Monday, November 28, 2011

Terribly Simple, But Simply Terrible

Last Saturday there was a general election in New Zealand, where I've been visiting for the past couple of weeks. In conjunction with this election there was also a referendum on the future of the voting system that they use. For about 17 years now they have used a "Mixed Member Proportional" (MMP) system.

The referendum took the form of two questions (my wording):

1. Do you favour retaining the MMP system (YES/NO)?

2. (OPTIONAL) If the system were to change, what new system would you favour? (Check one in a list of choices.)

Because votes are hand-counted in New Zealand, priority was given to counting the votes in the general election, and the outcome of the general election itself was known by late Saturday night. The final outcome of the referendum on the voting system is expected to be known by 10 December. At this stage there is some provisional information based on the "advance votes" that were lodged and counted prior to election day.


Last Sunday, the day after the election and referendum, the following graphic appeared in the national Sunday newspaper, The Sunday Star*Times:

For the reasons I've just outlined, it is based only on the "advance votes". These are certainly not a random sample of all votes cast. For instance, they include elderly people in nursing homes, troops overseas, etc. So, the percentages shown in the graphic may or may not be indicative of the final outcome of the referendum.

What left me bemused, however, was the percentage figure that was NOT shown in the graphic - the percentage in favour of the status quo. Arguably, this is the most important and interesting figure, and yet you have to infer its value from the other two numbers that are supplied - those relating to votes for a change in the system; and those relating to "spoiled" ballots.

How silly is that?

Yet another example of a graphic that is terribly simple, but simply terrible!


© 2011, David E. Giles

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