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Kiwis Don’t Know Basic Civics, New Survey Says

Almost a third of Kiwi voters do not know which political parties are in Parliament and less than half understand how a party can get there, according to a new study.

With elections just around the corner, new research by The New Zealand initiative reveals just 69% of Kiwis can name all five political parties in Parliament today. On top of that, only 46% knew that under MMP a party needs to win an electorate seat or gain at least 5% of the vote to enter Parliament.

The survey, in Eric Crampton and Nathan Smith’s report Democracy in the Dark, asked a thousand voting-age New Zealanders 13 basic questions to test their knowledge of civics and democracy. The report also draws on previous surveys by the New Zealand Election Survey and international research on voter knowledge.

“Being a political junkie should not be a pre-requisite for voting. But it is hard to vote well if you don’t know the basics. There has been a lot of emphasis on a civic duty to vote, but too little attention to the importance of casting an informed ballot,” he said.

The Initiative’s survey is a worrying snapshot of Kiwis’ civics knowledge:

  • About a third knew Hon Chris Hipkins is Minister of Education;
  • Only one in twenty knew David Parker is Minister for the Environment;
  • 12% knew the three branches of government;
  • 20% knew which parties voted for the Zero Carbon Bill;
  • 56% of respondents incorrectly believe New Zealand has a military alliance with the United Kingdom.

"The results of the Initiative’s survey are not surprising to those familiar with research on voter knowledge. What is more surprising is that policy outcomes wind up generally being decent, despite substantial proportions of the electorate having very little knowledge about what is going on,” Crampton said.

Improving knowledge about civics is important, but difficult. While the state of civics education in the schools is weak, international experience makes it hard to be optimistic. More classroom time on civics may not do much to improve voter knowledge.

Democracy in the Dark recommends the Government strengthen civics education in schools, but as a trial to test effectiveness and costs. But it also suggests out-of-the-box ideas that might provide more direct incentives for voters to become informed, and to kickstart a fresh interest among Kiwis for the future of the country.

Read more: A copy of Democracy in the Dark and a report summary


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