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A plea for savvy election night coverage

By Steven | October 2, 2008

It’s not too much to ask, surely.

Here’s what any sensible person, at least half-interested in politics, is going to want to know as the election results roll in:

1. What’s going on in the key electorates that might make or break a party? Winston Peters, Rodney Hide, Peter Dunne, Jim Anderton, maybe Ron Mark. Which electorates (and indeed polling places) are bellwethers, and what’s going on there? What’s going on in other signature electorates (eg Wellington Central) containing candidates that have some totemic signficance? By and large we don’t care about the other electorates.

2. Which minor parties are making the 5% threshold, especially if it’s clear that they need to (Greens, NZ First)? Okay, so you’ll probably tell us that. Hopefully, you’ll also tell us how close they are to that threshold. Two decimal places, please. But how about taking the next step: if a party is teetering on the threshold, tell us whether their votes are likely to go up or down based on which way the as-yet-uncounted polling places (and overseas/late-counted voters) voted last time.  Want to really impress us? Jiggle the likely numbers by the existing information about the magnitude of the swing.

 3. Convert the votes to a graphic showing how they affect the composition of Parliament. Okay, so you’ll do that too. But again, that’s not enough. Take the next step. If United Future has three members at the half-way stage of the counting – tell us how close it is. Is it only just three members? Or nearly four? That stuff can be crucial to getting a sense of the horserace (and incidentally, to the question of who’s going to be governing the nation). How many more votes will they need to get to four? Bonus points: if people vote in the remaining polling places the way they did last time, will they make it to four? What if you adjust it for the swing? And what about this: if United Future does get that fourth seat, which other party is likely to lose it? Give us some information about that instead of conducting another meaningless and repetitive interview with an ecstatic or disappointed candidate.

 4. Extra bonus points: track which MPs at the margins of lists will get in and miss out as the vote tally progresses.

5. Track the overhang. Sure, you’ll tell us whether there is one, and how many it will be. But again, the next question is: how far away are we, on whatever counting is current, from that changing? How likely is that change, based on past voting/current swing data, which way would it be, and how will that affect the total composition of Parliament?

6. In short, run the scenarios. I want coverage that will tell me: “With 70% of the vote counted, National is on 48.05%. That would give it 60 seats in a 123 seat Parliament, and it could govern with Act. The swing this year is in favour of National, but even if we adjust last year’s voting pattern for that swing, the last polling booths are still likely to favour Labour narrowly, and we’re picking National will lose two of those seats. (Incidentally, that would be Stephen Franks missing out). One seat, though, would switch to United Future, which is right on the cusp of taking rising from one seat to two, and on the basis of past voting in the remaining precincts, looks good for taking that extra seat. Labour would also pick up one, but on that scenario we’d be looking at a likely National/Act/United Future government. But there’s something that could throw a spanner in the works! The Maori vote is also on a cusp, and on past voting patterns, they’re likely to fall below it. That won’t affect their number of seats, but it will blow out the overhang to 124 seats – and National/Act/United Future can only muster 62 between them. Then everything’s in the balance. The key numbers to watch right now, then, and you can see the updates across the screen, are whether National dips below 46.4% and whether the Maori vote falls under 2.6%…”[That data is made up and probably won’t bear any relation to reality, but you get the picture].

I’m not holding my breath that TVNZ or TV3 will provide this sort of nuanced coverage. They’ll probably be too busy playing with pretty graphics that tell us little more than the raw figures.

But how about a savvy blogger with a calculator and some skill at playing with the Elections website?

Can David Farrar be persuaded to put aside his partying for the evening for the good of the nation?

Topics: Electoral speech, Media ethics | 4 Comments »

4 Responses to “A plea for savvy election night coverage”

  1. Graeme Edgeler Says:
    October 2nd, 2008 at 3:05 pm

    I’m interested in this dichotomy:

    What’s going on in the key electorates that might make or break a party? Winston Peters, Rodney Hide, Peter Dunne, Jim Anderton, maybe Ron Mark. … By and large we don’t care about the other electorates.


    …(Incidentally, that would be Stephen Franks missing out)

    Surely the results in a whole raft of electorates are important to know the make-up of Parliament. If candidate X wins electorate Y, they’ll vault ahead of list member Z and they’ll miss out etc. I can’t see why it would be important to know that list candidate A would miss out if the party vote drops below B%, but not important to know that they’d miss out because of an electorate result.

    [and you might also add the seven Maori seats to you list of ones to watch]

  2. Steven Says:
    October 2nd, 2008 at 4:17 pm

    Are they really that inconsistent? Why can’t we have an occasional look at a list graphic with the cusp candidates (perhaps half a dozen, based on likely electorate results based on past voting and early swing trends, with an in-out line drawn, and a warning that, especially early in the evening, that’s likely to shift)? Then we can revisit that graphic when there’s a surprise electorate result that shifts the cusp. I still don’t particularly care who’s won most electorates, and when there’s a rare surprise result, I still don’t care who won, just the fact that the cusp has shifted.

  3. dpf Says:
    October 2nd, 2008 at 8:17 pm

    As it so happens I have been having discussions with TVNZ 🙂

  4. Nicholas OFlaherty Says:
    October 9th, 2008 at 11:11 am

    I agree Steven. I thought there was an unhelpful legacy of First-Past-the-Post about the TV coverage three years ago; far too much emphasis on the fact that National was winning a bunch of electorates from Labour, with maps of the South Island in particular turning blue. This turned out to be largely irrelevant as to who would form the govt.
    Also, as the night concluded with that narrow lead to Labour, neither network seemed to have done any homework on previous trends with special votes. We were simply told that there had been a big increase in their number (incidentally, did this turn out to be true?)
    It was a somewhat frustrating end to a long night.


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