DEMOCRACY IN THE DARK - GOVERNMENT & POLITICS Eric Crampton and Nathan Smith - The New Zealand Initiative

DEMOCRACY IN THE DARK - GOVERNMENT & POLITICS Eric Crampton and Nathan Smith - The New Zealand Initiative

Eric Crampton and Nathan Smith
                                                                             IN THE DARK
                                                                                 Eric Crampton and Nathan Smith

© The New Zealand Initiative 2020

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR                                                           CONTENTS
Eric is the Chief Economist at The New Zealand Initiative.
With the Initiative, he has worked in policy areas ranging from            Foreword	                                           05
freshwater management to policy for earthquake preparedness, and           Executive summary	                                  07
from local government to technology policy. He has recently focused        Introduction	                                       09
on policy related to Covid-19 response. He served as Lecturer and Senior
Lecturer in Economics at the Department of Economics & Finance             CHAPTER 1	
at the University of Canterbury from 2003 through 2014, where his          Civics 101: What every voter should know	            11
academic research included work on the causes and consequences
of voter ignorance.                                                        CHAPTER 2	
                                                                           The known unknowns	                                  18
Eric’s columns and commentary appear regularly in New Zealand’s
major media outlets, as well as on his blog, Offsetting Behaviour.         CHAPTER 3	
                                                                           Fixing the problem	                                  27

Nathan is The New Zealand Initiative’s Chief Editor. He brings deep        Conclusion	                                         35
experience writing about business and policy from his eight years as       Appendix	                                           36
a reporter for The National Business Review and holds a Bachelor of        Endnotes	                                           40
Communication from Massey University. During his time at the NBR,
he wrote weekly columns on foreign affairs and trade, coordinated the
newspaper’s feature section and covered the country’s most exciting
technology companies and startups.

The authors acknowledge and thank all those who have generously
assisted with this research and the preparation of this report.
In particular, they thank Oliver Hartwich, Luke Redward,
Joel Hernandez, Briar Lipson, Roger Partridge, Jack Vowles,
Graeme Edgeler, Eldon Paki and Paul Andrews. The authors are solely
responsible for the opinions expressed in this report and any errors
and omissions.

                                                                                                                        THE NEW ZEALAND INITIATIVE   03
                                                                                                              Democracy is part of our             miracle cure for society’s ills. But even if it is
                  FIGURE 1: How informed do you think you are in deciding                                     civic religion, and elections are    not, could representative democracy at least help
                  how to vote in the next election?	                                    21                   its solemn masses.                   us make decisions about the rough direction
                  FIGURE 2: How often do you consume written political news                                                                        of travel for New Zealand?
                  such as newspapers, news, websites or magazines?	                     21   Every three years (in New Zealand at least),
                  FIGURE 3: Can you name all the political parties in the current             voters come together to exercise their democratic    For that to be true, there would still need to
                  NZ Parliament?	                                                       22   birthright. They cast their votes, decide on         be a basic level of political and institutional
                  FIGURE 4: Under MMP, in what ways can parties gain a seat                   the direction of the country, and elect their        knowledge. Voters would at least need to know
                  in Parliament?	                                                       22   representatives.                                     the rules of the democratic game, and they would
                  FIGURE 5: Who is the current Minister of Education?	                  22                                                        need a very rough idea about the political actors
                  FIGURE 6: Who is the current Minister for the Environment?	           22   This is the romantic notion of what democracy        and their belief systems.
                  FIGURE 7: Which parties in the current NZ Parliament voted                  is – or at least what it should be. It is supposed
                  for the Zero Carbon Bill which passed in late 2019?                   23   to be a government “of the people, by the people     Unfortunately, as this report and its survey of
                  FIGURE 8: Some people say that the best people from all parties             and for the people,” as Abraham Lincoln put it in    civics knowledge shows, there are wide gaps
                  should come together and form a permanent, all-party government.            the Gettysburg Address.                              in the public’s understanding of politics. If
                  Do you agree?	                                                        23                                                        it is of any consolation, New Zealand is not
                  FIGURE 9: How do you feel about the idea of having experts,                 The idea behind this is already encapsulated in      unusual in this respect as similar surveys in
                  not elected politicians, make decisions according to what they think        the word. The people (δῆμος / dêmos) shall have      other democracies have come to similar results.
                  is best for the country? Is this model a very good, good, bad               the power (κράτος / krátos) to rule themselves.      But does that make it any better?
                  or very bad model?	                                                   23
                  FIGURE 10: Some countries have a strong leader who doesn’t have             There remains one problem, though. For               In this election year 2020, we can see how
                  to bother with a parliament or elections. Is this model a very good,        democracy to genuinely bring out and implement       elections, which are supposed to be the pinnacle
                  good, bad or very bad model?                                          23   the will of the people, the people first need to     of the democratic process, actually make
                  FIGURE 11: Can you name the three branches of government?	            24   know what they want. More than that, they need       matters worse.
                  FIGURE 12: In applying the law, do NZ courts have to take into              to understand the nature of the problems they
                  account the political intentions of the Government of the day?	       24   face and the proposed solutions.                     Instead of leading the public towards more
                  FIGURE 13: Does NZ have a military alliance with the                                                                             and deeper engagement with policy choices,
                  United Kingdom?	                                                      25   It is easy to understand why such a requirement      the pre-election period has been dominated by
                  FIGURE 14: Which countries form the Five Eyes Alliance?	              25   is too much to ask. Even small-scale political       stories of politicians’ personal misbehaviour.
                                                                                              decisions, say if a city needs a new school,
                                                                                              require a great amount of information to be          The Prime Minister even told voters not to expect
                  Tables                                                                      considered properly.                                 a large-scale range of policies from her party this
                                                                                                                                                   election. Consequently, she campaigns under the
                  TABLE 1: Educational attainment across political parties 	            25   For more complex questions such as dealing with      slogan ‘Let’s keep moving’ – as if she was trying
                  TABLE 2: Civics education in the United States	                       29   a housing crisis, climate change or a pandemic,      to sell gym memberships.
                                                                                              even experts will take years to understand the
                                                                                              issues – and may still disagree on the appropriate   Right now, democracy, imperfect as it is, does
                                                                                              courses of action.                                   not live up even to its most basic function.
                                                                                                                                                   If voters do not know much about its workings,
                                                                                              Democracy, though appealing in theory, faces         and if politicians offer little more than platitudes,
                                                                                              severe practical hurdles. It is no straightforward   the country will never have the public discourse

