Saturday, August 22, 2009

On a clear day

Today is a bright, beautiful clear day in Auckland—the perfect sort of day to shed a little light and clarity on the New Zealand referendum. To be sure, I enjoyed yesterday’s rant—it was cathartic, but it was also sound and fury signifying nothing, and all that. Today, I start to put it into perspective.

The chart above shows the preliminary results of the referendum, and the figures actually say something very different from what the pushers of the referendum are claiming. It’s possible that when the final numbers are announced next week, this analysis may also change (and I’ll post about the final numbers after they’re out). The important thing here is that in this case, as in so many other political cases, reality and spin are two completely different things.

It was always a foregone conclusion that the pushers of the referendum would claim a huge victory, and it was also certain that the numbers of people selecting “No” would be greater than the number people selecting “Yes”. After all, the question was deliberately worded to get that result (and there are allegations that some voters who support the current law were confused into voting “No”).

So, the fact that the “No” side won is hardly a surprise, nor is the margin. Neither is it surprising that the pushers of the referendum are deliberately mischaracterising the results to make it seem like a bigger deal than it really is.

The smacking advocates say that “88%” backed their position, but this is the percentage of the votes cast. The problem is that only 54.07% of enrolled voters bothered to vote at all. That means that only 47.37% of all enrolled voters—less than half—actually voted “no”. That’s a completely different number than “88%”. It means that the majority of New Zealanders either voted “yes” or didn’t vote at all (nearly as many enrolled voters didn’t vote at all as voted “no”).

We can assume nothing whatsoever about the 45.93% of enrolled voters who didn’t vote, including how they would’ve voted if, say, they’d been forced to vote. All we can work with is the number of enrolled voters who actually voted.

This all matters because the radical christianists will be using the “88%” figure in their campaign to get the law repealed or changed (they don’t agree on what to do), and the media will likely let them get away with it.

In trying to appease the fanatics, Prime Minister John Key needs to remember that no one can say for sure what the majority of New Zealanders want—especially not the fanatics who organised the vanity poll in the first place, though they’ll try and bluff and bluster as if they have a “mandate”. Voting is part of democracy, and so is lying about the results of a vote. But none of us should allow the rightwing to get away with it.

Update: The Chief Electoral Office has released the final results of the referendum. The correct votes and the informal votes went up slightly, the wrong votes went down slightly, and the net result really doesn't change anything: YES 11.98 % (up from 11.81%), NO 87.4% (down from 87.6%)and informals were 0.62% (up from 0.60%). The final turnout was 56.09% of enrolled voters (up from 54.04%). The changes aren't big enough to justify re-calculating everything immediately, but I eventually will.

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