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David Denemark, "Thinking Ahead to Mixed-Member Proportional Representation: Party Strategies and Election Campaigning under New Zealand's New Electoral Law," Party Politics, 2 (July, 1996), 409-420.

First Paragraph:
On 6 November 1993 New Zealanders, disdainful of both major parties after a decade of programmatic upheavals, voted to effect a fundamental transformation of the country's electoral and political system. In this process, New Zealand's voters seemed to punish a system that had historically disadvantaged minor party alternatives (McRobie, 1993a), a pattern that in 1993, saw nearly 29 percent who supported New Zealand's small parties - the five-party Alliance, New Zealand First and Christian Heritage - receive only four of parliament's 99 seats (Lamare and Vowles, 1995: 2). By approving the change to mixed member proportional representation, New Zealand's voters not only signalled the 1996 dismantling of the country's first-past-the-post system, which had been its electoral backbone for 138 years (Levine and Roberts, 1993: 55) and the basis for what Lijphardt had deemed the 'purist example of the Westminster model of government' (1987: 97). They also brought about an electoral interregnum in which New Zealand's political practitioners have begun the process of contemplating and debating the often complex implications of the new system on various aspects of the electoral and parliamentary processes. As we will see, while the broad outline of those implications is certain, the change has nonetheless presented party strategists with a number of alternative tactical avenues for maximizing their parties' electoral support within the new system. These alternatives, and the debates they have engendered, are instructive, as they serve to emphasize what Katz (1980: 17-18) points to as the inherent impact of electoral systems on the electoral campaigns that are waged within their rules. First-past-the-post single-member-district systems, as Duverger (1955) and Kirchheimer (1966) have argued, promote two convergent parties, separated by relatively small margins of voters, usually concentrated in a handful of vital swing seats. Electoral campaigns, including New Zealand's have evolved to reflect these exigencies, prompting increasingly professional, centralized campaigns to attempt to garner the lion's share of that margin of swinging voters, whose preferences frequently hold the key to electoral victory (Denemark, 1991, 1994). Mixed-member proportional representation systems, however, propel parties strategically to divide the electorate in fundamentally different ways and, by promoting the viability of a number of smaller parties, undermine the traditional first-past-the-post preoccupation with bloc support and marginal seats. As a consequence, a number of traditional electoral strategies and campaign technologies are also challenged.

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Because, like partisan competition, electioneering and campaign tactics reflect the constraints of the electoral system within which they occur, the transformation of New Zealand's electoral system by its voters necessitates an array of political change, both tactical and technical. Inexorably, as the new calculus of mixed-member proportional representation gains it ascendancy, New Zealand's parties will have to embrace a variety of fundamentally different campaign strategies and technologies in order to forge electoral victory. Thus, while the modern first-past-the-post campaign in New Zealand had seen a tactical primacy of marginal seats, targeting, polling, direct mail and professional organization, the shift to mixed-member proportional representation has created an imperative to abandon those established tactics and to embrace strategic innovation. Bound especially by the need to accrue list votes wherever they can be found, a wholly new set of means for conveying those appeals and for securing consistent support must be formulated and mastered. Clearly, as the discussion above shows, while the broad tactical imperatives of the new system are obvious, the means for the parties to maximize their electoral fortunes continue to be debated. This is a process that is likely to continue for the next couple of electoral cycles, as parties and their electoral practitioners hone a variety of new skills in a landscape certain to continue in its evolution as voters forge new electoral affinities and redefine their perceptions of the electoral system itself. What is certain, in coming elections, is that New Zealand's electorate will witness a concern for issues, regions and voters essentially ignored for most of this century - a fundamental transformation of its electoral policies, promulgated by the structural reform they initiated in the 1993 referendum. As such, the future of New Zealand parliamentary politics will remain a cogent example of the fact that electoral campaigns - their tactics, organization and technologies - are the product of the electoral dynamics that drive them.