04   DEMOCRACY IN THE DARK                                                                                                                                                   THE NEW ZEALAND INITIATIVE   05
Executive summary
it needs to develop good policies and hold those     Perhaps these ideas may initially appear ludicrous
who rule to account.                                 and far-fetched. But isn’t this better than
                                                     running a policy-free election campaign for
Citizens and voters should not resign to this sad    an apathetic electorate?
state of affairs. We can strive for stronger civic
engagement. But as a prerequisite, we need to        Democracy may be an unrealistic, utopian             Almost a century ago, American columnist               • About a third knew Hon Chris Hipkins
improve our knowledge – and especially our           and unworkable ideal. We should not give up          H.L. Mencken quipped that democracy is                   is Minister of Education;
children’s knowledge – of our political system       on it though. There are worse alternatives.          a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of          • Only one in twenty knew David Parker
and our politics.                                                                                         individual ignorance.                                    is Minister for the Environment;
                                                     Dr Oliver Hartwich                                                                                          • One in eight could identify all three
This report makes recommendations on                 Executive Director                                   The century since then brought ubiquitous                branches of government;
what New Zealand could try to bolster civics.        The New Zealand Initiative                           radio, and then television. Education levels rose      • A fifth knew that courts do not have
For example, we could provide financial                                                                   substantially. The internet provided everyone            to consider the political intentions of the
incentives to keep people informed on politics.                                                           with access to a global library. The answer              Government of the day when making
                                                                                                          to any question about New Zealand’s history,             legal decisions;
                                                                                                          its constitutional arrangements, voting system         • Just over one in five respondents knew
                                                                                                          or its government is available for anyone who            which political parties voted in favour
                                                                                                          cares to ask.                                            of the Zero Carbon Bill;
                                                                                                                                                                 • 56% of respondents believed New Zealand
                                                                                                          Despite this easy information, and despite               has a military alliance with the
                                                                                                          increases in education levels that should give           United Kingdom.
                                                                                                          everyone the tools to understand the world,
                                                                                                          the state of political knowledge remains            These kinds of misperceptions can matter.
                                                                                                          consistent with Mencken’s quip.                     If one does not know which parties are even
                                                                                                                                                              in Parliament, how can they successfully reward or
                                                                                                          A passing knowledge of the state of political       punish parties in the election? Without a working
                                                                                                          knowledge could lead to despair – or amazement      knowledge of how MMP works, will a voter be able
                                                                                                          that policy outcomes have managed to be as          to reflect their preferences? If it is assumed the UK
                                                                                                          good as they are.                                   will come running to New Zealand’s rescue due to
                                                                                                                                                              a fanciful military alliance, will that affect voters’
                                                                                                          This report canvasses the state of knowledge        preferences about defence and foreign policy?
                                                                                                          about civics in New Zealand, and elsewhere.
                                                                                                          It draws on both previously published surveys,      Civics education at secondary school is relatively
                                                                                                          like the New Zealand Election Survey, and a         weak, with few students picking up the NCEA
                                                                                                          newly commissioned survey of the current state      standards that rigorously approach the topic.
                                                                                                          of knowledge about New Zealand’s political
                                                                                                          and civic institutions.                             At the same time, the benefits of civics education
                                                                                                                                                              may be overstated: decades of instruction in
                                                                                                          Our survey, undertaken in January of this           civics in the US coincide with very poor political
                                                                                                          year, suggested Kiwis might need to do a bit        knowledge in that country. And one intriguing
                                                                                                          of studying before the coming election:             experiment, which added new lessons about the
                                                                                                                                                              US Bill of Rights to some civics classrooms, did
                                                                                                             • Just under 70% of Kiwis polled could           not wind up reinforcing civics knowledge among
                                                                                                               name every party presently in Parliament;      students: surveyed two years later, they knew
                                                                                                             • Less than half understood both ways a          no more about it than students who had not
                                                                                                               party can enter Parliament under MMP;          received the extra instruction.

06   DEMOCRACY IN THE DARK                                                                                                                                                               THE NEW ZEALAND INITIATIVE   07
Weak knowledge about civics can be more              This report does not provide any magic bullets         INTRODUCTION

                                                                                                            Taking our civics for granted
concerning than weak knowledge in other areas.       for improving civic knowledge. But it does
Without knowing much about the cars currently        propose a few small experiments that could be
on the market, a prospective buyer will have a       tried, to see if they work, and while weighing the
pretty strong incentive to become informed:          costs. Part of the report’s goal is to spur creative
getting a choice like that wrong can be expensive.   ideas among Kiwis to help solve this problem.
                                                                                                            We don’t know how lucky we are                        behind the Netherlands and Sweden) and top
For civics, because each vote has only               Strengthened civics instruction could be                                                                     of the charts for the Institute’s combined overall
infinitesimal effects on political and policy        implemented in some schools, with testing two          Satirist John Clarke’s character Fred Dagg            measure of human freedoms.6
outcomes, the incentive to become informed           years later to see if it improved knowledge about      reminded New Zealand in 1975 that “we don’t
is far weaker. Problems in the media sector in       civics. It would also look at whether the extra        know how lucky we are.” It was a bit tongue           New Zealand ranked second only to Iceland
general, and specifically the issue most people      civics instruction came at the cost of knowledge       in cheek. But over the decades since, a variety       in the Institute for Economics & Peace’s
have with paying for rigorous journalism, stem       about other important things. Pushing on               of international league tables show us he may         Global Peace Index7 and is the world’s least
from a similar source. Few people are willing to     that string has not been particularly fruitful         have been a prophet.                                  corrupt country, according to Transparency
bear the costs of being better informed. They        elsewhere, but it could work here.                                                                           International’s Corruption Perception Index.8
make a judgement that such an investment too                                                                US-based non-profit Freedom House ranks
often has little tangible return.                    But it might also pay to try pulling on the civics     countries based on their civil liberties and          For other indices, New Zealand ranks near
                                                     string: giving people stronger incentives to be        political rights. In 2019, New Zealand earned         the bottom – and thankfully so. For instance,
There is far more discussion of a civic duty         better informed.                                       the highest possible score for the political rights   the Fund for Peace’s 2020 Fragile States Index
to vote than there is about a duty to cast                                                                  enjoyed by its citizens and was two points shy        ranks New Zealand as the 173rd least failed
an informed ballot, and that is a problem.                                                                  of a perfect 60 points on civil liberties.1           state, out of 178 overall.
In the same way that each car’s greenhouse
gas emissions has a tiny effect on global                                                                   Reporters Without Borders placed New Zealand          When a country ranks in the top tiers
warming which becomes substantial in the                                                                    as ninth in the world for freedom of the press,       across a wide range of measures of its overall
aggregate, each vote has a tiny effect on                                                                   with a declining score due not to government          institutional quality, with peer countries
political and policy outcomes. And there is                                                                 censorship of the media but rather due to the         sometimes higher on one measure but no country
no equivalent to the Emissions Trading Scheme                                                               difficulty of producing quality journalism            regularly in front – its citizens really are lucky to
to internalise the externalities that come of                                                               in a small market.2                                   be living in the best place in the world. Everyone
poorly informed ballots.                                                                                                                                          can point out things to improve, but Kiwis
                                                                                                            The UK-based think tank Legatum                       should not lose sight of the big picture.
                                                                                                            Institute’s 2019 Global Prosperity Index
                                                                                                            placed New Zealand seventh overall, between           The bigger worry is the “don’t know” part of
                                                                                                            the Netherlands and Germany. New Zealand’s            Fred Dagg’s catchy song. New Zealanders don’t
                                                                                                            strength was due in part to its high ranking          know how they got so lucky. The institutions of
                                                                                                            on the quality of governance institutions             governance since the reforms of the 1980s, and its
                                                                                                            and a strong environment for investment.3             democratic civic institutions, built that prosperity
                                                                                                            New Zealand also topped the planet on the             and liberty. When Kiwis don’t appreciate what
                                                                                                            World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business index.4           holds up this wonderful little clubhouse, it’s
                                                                                                                                                                  a bit too easy to accidentally knock out the
                                                                                                            The US think tank Heritage Institute ranks            loadbearing walls.
                                                                                                            New Zealand second only to Singapore in
                                                                                                            economic freedoms.5 And the Canada-based              Kiwis have a weak understanding of
                                                                                                            Fraser Institute ranked New Zealand just              their democratic and civic institutions
                                                                                                            behind both Singapore and Hong Kong for               and underappreciate the economic foundations
                                                                                                            economic freedom but miles above both for             that provided three decades of broad bipartisan
                                                                                                            personal liberties (New Zealand ranked third          consensus about what good policy looks like.

