Most readers will have seen the Colmar Brunton poll results broadcast last Tuesday on TV One: Labour 48%, National 31%, ACT 7%, Greens 6%, NZ First 2%. See here.

Although opinion polls are tools of analysis and not prediction, partly because of the margin of error, but mainly because they do not take account of undecided voters, at 3 weeks out from the election, they present a fairly clear picture of how people are thinking. Here two of our editors offer differing thoughts on what this poll means.

Opinion by Geoffrey Churchman

In the 2017 election, the Labour Party got 37% of the vote, up from 25% in 2014. Early this year in the opinion polls it was slightly up on that again. Then the constant exposure that the Labour leader got during Lockdown beginning in late March on both TV1 and Newshub saw a big jump on that into the early 50%’s where it stayed until this latest poll.

At the same time, leadership woes in National which got 45% in 2017 (47% in 2014) saw their support drop; firstly Simon Bridges was replaced by Todd Muller who quit in turn because of the stress of the job in favour of Judith Collins in July.

These shifts in party public support over the last 6 years are quite substantial, and not just for the major parties: Winston Peters and his NZ First Party has dropped from 9% to 2% over this time. The Greens got 11% in 2014, 6% last time where they still are. ACT on the other hand has jumped from under 1% to 7%.

It’s a safe assumption that ACT’s increased support has come from disillusioned National supporters over its failure to oppose Jacinda & Co.’s unjustified gun grab in 2019 (David Seymour was the only MP to oppose it), but also because David Seymour is in a lot of ways the libertarian (freedom supporting) counterpart to Jacinda’s highly authoritarian attitudes with almost opposite ideology; they also are both relatively young and articulate public speakers.

It’s also a safe assumption that NZ First has lost support to Labour, and that’s a fairly typical experience with a junior partner in a coalition government.

The Greens shun populism and maintain their core support base because of that, but because they are generally seen as extremists with questionable beliefs, they are very unlikely to see an increase on 6% — in fact much depends on whether they get over the 5% threshold required for seats. If they don’t, then the bargaining in the next Parliament after 17 October will be quite different.

Issues and commitment to seeing through policy on them are really what should determine votes — and on that basis National is definitely preferable to Labour, particularly here in Kapiti — but so much of elections these days, not just in NZ, is a popularity contest based on who has the prettiest face — at present that benefits Jacinda and David Seymour, and not the others.

Unlike Roger, I don’t buy the “we saved you from Covid” Labour Party line and the pandemic has been vastly politicised everywhere. In March it was early days with much unknown about it and Lockdown was a justifiably cautious response. What we now know is that only between 1 and 6% of those who died with Covid-19 died from it alone: the rest all had other serious illnesses that would have made them equally susceptible to any respiratory system virus, particularly pneumonia and regular flu. My view is that the cure has been worse than the disease.

Normally, an economic recession that is clearly going to worsen benefits the opposition and hurts the governing party — but not this year it seems. Neither has the government’s haphazard throwing money at its favourite people rather than giving everybody more by reducing reducing GST from 15% to 10% as David Seymour is calling for. The Mainstream Media’s bias can be thanked / damned for that.

The only other candidate who could win an electorate seat is Billy Te Kahika in Te Tai Tokerau, but he’s made clear what he thinks of the Jacinda government and won’t be a part of it.

Labour’s record of keeping promises has been exceptionally poor, but that doesn’t seem to matter much.

Opinion by Roger Childs

National is not appealing as it needs to

It looks likely that a Labour/Greens combination will form the government after election day, barring a major catastrophe for Labour in the next 7 days.

Unfortunately for the Tories, there have been too many gaffes and Judith Collins does not have the unanimous support of her caucus. She is also seen as having “political baggage” e.g. –

  • Being a casualty of “dirty politics” in 2014 – getting too close to Whale Oil blogger Cameron Slater and losing her cabinet position.  
  • Promoting her husband’s Oravida business while on an official government visit to China.
  • As Minister of Justice rejecting the Canadian jurist’s recommendations on compensation for David Bain, then getting a tame New Zealand lawyer to give her the judgement she wanted.

Not a strong team

Paul Goldsmith has been a disaster as financial spokesman as the many mistakes he has made in the National costings for an economic recovery from Covid-19, have shown. By comparison Labour’s Minister of Finance, Grant Robinson, has been very sure-footed. 

It’s hard to find much evidence of the “Strong team” mentioned on the National Party billboards beyond impressive Health spokesman Shane Reti, Simon Bridges and Nicola Willis.

Deputy leader, former St Bede’s woodwork teacher, Gerry Brownlee is dangerously over-weight and not a great advertisement for the party. There were many flaws in his handling of the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquake during the last term of the Key – English government.

Then shadow education minister Nikki Kaye with Otaki candidate Tim Costley at Waikanae Beach in July — her retirement from Parliament is a significant loss for National.

The retirement of the three capable Auckland women MPs, not great fans of Collins – Aimee Adams, Nikki Kaye and Paula Bennett – has been a great loss. Two elections ago the bid for the Labour leadership was ABC – anyone but Cunliffe – and a different ABC was the feeling of many National MPs earlier this year. A lot of MPs don’t like Crusher’s aggressive style and her weak jokes and silly put-downs of the prime minister on the campaign trail have done her no favours.

Flirting with right wing smaller parties

Many traditional National supporters see the writing on the wall that Judith Collins won’t lead the party to victory in three weeks, so they can find other places for their vote this time around. 

ACT will have a significant presence in the next parliament – perhaps as many as 9 or10 MPs. David Seymour is well regarded and has had plenty of publicity and exposure on various issues this year, most notably as the sponsor of the Die with Dignity legislation. On the political right, his party will take plenty of votes from National and New Zealand First. Winston Peters won’t be the kingmaker this time and will very likely not even be an MP come late October. 

Other parties like the New Conservatives and Advance New Zealand are also attracting interest on the right.

The Covid-19 response is the clincher

Historians will look back on the 2020 poll as the Coronavirus election. Although there have been some mistakes in the government response to Covid 19, the majority of people have supported the way things have been handled by Jacinda Ardern, Ashley Bloomfield, Grant Robertson, Chris Hipkins and the rest of their team. They have been successful in their strategies to stop the virus and virtually eliminate community transmission. Nothing succeeds like well-publicised success. 

People only have to look as the early Autumn surge in Coronavirus cases in Britain, Europe and the United States to appreciate how safe New Zealand is. 

The Covid-19 wave will very likely sweep Labour to victory in three weeks, possibly on their own.