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Income Inequality, Voter Turnout and Employment in 2005 – 2014 Elections in New Zealand

As Robert Dahl put it in 1971, ―a key characteristic of a democracy is the continued responsiveness of the government to the preferences of its citizens, considered as political equals‖. Democracy is thought to break down when equality diminishes. This paper explores the causal relation between an independent variable, income inequality, and a potential dependent variable, voter turnout (as a measure of democratic participation), at the local level in 13 electoral districts in New Zealand over 4 national elections. For Bühlmann, the three fundamental principles of democracy are equality, freedom and control. Equality usually ranks at the top of most democratic criteria. New Zealand, once regarded as one of the most egalitarian societies in the world, was ranked 23rd out of 34 countries on the OECD measure of income inequality in 2012, and has continued to drop since then, with ―New Zealand [having] the largest increase in income inequality of all the OECD countries since the mid 1980‘s…‖. Of the top 20% of income earners, 86% voted in the New Zealand national elections, compared to the bottom 20% of income earners, where only 75% voted. Goodin and Dryzek argue that the more that economic power is concentrated within the elite, the more the bottom income earners will withdraw from electoral voting. Participation in politics, in this interpretation, tends to be driven by relative income. Income inequality, in this view, hinders democracy by blocking full participation in society and limiting a sense of belonging. This study has tested these presumptions with a cursory longitudinal analysis of 13 comparative and contrasting local electoral districts in New Zealand, once the most egalitarian and, arguably, most democratic country in the world. The research shows that household income inequality has an inverse effect on voter turnout, taken as a whole. With the voting that has occurred, there is a clear preference for right-of-centre parties. Regardless of economic standing, citizens are apparently continuing to vote against their immediate interests. The results also suggest that while employment rates are currently high in New Zealand, voter turnout is decreasing and voters perhaps have previously blamed the government for their lack of employment even when they have seemingly lost the bases of their grievances.
Type of thesis
Muggeridge, C. (2017). Income Inequality, Voter Turnout and Employment in 2005 – 2014 Elections in New Zealand (Thesis, Master of Arts (MA)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/11125
University of Waikato
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