08   DEMOCRACY IN THE DARK                                                                                                                                                                  THE NEW ZEALAND INITIATIVE   09
That makes for some fragility. When crises            And far too few Kiwis know the difference            CHAPTER 1

                                                                                                           Civics 101: What every voter should know
require hurdling over a few fences to find a          between bits of fence separating long-disused
solution, it’s important to know why the fences       paddocks that can be safely removed and the
were there. As G. K. Chesterton warned:               sections that are still important. This report
                                                      tallies the evidence on what Kiwis know, and
     In the matter of reforming things, as            do not know, about their civic institutions.
     distinct from deforming them, there is one       To put it bluntly, the state of knowledge            Knowledge about politics and civics is itself               • Understand how places in New Zealand
     plain and simple principle; a principle which    is rather poor – but things can be even              something of a political question.10 While the                are significant for individuals and groups;
     will probably be called a paradox. There         worse elsewhere.                                     Initiative has its own views about what people              • Understand how the cultures of people
     exists in such a case a certain institution or                                                        should know, it is important to anchor those                  in New Zealand are expressed in their
     law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a   New Zealand’s secondary school students              views more broadly.                                           daily lives.
     fence or gate erected across a road. The more    may encounter some basic civics during their
     modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it      education if they happen to choose to sit the        The school curriculum is a good place to start:          By Year 8, students are expected to “understand
     and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us   right standards. But few students attend these       NCEA does teach some civics. The intended                how the ways in which leadership of groups is
     clear it away.” To which the more intelligent    classes. Teachers and schools do have influence      learning outcomes, for those who choose to               acquired and exercised have consequences for
     type of reformer will do well to answer:         on what standards are available to be studied        take those standards, provide one view of what           communities and societies” and “how people
     “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly     by students. Making civics lessons compulsory        matters in civic knowledge. Similarly, the               participate individually and collectively in
     won’t let you clear it away. Go away and         is a tempting idea, but overseas experience          Elections New Zealand website provides a good            response to community challenges.”
     think. Then, when you can come back and          suggests it is no panacea. US students have sat      summary of the basics of the country’s system
     tell me that you do see the use of it, I may     civics classes for decades, but surveys of their     of government and elections.                             When they reach age 15 (Year 10–11), students
     allow you to destroy it.”9                       political knowledge are not rosy.                                                                             reach Level 6 of the curriculum. At this
                                                                                                           The New Zealand Curriculum sets the vision               point, the Social Science field splits into four
It is not necessarily wrong to alter things           A plethora of online civics resources is available   for what Kiwi students can learn in primary              subfields (Geography, History, Social Studies
like New Zealand’s dual-threshold for parties’        for those who are interested. But just as sports     and secondary school. The curriculum includes            and Economics) and eight domains (Classical
entry into Parliament under the Mixed                 information online hardly leads to everyone          some standards on civics, democracy and the              Studies, Geography, History, Legal Studies,
Member Proportional electoral system, or fiscal       knowing the tie-breaking rules in World Cup          process of government, but there is no dedicated         Media Studies, Psychology, Social Studies and
responsibility provisions of the Public Finance       cricket, the Electoral Commission’s excellent        module for these topics.                                 Sociology). The field also switches from being
Act; or a Reserve Bank Act that gives the Central     resources explaining New Zealand’s system                                                                     compulsory to voluntary. While civics education
Bank more independence within a highly                of government and elections are only useful          Standards fall into 17 fields, which are then divided    is not offered as a dedicated domain, some core
prescribed range of activities. But if someone        for those who wish to know. Incentives for           into 200 subfields with more than 800 domains.           aspects do feature in the “Legal Studies” domain
is unclear why those provisions exist, or the         becoming informed are poor.                          In Years 1–10, the field of “Social Science” is          for the three NCEA Levels. Other domains, such
historic role played by Maori electorates, or the                                                          compulsory, which is the field most relevant for         as Classical Studies and Sociology, include some
powers of the Courts relative to Parliament,                                                               civics education at those ages. However, thanks to       standards on civics. But these mainly include a
it is far too easy to accidentally torch one of                                                            the flexibility of the national curriculum, the entire   broad discussion about democracy in Ancient
Mr Chesterton’s fences.                                                                                    Social Science achievement objectives for Years          Greece or the examination of a single social
                                                                                                           1–13 can fit on a single A4 sheet.                       institution, for instance.

                                                                                                           For example, Level 1 in the New Zealand                  It is only if students take the Legal Studies
                                                                                                           Curriculum, which is taught in Years 1–2,                domain at the end of their secondary school
                                                                                                           requires students to:                                    education that they will engage closely with
                                                                                                              • Understand how belonging to groups                  civics education. Of course, what is taught
                                                                                                                  is important for people;                          during the school term can be beyond what
                                                                                                              • Understand that people have different               is assessed in the standard. During the 2019
                                                                                                                  roles and responsibilities as part of their       year, students for Level 1 in this domain could
                                                                                                                  participation in groups;                          complete standards such as:
                                                                                                              • Understand how the past is important                     • Demonstrate understanding of concepts
                                                                                                                  to people;                                                of democracy and government;

