Center for Electoral Forensics

New Zealand 2014

[Flag of New Zealand]New Zealand is an island country located in the southwestern Pacific Ocean comprising two main landmasses and numerous smaller islands. It is a constitutional monarchy with the Queen of England and the House of Representatives comprising the Parliament. Unlike other countries, the parliamentary election rules are is a little different due to the special system that New Zealand has, which makes it interesting to study the election data.

Are we able to detect unfairness under this rare electoral system?

[Bill English]

Prime Minister Bill English. Official photograph from the website of Bill English.

The political system of New Zealand is based on the principle that power is distributed across three branches of government. The system branches are as follows:

  • the Executive (Queen and Cabinet)
  • the Legislature (Parliament)
  • the Judiciary (judges and courts)

The Queen

The Constitution Act says that Queen Elizabeth II is New Zealand's head of state, and that the Governor-General is her appointed representative. Many legal powers are formally held by the Crown. Convention requires that these powers are used only on the advice of the ministers who form the executive branch of government.

The Executive Council

The Executive Council is the part of government that does the actual governing. It consists of all Ministers of the Crown, such as the Prime Minister and most of other government ministers.

The Prime Minister is the highest government minister, chair of the Cabinet and head of government, holding office on commission from the Governor-General of New Zealand. The office of prime minister is, in practice, the most powerful political office in New Zealand. Government ministers are selected from the elected members of the New Zealand Parliament.


The Courts of New Zealand is a system of courts that interprets and applies the laws of New Zealand, to ensure equal justice under law, and to provide a mechanism for dispute resolution. According to DecisionMaker,

The judges, who are the members of the Judiciary, have the power to stop the government from taking any action that goes against the laws made by Parliament, or the principles of common law, also part of our constitution.


New Zealand has a single chamber of Parliament, the House of Representatives, which generally has 120 MPs, and the Governor-General (who does not personally attend the House).  The House is elected for a maximum three-year term using the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system. 

A Bill passed by Parliament becomes law when signed by the Queen or the Governor-General. The Constitution Act also says that each Parliament may last for three years, unless it is dissolved earlier. The Governor-General has the formal power to summon Parliament after an election and to dissolve it for a new election.

MMP system

New Zealand general elections occur when the Prime Minister requests a dissolution of Parliament and therefore a general election. Theoretically, this can happen at any time, although a convention exists whereby Prime Ministers do not call early elections unless they have no reasonable alternative.

The most interesting aspect in New Zealand election would be the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system. This means that the proportion of votes a party gets will largely reflect the number of seats it has in parliament. Each voter gets two votes. In the general election, you have two votes. The first vote is for the political party that you most want to see in Parliament. This is called the party vote. A political party with a lot of votes will have more Members of Parliament.

The party vote largely decides the total number of seats each party has in parliament.

The second vote is for the person you most want to be your local Member of Parliament (MP), who will represent the electorate that you live in. This is called the electorate vote. The person who gets the most votes in your area will win and will be your local Member of Parliament. They do not have to get more than half the votes.

Under current MMP rules, a political party that wins at least one electorate seat OR 5% of the party vote gets a share of the seats in Parliament that is about the same as its share of the party vote.

The Election

The 2014 New Zealand general election took place on Saturday, September 20, 2014, to determine the membership of the 51st New Zealand Parliament. Voters elected 121 members to the House of Representatives, with 71 from single-member electorates (an increase from 70 in 2011) and 49 from party lists. 

New Zealand’s center-right National Party won a third term in Government in this election. It secured an outright majority on election night, winning 48 per cent of the vote and 61 of 121 parliamentary seats — an improvement on the 2011 results.

Prime Minister John Key, who stayed in his post until his resignation in 2016, spoke ahead of his victory rally to say his party was "rewarded" by the public for their economic policies. Key worked with the ACT Party, United Future, and the Māori Party to form the next New Zealand coalition government. The Independent (UK) states:

The National Party would make history by being able to govern on its own but Mr Key said he intended to renew support agreements with three minor parties from the previous coalition.

This would be notable, as the National Party holds a majority of the seats by itself. There is no need for a grand coalition from a strictly numerical standpoint.

Testing the Results

The Benford test is often used to detect fraud in elections. Bedford's Law suggests that the frequency distribution of leading digits in many real-life sets of numerical data arise from a logit-uniform distribution. We can use the first and second digit test to see if there were evidence of unfairness.

The Benford Tests

Since we always study the last winning party, we will analyze the vote counts of National Party. First, we make a frequency distribution of the leading digit of each electorate. Next, we use the chi-square goodness-of-fit test. For this data, the p-value for the first-digit Benford test is p=0.2851. Since this is bigger than α, we cannot reject the null hypothesis that the vote counts are consistent with the logit-uniform distribution. If the first-digit Benford test is appropriate for testing for fraud, then we have found no evidence of unfairness using this method.

For the distribution of the second digits, we use the same approach. The chi-square goodness-of-fit test produces a p-value of 0.2673. Again, we did not find evidence of unfairness.


What can we conclude from the analysis?

For the Benford test, we did not obtain any evidence that shows there is unfairness existed in this election, but this is only the result of Benford test. We still cannot make the statement that this election is absolutely fair.

The winning of National Party seems very expected, since National has been the largest party in minority governments with support from the centrist United Future, the classical-liberal ACT Party and the indigenous-rights-based Māori Party. The Prime Minister, who is also the leader of National Party, takes this victory as motive to continue his agenda.

Official electoral body Electoral Commission
Election September 20, 2014
Results Official

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