countries voted the same way: 1946, 1954, 1969, 1975, 1981, 1990, and 1999. In four of those cases (1946, 1954, 1969, and 1981) New Zealand voted for change at the next election, while in the remaining three (1975, 1990, and 1999), America voted for change at the next election. There has been no occasion since the Second World War where two consecutive National victories in New Zealand have coincided with Republican Presidents, and there has been no occasion where Labour has done the same with the Democrats. National achieves this with Democrats, and Labour achieves it with Republicans.

What does this mean for next month’s New Zealand election? With a Republican in the White House, that makes a Labour victory more likely, simply going by history.

 

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