10   DEMOCRACY IN THE DARK                                                                                                                                                                   THE NEW ZEALAND INITIATIVE   11
• Demonstrate understanding of                    • Evaluate a concept of justice in relation       about an example of a restraint on state power        While the NZQA data does not show how
       foundational concepts of justice;                 to a specific situation;                        with arguments and counterarguments about             many different Legal Studies units were taken by
     • Demonstrate understanding of                    • Evaluate a concept of law in relation to        the scenario.                                         an individual student (only the total number of
       concepts of law;                                  a specific situation;                                                                                 students in each unit), it is clear only a handful
     • Demonstrate understanding of litigation         • Evaluate litigation and dispute resolution      To achieve an “Excellence” grade, a student           of students will finish their school years knowing
       and dispute resolution processes in               processes in relation to challenging            must show they understand: the rule of                a little about New Zealand’s democracy.1112
       New Zealand;                                      state power;                                    law, civil liberties, how parliamentary
     • Demonstrate understanding of                    • Evaluate a law-making process in                sovereignty functions, the legal relationship
       law-making processes;                             relation to a significant legal issue;          between individual versus state power,                Some of the things you always wanted
     • Demonstrate understanding of                    • Evaluate systems of government and              checks and balances within government and             to know about government but were
       New Zealand’s system of government                their formation.                                “international versus state power.”                   afraid to ask
       and its formation and operation.
                                                    Digging into the criteria for the Level 1 standard   Not every school will offer Social Studies once       Guided by the content of the New Zealand
At Level 2, standards include:                      question – Demonstrate understanding of concepts     the field switches to voluntary. If enough students   Curriculum, and by the elements emphasised by
   • Describe the legal rights and                  of democracy and government – NZQA’s advice          in a school show interest in taking the domain        Elections New Zealand, the Initiative believes
      personal responsibilities of secondary        states that students can achieve an “Excellence”     to achieve their NCEA credits, the school might       every informed voter should:
      school students;                              grade by discussing any form of government,          teach towards the above standards. Another               • Know how MMP works and how to vote
   • Explain concepts of democracy and              including: theocracy, oligarchy, dictatorship        option for keen students – should the threshold              (see box);
      government in a New Zealand context;          or another form of democracy. Writing about          for adding the domain that year not be reached –         • Understand some history of
   • Explain concepts of justice;                   “suffrage, elections, human rights, media,           might be to engage with a correspondence course              New Zealand’s democracy, including the
   • Explain concepts of law;                       executive power, rule of law and judicial            such as Te Aho o Te Kura Pounamu. Te Kura is                 role of Parliament, voters and the Queen
   • Explain litigation and dispute                 processes and the treatment of minorities”           New Zealand’s largest school with about 25,000               of New Zealand;
      resolution processes;                         is also encouraged.                                  students enrolled annually, from early childhood         • Have a foundational understanding of
   • Describe factors contributing to,                                                                   to secondary school. In some instances, students             the three branches of government and how
      and consequences of, crime;                   For the Level 2 question – Explain concepts of       will also study subjects at neighboring schools.             they interact with, and are separate from,
   • Explain a law-making process;                  democracy and government in a New Zealand                                                                         each other;
   • Explain systems for the formation of central   context – NZQA suggests teaching about:              However, the number of students taking the               • Know the basics of how Parliament works,
      government, and their consequences, in a      “the rule of law, separation of powers, liberal      Legal Studies domain is vanishingly small.                   including the role of the opposition,
      New Zealand context;                          democracy, rights and their limitations, Magna                                                                    voting and voter participation;
   • Describe factors contributing to, and          Carta and limits on the power of the monarch,        The total number of students enrolled in                 • Understand the basic constitutional
      consequences of, crime;                       relationship between Tangata Whenua and              NZQA external examinations in 2019 was                       principles, including the Treaty, and the
   • Describe the application of New Zealand        the Crown as regards te Tiriti o Waitangi,           143,509 across about 500 schools. Some of these              civil liberties every citizen enjoys;
      law to marriage, civil union and de-facto     parliamentary sovereignty and statute as             schools use an alternative curriculum to NCEA,           • Understand the nature and role of
      relationships;                                highest form of law, absence of a fully written      such as Cambridge Assessment International                   the judiciary.
   • Describe legal consequences and                constitution, role of the courts, delegated          Education. Of this, only 7609 internal units
      protections relating to domestic violence     legislation.” To get an “Excellence” grade at        (assessments) were taken as part of the “Legal        With this basic grasp of democracy, voters would
      and child abuse;                              NCEA Level 2, a law studies student must use         Studies” courses, with the most popular unit          be better equipped to vote in an election.
   • Describe the objectives and application        a specific example of governance, likely based       (NCEA Level 2 Explain concepts of law) taken by
      of consumer law.                              on what was taught during the school term.           only 684 students. For the unit Explain concepts      This report does not provide a complete Civics
                                                                                                         of democracy and government in a New Zealand          101 lesson. It outlines the desired learning
And at Level 3:                                     Should a student continue with Legal Studies,        context, only 218 students took this standard last    outcomes rather than the lesson plans. Resources
  • Demonstrate knowledge of the development        they can choose from several more complex exam       year. The total number includes students who          like the Elections New Zealand website are
      of the New Zealand legal system;              questions at Level 3. For instance: Evaluate a       were not assessed in the standard. The NZQA           readily available. But a few other New Zealand
  • Evaluate a concept of democracy                 concept of democracy and government in relation      says there are many reasons a student may not be      institutions should be important parts of an
      and government in relation to restraint       to restraint on state power. The student can draw    assessed on the unit they take.                       informed voter’s toolkit.
      on state power;                               from media reports or expert commentary

