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Not enough voters clear on MMP essentials

30 June 2005

Not enough voters clear on MMP essentials - Electoral Commission survey

Despite the majority thinking MMP is easy to understand, less than a fifth of potential voters in the looming general election can correctly recall two critical pieces of MMP knowledge. The Electoral Commission believes the missing understanding is essential to ensuring a voter is able to use their two votes to work for the election result they want to see.

Releasing survey data today (30 June 2005) commission chief executive Dr Helena Catt says "the commission, news media, politicians, community and education sectors all have to play a part in ensuring voters have the knowledge and confidence to cast their votes effectively, and turn out on election day to do so".

Dr Catt says knowing that the party vote is most important in determining parties' shares of seats in parliament and that the threshold for getting seats based on the party vote is winning more than 5% of it or at least one electorate is all essential.

"It's particularly worrying that three-quarters of us cannot correctly identify both parts of the threshold from a short list of options and that a quarter of us, generally older voters, think the electorate vote is most important in deciding the party make-up of parliament."

"Put this alongside: voters' overall feeling that they don't have any say in what a government does, the risk of election news coverage not reflecting what voters say will be important to their decision making, and politicians' own spin on how votes should be cast, and you get a real risk of voters getting the wrong or insufficient information to vote effectively, and maybe not even engaging with the election at all."

The survey found voters believed overwhelmingly that information about party policies and who will make the best prime minister would be most important to them in deciding or confirming how they will vote, with news coverage the only information medium to be regarded as important by more than half.

"The challenge for the news media will be to satisfy this thirst for information to assess policies and prime ministerial potential when academic analysis of 2002 election news coverage showed minimal attention to policy issues, particularly on television, and a lot of attention to polls, squabbles and scandal which voters rank among the least important inputs to their decision making," Dr Catt says.

Dr Catt says that although understanding levels appeared typical for this stage in the electoral cycle, the electorate appeared likely to have to come to grips with other features of MMP such as overhang[1] during the campaign as well as threshold remaining important for some parties and possibly for some electorates.

Dr Catt says the commission will use the research results to adjust the targeting and emphasis of its own advertising and information campaign held ready to run in the three weeks leading up to election day.

"We'll also be looking out for misrepresentation of MMP mechanics by politicians and in the news media during the election campaign," Dr Catt says.

Dr Catt says voters in the 18-24 year bracket were more likely to be undecided about their voting intentions or to have not given the election much thought yet, in contrast to voters aged 55+ where nearly two-thirds already intend to vote and know who for.

The telephone survey interviewed 900 people aged 18 year and over between 30 May and 10 June 2005 and has a 3.3% margin of error.


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