A Median Voter Refresher

The median is the middle value, the 50th percentile of a distribution. The median voter model is the idea that people will elect governments whose policies reflect those approved by the median voter.

This is why the phenomena of middle class welfare is so commonplace around the world – the mortgage interest tax deduction in the United States, interest free student loans in New Zealand or tax free savings accounts in the United Kingdom. It gets you votes and keeps you in government.

People who want to be elected don’t often get to talk about what they really believe in. They assemble a package of policies that won’t rock the boat. Incrementalism rules the day, and the policies preferred by the median voter have moved further and further to the left over the course of the past few hundred years so this is why you see many parties like National propose things in 2016 that would have their caucus revolt 20 years ago.

The fact that reactionary or conservative movements are on the wrong side of history is often missed by liberals or progressives. They forget that conservatism has nothing to offer under the onslaught of continual policy concessions in the face of people questioning why certain “sacred truths” must be respected anymore – witness the collapse of the Republican establishment in the United States in the face of a reality television candidate spouting things that are actually not far from the beliefs median voters in many parts of the United States suffering from political ignorance or anti-foreign bias genuinely believe!

It is amusing that Andrew Little dismissed Helen Clark’s comments the other week about appealing to the centre in New Zealand politics because most New Zealanders are middle of the road sorts of people. Talking about a coalition of constituencies is fascinating because it highlights how he is clearly surrounded by advisers who think he is a South Pacific Sanders i.e they are completely out of touch and unable to communicate clearly with the people they need to in order to sell a potential replacement government.

John Key has demonstrated with his support of Helen Clark’s unsuccessful campaign for UN Secretary General that he, and his advisers, are far more sophisticated in their understanding of the New Zealand electorate and what matters to swing voters across the country. New Zealand’s political class doesn’t really interact with many people outside of their bubble.

John Key can get away with saying he meets a broad cross-section of people at Koru Lounges because relative to many other politicians he is far more in tune with the mood of the country than perhaps any previous Prime Minister.

Danyl at Dim Post hit the nail on the head with this quote:

It’s conventional wisdom on the left that Key et al are morons, and the left is morally and intellectually superior, and I’m not sure how this squares with Key and his party constantly doing very smart things, and the left’s parties and leaders mostly, consistently being pretty dumb

This can all be reconciled with the median voter model. The left clearly cannot be “intellectually superior” because they are losing. And losing really badly, and for good reason. A lot may have gone wrong in the past few years in New Zealand, but an awful lot has gone right, and pragmatic incrementalism has helped that outcome.

Other millennials should have figured out by now that the median voter is also a home owner, so don’t expect any action on housing affordability until New Zealand is perhaps 70% renter households and it makes sense under a median voter model to propose those sorts of policies!