12   DEMOCRACY IN THE DARK                                                                                                                                                              THE NEW ZEALAND INITIATIVE   13
MMP 101                                                                                                       The Act does not bar the Government from              Think about purchasing a car. The first bits of
                                                                                                                   increasing spending or taxes. Doing both at           information about the reliability and suitability
     In 1993, New Zealand voted to change the                  Rather, party A will first fill its 36-seat quota   the same time can be consistent with balanced         of different models for a buyer’s needs would be
     electoral system from First Past the Post (FPP) to    with the number of electorate MPs (in blue), and        budgets and maintaining prudent debt levels.          valuable. But, eventually, spending time reading
     Mixed Member Proportional (MMP). FPP tends to         the remaining 24 seats with list MPs (in red).          The Act rather prevents Governments from              up on the different options and searching for
     generate two-party systems with single-party                                                                  relying on debt to finance normal operations.         the best deal is no longer worthwhile: it’s time
     majority governments, though does not always                                                                  Whether by increasing spending without                to make the purchase. For this kind of decision,
     do so. MPs from four parties were elected at New                                                              increasing taxes, or by substantially cutting taxes   not acquiring enough information can be costly.
     Zealand's last FPP election. Under MMP, coalition                                                             without cutting spending.                             In private markets where purchases are taken
     goverments are more likely as single party                                                                                                                          home, mistakes are costly. People regularly get
     majorities are less likely.                                                                                   The Reserve Bank Act provides the Reserve Bank        things wrong, but the incentives for getting the
          Under FPP, voters get one vote: for the                                                                  with operational independence in managing the         necessary information to make good decisions
     Member of Parliament (MP) representing their                                                                  country’s money supply. The Act helps to isolate      are appropriately aligned.
     electorate. The winning party becomes the                 However, electorate seats are an important          the monetary system from politicians who might
     Government if it gets more than half of the           safeguard for smaller parties. To gain a seat in        be tempted to pull monetary levers for electoral      But what is the upside to getting more
     electorates either by itself or in coalition with     Parliament, a party must either:                        purposes. Before April 2019, the Bank operated        information about politics and civics? If a person
     other parties. FPP electoral systems tend to          1. Reach 5% of party votes nationally; or               under Policy Targets Agreements with the              buys the wrong car, they will take home a costly
     produce Parliaments consisting of two major           2. Win an electorate seat.                              Minister of Finance to specify the range within       mistake. But what happens if the same individual
     parties, in the absence of significant regional                                                               which the Bank must keep inflation outcomes,          decides never to learn much about civics and
     differences.                                              This 5% threshold was created by Germany            on average and over the medium term. The              then makes a mistake when voting?
          Under MMP, voters get two votes: for the         (from where New Zealand take its MMP system)            Remit to the Monetary Policy Committee has
     MP representing their electorate and for the          to ensure that minor extremist parties don’t gain       replaced this model and now defines monetary          Some caution is needed when talking about
     party they want in Parliament. Unlike FPP, the        too much traction. Proportional representation          policy outcomes.                                      mistakes in voting. Political partisans would
     composition of seats in Parliament is (with a         systems without a threshold, or with low                                                                      claim that voting for their preferred party is
     minor exception) determined by the share of           thresholds, can yield fragmented legislatures                                                                 not a mistake. The meaning here is a bit more
     party votes gained rather than the number of          and difficult coalitions.12 Yet high thresholds risk    Don’t know much about civics books                    nuanced. People can have large differences
     electorate MPs.                                       encouraging voters to select parties that do not                                                              in values which can reasonably lead to big
          The party vote is much more important.           mirror their personal views if they worry their         Not everything that is important is worth             differences in what each sees as acceptable trade-
     For example, imagine that in an election, party A     preferred party is unlikely to enter Parliament.        knowing. It would be impossible for anyone            offs. None of that can possibly be a mistake.
     receives 30% of the party vote. This would entitle                                                            to know everything that matters. People               It would be like saying that preferring apples
     it to 30% of the total seats in Parliament (36        The Exception: Overhangs                                triage information all the time. As the world         to pineapples is a mistake.
     seats) or a bit more when considering the votes       Yet, what if party A wins an electorate seat but        becomes more complex, the scale of the problem
     cast for parties that did not enter Parliament. If,   doesn’t receive enough of the party vote to             only increases. Most people have a rough              But suppose that a person’s values led them
     alongside its 30% of the party vote, party A also     justify one seat in parliament? In this “overhang,”     understanding of how toilets work. But few other      to support a lot of government involvement
     won 12 electorate seats, this would not mean a        parliament gets bigger – by one seat. An overhang       than plumbers could draw a reliable schematic         in economic regulation and redistribution. In
     total of 36 + 12 = 48 seats.                          of more seats is also possible.                         to help someone build a toilet from scratch.          that case, voting for ACT might be a mistake.
                                                                                                                   The same is true for everything from computers        Similarly, if a person likes multiparty coalition
                                                                                                                   to car engines, and from historical knowledge         governments reliably produced by a Mixed
The Public Finance Act guides how Parliament               in balance and that debt be maintained at               to the function of civic institutions.                Member Proportional (MMP) electoral system,
spends public money. It does not ban                       prudent levels while providing contingencies                                                                  it would be a mistake to vote for a return to
Governments from running deficits, nor                     for emergencies – such as pandemics. In an              Economists frame this information problem             First Past the Post (FPP).
does it prescribe tax levels. It rather provides           emergency, the Government need not maintain             as one of rational ignorance. Humans acquire
transparency in Government budgeting. The                  a balanced budget but should publish its                information whenever there is a good reason           In neither of those cases are the underlying values
Act requires the Government to explain how it              intended path back to more normal and prudent           to do so. Yet only up to the point where the          a mistake. The problem is that failing to acquire
will raise the funds necessary for its spending            debt levels.                                            benefits of getting the next bit of information       enough information led to a vote at odds with
plans. It requires that budgets typically be                                                                       outweighs the cost.                                   the person’s underlying values. It’s like saying

14   DEMOCRACY IN THE DARK                                                                                                                                                                         THE NEW ZEALAND INITIATIVE   15
the most important thing about a car is its fuel          is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of          a new Chevrolet Camaro and who is convinced
efficiency, and then buying a Humvee. There is            individual ignorance.” Perhaps that belief is better      reports of its poor reliability15 cannot be true will
nothing wrong with buying a Humvee if that                grounded in theory than Mencken thought.                  bear the costs of that decision. Pleasant but false
vehicle best suits a person’s needs. The Emissions                                                                  beliefs in that environment are costly.
Trading Scheme means each Humvee owner will               Unfortunately, the world does not seem to
pay for the carbon costs they impose. But buying          work that way. People who follow sports do not            At the ballot box, things are a bit different.
one while thinking it is the most fuel-efficient          just enjoy speculating about the best opening             And the difference matters.
option would obviously be a mistake.                      batsmen pick for the Black Caps. Unless they
                                                          are betting at the TAB, a fan wants to believe
Economists and political scientists have long             their preferred team will win and that their own
known that rational ignorance is a large problem          strategies would work. They have preferences over
in politics. American economist Anthony Downs             their beliefs. And the same holds true in politics.
explained the basic problem in his 1957 Economic
Theory of Democracy. Mancur Olson also teased             US-based economist Bryan Caplan described
out some consequences in his 1965 book The Logic          preferences over political beliefs as being rationally
of Collective Action. When one vote is unlikely to        irrational.13 An incorrect belief about which policies
change the outcome of any large-scale election, the       lead to which outcomes, or about which parties are
benefits of acquiring information, or even voting         likely to deliver different policies, is not expensive
at all, are limited. Instead of visiting a car yard and   to hold. If it makes a person happy to believe that
taking home a car, a person casts a vote for the car      the Social Credit Party holds all the answers, it does
that everyone will share. The chances that a single       not matter if its theories were refuted by University
vote changes the outcome are worse than the               of Canterbury economist Alan Danks in 1955.14
chances of winning a lottery. Given these realities,      When the cost of holding a pleasant belief is low,
people will likely know a lot less about any party’s      why not? While an economist’s perfect-rationality
policies, or the likely real-world effects of those       model has little room for untrue beliefs, a rational
policies, than about the features of their next car.      kind of irrationality would allow this when those
                                                          beliefs are personally harmless.
That isn’t necessarily a big problem. While rational
ignorance predicts people will not acquire much           Gathering extra political information then suffers
information and make a lot of mistakes, it also           from a classic externality problem. In private
provides a ray of hope: those mistakes may cancel         markets, rational ignorance predicts everyone gets,
each other out. So long as mistakes are not               on average, just enough information. But where the
systematic, or weighing more heavily to one side          time and effort involved in learning basic civics falls
than another, there may be no need to worry.              on the individual, the returns on that investment
                                                          accrue to the polity more broadly through a slight
If some voters are well-informed, simply because          improvement in outcomes at the ballot box. That
they enjoy politics in the same way others enjoy          is a classic recipe for inadequate information. The
following sports teams, then those informed voters        standard models predict voters will know little,
wind up making the decision. Uninformed votes             relative to what is best for society as a whole.
cancel each other out just as many flipped coins
cancel each other out. So long as the preferences         Going beyond basic civics into the policies offered
of informed voters largely coincide with those of         by the various parties brings an extra complication
their less-informed neighbours, and less-informed         of Caplan’s rational irrationality. It is not just that
voters’ mistakes do cancel each other out, it             not enough is known, it’s also that, to paraphrase
might all work out. Early 20th-century American           the old saying, much of what people do know
essayist H.L. Mencken insisted that “democracy            won’t be so. The shopper who loves the look of

16   DEMOCRACY IN THE DARK                                                                                                                                                  THE NEW ZEALAND INITIATIVE   17
CHAPTER 2                                                                                                          Somin also notes that Americans’ political                than placing blame with the agency most directly

The known unknowns
                                                                                                                   knowledge has barely improved since survey                responsible. Voters underestimate the importance
                                                                                                                   research began in the late 1930s. This is despite large   of the Federal Reserve for overall economic
                                                                                                                   increases in educational attainment over the period.      outcomes; underestimate the importance of state
                                                                                                                                                                             and local government for the quality of public
                                                                                                                   As bad as this is, there is hope. Perhaps the             schools, and underestimate the importance of
What voters don’t know                                        that “a popular government, without popular          expectations are a bit too complicated. One does          Congress and the President for the budget.18
                                                              information or the means of acquiring it, is         not need to understand how a Camaro’s engine
The models predict that knowledge about civics                but a prologue to farce or a tragedy, or perhaps     works to know that it isn’t working. So long as           How should the angry voter behave at the
will be rather thin. But what does the data say?              both.”16 Less than half of Americans surveyed        the car owner can figure out whether Chevrolet            ballot box when different bodies are in control
                                                              could answer basic questions that Delli Carpini      is to blame or if the mechanic who provided the           of different parts of the federal and state
It turns out a lot is known about what is not                 deemed crucial to effective citizenship.             last oil change made a mistake, the owner can             governments? A 2006 Zogby poll found that less
known. The broad conclusion of decades of research                                                                 make better decisions next time around.                   than half of American voters could even name all
into political knowledge is that voters are poorly            Respondents could not define terms like liberal,                                                               three branches of the federal government.19 If a
informed, and that is not a new phenomenon.                   conservative, or the Bill of Rights. Neither         Similarly, voters might not really need to                person does not really know who is responsible
                                                              could they reliably identify candidates’ or          understand anything about policy or politics              for what, it can be easy to blame any problem
                                                              parties’ positions on important issues. And          if they can see through the window that the               on whichever part of government is run by the
     An Overview of the State of Citizens’
                                                              basic knowledge about the unemployment rate,         country is working. If they can tell who to blame         party they don’t support – and punish them.
     Knowledge About Politics
                                                              or how much of the federal budget is devoted         for any problems, they can vote the responsible
                                                              to big-ticket items, was also wanting. Delli         party out of office. This kind of economic
     The literature on political knowledge provides
                                                              Carpini emphasised the half-full part of the         retrospective voting massively reduces the                There’s no political ignorance in
     fairly compelling evidence for five
                                                              glass in reminding that an average score of 50%      information problem facing voters and, in theory,         New Zealand?
     characterisations regarding what Americans know:
                                                              represented “an under-informed public, but           can encourage good policy outcomes.
     1. the average American is poorly informed but
                                                              not … an uninformed one.”                                                                                      At this point, it is tempting to lean back and
          not uninformed;
                                                                                                                   Sadly, that’s more complicated than it sounds.            have a little chuckle about the silly Americans.
     2. aggregate levels of political knowledge
                                                              The problem is not new.                                                                                        Surely those kinds of problems aren’t in
          have remained relatively stable over the
                                                                                                                   In the US, voters must figure out if any problem          New Zealand, right?
          past 50 years;
                                                              George Mason University law professor                is due to government failure, or if the observed
     3. Americans appear to be slightly less
                                                              Ilya Somin’s review of the literature17 found only   problem could not possibly have been fixed                When the band Blam Blam Blam told everyone in
          informed about politics than are citizens
                                                              38% of Americans in 1964 knew that the Soviet        by the government. If the government is to                1981 that there was no depression in New Zealand,
          of other comparable nations;
                                                              Union was not a member of the NATO alliance.         blame, did local government mess something                or sheep on its farms, or dole queues, everyone
     4. “average” levels of knowledge mask
                                                              NATO is a military alliance of US-aligned            up, state-level government or the federal                 listening knew it wasn’t really true. But Kiwis
          important differences across groups; and
                                                              powers formed to defend against the threat of        government? At the federal or state level, is the         often look across the Pacific Ocean and think they
     5. knowledge is tied to many attributes of
                                                              expansionary Soviet communism. Only two              problem due to the Executive (the President               know an awful lot more about how the world
          “good” citizenship.”
                                                              years before the 1964 survey, NATO and the           or Governor) or to the legislature? Or does the           works than voters in the United States. Judged
     Source: Delli Carpini, M. X. (2005). An overview of
                                                              Soviet Union came within a whisker’s breadth         problem cycle back to the Federal Reserve central         on outcomes, well, New Zealand certainly seems
     the state of citizens’ knowledge about politics. In M.   of nuclear war over Soviet intermediate-range        bank? Knowing who to blame requires a basic               far more functional. But voter knowledge among
     S. McKinney, L. L. Kaid, D. G. Bystrom, & D. B.          missile installations in Cuba – the Cuban            knowledge of civics.                                      Kiwis is a bit of a worry.
     Carlin (Eds.), Communicating politics: Engaging the      Missile Crisis. Thinking that the Soviet Union
     public in democratic life (pp. 27-40). New York: Peter
     Lang. Retrieved from
                                                              was a part of the Western military alliance          American voters struggle even with that simple            The country’s best source of data on voter
     asc_papers/53                                            designed to contain and oppose it seems a            task. Compared to expert academic political               knowledge and preferences, the New Zealand
                                                              substantial error. Similarly, and as worryingly,     scientists, voters are far more likely to attribute       Election Study, remains relatively underexplored.
                                                              only 22% of Americans knew, in the mid-1980s,        outcomes to politicians – over-rewarding them in          But a look through the data provides cause
Michael Delli Carpini’s survey in the box above               that standing US military doctrine was to            good times, and over-punishing them in bad times.         for concern, as do the results of a survey
is sobering reading for those agreeing with                   use nuclear weapons if the Soviets attacked          Worse, they are likely to diffuse responsibility across   commissioned by the New Zealand Initiative to
American statesman James Madison’s warning                    Western Europe.                                      a broad range of governmental institutions rather         directly assess Kiwis’ knowledge of basic civics.

18   DEMOCRACY IN THE DARK                                                                                                                                                                             THE NEW ZEALAND INITIATIVE   19
Survey says?                                             knew the Party vote determines the composition        2020 New Zealand Initiative survey                            The full set of questions were:
                                                         of Parliament and that the political party with the                                                                    • Can you name all the political parties in
So, how much of what Kiwi voters should know             most votes is likely to get the most seats under      The New Zealand Initiative put together nine                        the current New Zealand Parliament?
about democracy do they really know?                     MMP.21 And a 2008 Colmar-Brunton poll found           basic civics questions and commissioned a phone                  • Who is the current Minister of Education?
                                                         only 30% of respondents understood MMP’s dual-        interview poll of 1000 Kiwis over two weeks in                   • Who is the current Minister for the
The New Zealand Election Survey (NZES)                   entry threshold into Parliament while barely half     January, with four supplementary questions.                         Environment?
is the country’s most comprehensive regular              recognised the Party Vote as the more important.22                                                                     • Which parties in the current New Zealand
survey of voter knowledge. The 2017 survey of                                                                  Many respondents considered themselves to be                        Parliament voted for the Zero Carbon Bill
3455 Kiwis showed clear deficiencies in the basic        The 2008 Election Survey provided a greater range     either very well informed (27%) or well informed                    which passed in late 2019?
understanding of civics. Unfortunately, it did not       of questions but also displayed dismal results:23     (40%) in deciding how to vote in the 2020                        • Under MMP, in what ways can parties
ask many questions that can be benchmarked                   • 84% knew that Labour was in the prior           election. A further 22% considered themselves                       gain a seat in Parliament?
against a textbook.                                             government;                                    somewhat informed, 6% not very informed and                      • Some people say that the best people
                                                             • 81% knew that the term of Parliament            4% not at all informed.                                             from all parties should come together and
About five respondents in eight correctly                       is not four years;                                                                                                 form a permanent, all-party government.
recognised that the party vote is more important             • 68% recognised that enrolling to vote is        Figure 1: How informed do you think you are in                      Do you agree?
than the electorate vote in determining the                     compulsory;                                    deciding how to vote in the next election?                       • Does New Zealand have a military
composition of Parliament. About 25% viewed                  • 55% could identify the correct thresholds                                                                           alliance with the United Kingdom?
                                                                                                                Not at all informed         4%
both as equally important, 10% thought the                      for entry into Parliament under MMP;                                                                            • Which countries form the Five Eyes Alliance?
electorate vote was more important and just                  • 53% thought the Party Vote is most                Not very informed           6%
                                                                                                                                                                                • In applying the law, do New Zealand courts
over 5% did not know.                                           important in the composition of Parliament;                                                                        have to take into account the political
                                                             • 36% agreed that Treasury is not mainly          Somewhat informed                         22%                       intentions of the Government of the day?
It can be difficult to punish or reward incumbent               responsible for interest rates;                      Well informed                                     40%      • Can you name the three branches of
political parties for their performance if an                • 28% knew that non-citizens can vote.                                                                                government?
individual does not know who the MPs are.                                                                       Very well informed                             27%              • Some countries have a strong leader who
According to the survey, 20% of respondents could        The same survey showed 27% of respondents who                            0%         10%       20%     30%   40%
                                                                                                                                                                                   doesn’t have to bother with a Parliament
not recall which parties formed the Government           support a return to First Past the Post also prefer                                                                       or elections. Is this model a very good,
after the 2014 election (the answer was the National     coalition Governments – which are less likely         62% said they read newspapers, news websites or                     good, bad or very bad model?
Party, the Māori Party, United Future and ACT).          under FPP. On the other hand, 27% of MMP              magazines daily. About 22% followed the news                     • How would you feel about the idea of
Worryingly, 28% said the National Party was not          supporters thought a party with 40% of the vote       several times a week, 10% less than once a week                     having experts, not elected politicians,
involved while 7% thought Labour helped to form          should receive more than 40% of the seats while       and 6% said they never read the news.                               make decisions according to what they
it.20 One in four knew that both ACT and the             37% said New Zealand has too many political                                                                               think is best for the country? Would
Maori Party helped to form the Government while          parties. And it seems unlikely that they were         Figure 2: How often do you consume written                          this be a very good, good, bad or very
over half thought neither party was involved.            considering the minor difference between overall      political news such as newspapers,                                  bad model?
                                                         party vote share and the share of seats caused when   news, websites or magazines?                                     • Do you think that democracy is the best
Ideology can be a shortcut heuristic for voters who      some parties receive party list votes but no seats                                                                        form of Government?
do not follow parties’ policies closely. Yet only        in Parliament. Preferences between MMP and                   Never      6%

71% of respondents correctly placed Labour to the        First Past the Post are neither right nor wrong.        Less than
                                                                                                                                                                             The full data is reproduced below, but some
                                                                                                               once a week
political left of the National Party. About 18% could    But many people seemed happy with a system                                                                          of the highlights are worth teasing out. For
                                                                                                               Several times
not place one or both parties on the axis at all, just   very different from their claimed preferences.                                          22%                         instance, a worryingly high number of people
                                                                                                                     a week
under 7% said the parties’ ideologies were identical                                                                   Daily                                         62%
                                                                                                                                                                             (29%) could not accurately name the five political
and 4% placed Labour to the right of National.           Unfortunately, the 2017 NZES had few questions                                                                      parties present in Parliament. Less than half of
                                                         about basic civics knowledge, which is why                        0%    10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% 70%                 respondents (46%) identified both ways parties
Poor civics knowledge among Kiwis is not                 the New Zealand Initiative commissioned its                                                                         can enter Parliament under MMP. To put this in
new. The 2005 NZES showed almost a fifth of              own survey.                                           The Initiative’s survey then asked about the                  perspective, New Zealand’s first MMP election
respondents did not know Labour was a part of                                                                  current composition of Parliament, basic civics               was held in 1996 and the 2020 election will be
the prior Labour-led Government. Also, about half        The results are not encouraging.                      and general political knowledge.                              the ninth held under that system.24

20   DEMOCRACY IN THE DARK                                                                                                                                                                            THE NEW ZEALAND INITIATIVE   21
Figure 3: Can you name all the political parties in the current NZ Parliament?                                                          Figure 7: Which parties in the current NZ Parliament voted for the Zero Carbon Bill
                                                                                                                                        which passed in late 2019?
                         Unsure/refuse   1%

 No – can’t name, or got some wrong                                                                                                                         Unsure/refuse                 13%
                            or missing
                                                                                                                                         Can’t name, or got some wrong
Yes – correcly name National, Labour,                                                                                                                         or missing                                                                                           65%
             NZ First, Greens and ACT                                                                                         69%
                                                                                                                                        Correctly name National, Labour,
                                                                                                                                                     NZ First and Greens
                                       0%          10%          20%           30%            40%        50%     60%          70%
                                                                                                                                                                        0%         10%           20%         30%           40%             50%          60%          70%
Figure 4: Under MMP, in what ways can parties gain a seat in Parliament?24

                      Unsure/refuse                                  15%
                                                                                                                                        Figure 8: Some people say that the best people from all parties should come together and form a
                           Incorrect                             14%                                                                    permanent, all-party government. Do you agree?
                 Partially correct –
                                                                                         25%                                            Unsure/refuse                  8%
       named one method, not both

Correct – win an electorate seat or                                                                                         46%                      No                                                                                                      62%
    gaining at least 5% of the vote
                                   0%         5%     10%        15%        20%         25%     30%      35%   40%     45%         50%                Yes                                               30%

                                                                                                                                                       0%              10%         20%            30%              40%               50%           60%              70%
Some Ministers always get more of the limelight                            Unfortunately, the Initiative’s survey only
but connecting a name to the correct portfolio                             recorded if respondents gave the right answer.
was difficult for some. About a third correctly said                       Next time, it will add a follow-up question to ask           Figure 9: How do you feel about the idea of having experts, not elected politicians,
Chris Hipkins is the present Minister of Education                         about the party affiliation of each Minister.                make decisions according to what they think is best for the country? Is this model a very good,
while only 5% knew David Parker is the Minister                                                                                         good, bad or very bad model?
for the Environment (46% were unsure).                                     The current Government made the Zero Carbon
                                                                           Bill an important part of its policy agenda. At               Very bad                                                                        24%

Knowing who is Minister of what portfolio                                  the close of 2019, the National Party decided                      Bad                                                                                                      34%
may be useful in a pub quiz. If the policy area                            to join in supporting the Bill. However, when
winds up being important, and a citizen wants                              asked which parties voted for that bill, only                   Neutral                                       13%

to write to the Minister about it, names are easily                        22% pointed to Labour, NZ First, Greens, and                     Good                                                       18%
searched online. But it can matter in overall                              National. If National hoped to gain support by
assessments of who to credit, or blame, for                                voting for the Bill, the survey suggests few voters          Very good                      6%

policy. If voters strongly support or oppose an                            noticed. Come the election, some voters may                            0%              5%         10%           15%           20%             25%           30%             35%          40%
environmental policy, knowing if the Minister                              either punish or reward the National Party if
for the Environment is a Labour Party MP or                                they incorrectly think it opposed the Bill.
Green Party MP matters.                                                                                                                 Figure 10: Some countries have a strong leader who doesn’t have to bother with a parliament or
                                                                                                                                        elections. Is this model a very good, good, bad or very bad model?
Figure 5: Who is the current Minister                                      Figure 6: Who is the current Minister
of Education?                                                              for the Environment?                                          Very bad                                                                                                            53%

                                                                                     Unsure/refuse                            46%             Bad                                                              31%
             Unsure/refuse                                     38%

                                                                           Incorrect – someone else                                        Neutral              5%
Incorrect – someone else                                 31%                                                                      50%

                                                                             Correct – David Parker     5%                                  Good             4%
     Correct – Chris Hipkins                             31%
                                                                                                                                        Very good     0%
                           0%     10%       20%     30%        40%                                 0%   10% 20% 30% 40% 50%

                                                                                                                                                  0%                   10%           20%                 30%                   40%               50%                60%

22    DEMOCRACY IN THE DARK                                                                                                                                                                                                                 THE NEW ZEALAND INITIATIVE    23
A strong majority of respondents (87%) agreed                       may appeal to would-be technocrats, results may       Figure 13: Does NZ have a military alliance with the United Kingdom?
that democracy is the best form of government.                      be less than desirable.26
But 30% also supported the idea that “the best                                                                             Unsure/refuse                                   20%
people from all parties should come together and                    Taking a wider view on how New Zealand’s
                                                                                                                                     No                                          24%
form a permanent, all-party government” – a                         democratic system works, respondents were asked to
notion rather antithetical to modern democracy.                     name the three branches of government (legislature,             Yes                                                                                                56%
                                                                    executive and judiciary). Only 12% could do so.
                                                                                                                                       0%                   10%          20%           30%            40%                50%                 60%
Another positive sign was that 84% said if a                        And 59% knew that courts do not have to consider
strong-man leader abolished elections, that would                   the political intentions of the Government of the
be either “bad” or “very bad.” However, 4% kind                     day when making legal decisions.                      Figure 14: Which countries form the Five Eyes Alliance?
of liked the idea (see “Lizardman’s constant” in
endnote 20). Respondents were more receptive                        In New Zealand's Parliamentary system, the                              Unsure/refuse                                     20%
(24%) to the idea that experts rather than elected                  Courts can deem policy to be inconsistent
                                                                                                                                                      No                                                                               41%
politicians should make decisions according to                      with the Bill of Rights but cannot overturn             Correctly name United States,
what they think is best for the country, while                      legislation since Parliament is supreme. Judicial           United Kingdom, Canada,                                                                         38%
                                                                                                                               Australia and New Zealand
58% viewed it as either a bad or very bad model.                    decisions about whether legislation aligns with
                                                                                                                                                        0%         5%     10%    15%      20%       25%     30%         35%      40%          45%
                                                                    constitutional provisions serve as bulwarks only
The political system does outsource some                            to the extent that voters notice the findings
decisions to experts. Pharmac’s experts decide                      and reassess their views of the legislation – and     so-called “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing pact.             Education or the Minister for the Environment
which drugs should be funded, within the                            the parties in support of it – in light of those      Only 28% could name New Zealand, Australia,                  to tally a score out of seven rather than out of
amount of money allocated by Parliament. It is                      findings. Not even knowing the basic structure        Canada, the US and the UK.                                   nine, the results are grim.
better for Pharmac to decide which treatments                       of the government makes that task difficult.
are cost-effective than for Parliament to make                                                                            While there may not be direct implications                   The survey data also shows which demographic
those decisions based on which patients are most                    Another finding in the survey, which may              for policy or democratic accountability,                     characteristics were most associated with higher
politically compelling. An independent Reserve                      interest the government of the United Kingdom,        overestimating the likelihood that the UK would              scores, adjusting for all other demographic
Bank makes decisions about monetary policy. It                      is that more than half of Kiwis, 56%, believe         necessarily come to New Zealand’s aid may lead               characteristics. Men, older generations,
is plausible that more decisions could be handed                    New Zealand has a military alliance with the UK.      voters to support defence or foreign policies that           city-dwellers, university-leavers, daily media
to independent agencies, within bounds set by                       Another 20% were unsure. Respondents were less        they would not otherwise.                                    consumers and folk in lower decile areas scored
Parliament.25 But while a generalised technocracy                   confident about which countries are part of the                                                                    higher in the survey, adjusting for everything
                                                                                                                          Kiwis maintained strong support for democracy.               else. (see Table 1A in the Appendix).
Figure 11: Can you name the three branches of government?                                                                 But knowledge of the country’s electoral system
                                                                                                                          is weak. The average number of correct answers               Education had the largest effect on knowledge.
                       Unsure/refuse                                                                 40%                  on the nine basic civics questions was 2.9. Even             Those with a bachelor’s degree scored about
                                                                                                                          without questions about who is the Minister of               1.5 more points than those without a diploma.
                             Incorrect                                                                       45%

Correct – Legislature (or Parliament),
     Executive, Judiciary (or Courts)
                                                            12%                                                           Table 1: Educational attainment across political parties

                                     0%    5%         10%     15%     20%    25%    30%     35%    40%     45%     50%     Educational                        Green     Labour         NZF      National     Other            Unsure         Total

                                                                                                                           None                                   0         57           6           40             1             14          118
Figure 12: In applying the law, do NZ courts have to take into account the political intentions of the
Government of the day?                                                                                                     School Qualification                    4       79            12          94           10              16          215

                                                                                                                           Trade / Diploma                        8        98            11          113           5              37          272
No                                                                                                           59%
                                                                                                                           Degree                                 30       128           12          123          16              52          361
Yes                                             22%                                                                        Unsure                                 0          7           2            4            0              21           34

     0%                10%                20%                30%             40%             50%             60%
                                                                                                                           Total                                  42      369           43           374          32            140      1,000

24    DEMOCRACY IN THE DARK                                                                                                                                                                                       THE NEW ZEALAND INITIATIVE     25
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