NZ election poll shock may hit main parties hard
For weeks, months even, the result in New Zealand's election seemed a foregone conclusion. On the back of a mostly successful strategy to eliminate coronavirus from the country, the Labour Party under Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern would romp home to victory.
But a new poll could come as a shock to Ms Ardern - as well as to the main opposition National Party.
Kiwis go to the ballot box on October 17. They were supposed to vote on September 19 but the recent COVID-19 outbreak in Auckland saw the election date postponed. Awkwardly, the Auckland lockdown happened just days after Labour's campaign launch.
Labour currently governs in a coalition with the populist New Zealand First party. Add in a confidence and supply agreement with the Greens and that gives the grouping a slim overall majority in the 120 member parliament.
The Nationals are the main opposition under newly installed leader Judith Collins. However despite Ms Collins' nickname of "Crusher" she has failed to land many blows on Ms Ardern.
POLL GOES UNDER KEY NUMBER
It's a rarity in New Zealand's mixed member proportional electoral system for any single party to get a majority of 61 seats in its own right. However, sky high polling for Labour in the wake of the country's relative coronavirus triumph had suggested they could be on course for as many as 77 seats.
Recent polls has put Labour hovering around 50 per cent of the vote, enough for it to govern in its own right allowing it to ditch its coalition with New Zealand First, a party with which it has always been uneasy bedfellows.
But a poll on Monday by Television New Zealand (TVNZ) and research firm Colmar Brunton would have been uneasy reading for Ms Ardern.
In the first poll after the first televised leader's debate, Labour has slipped down to a 47 per cent share of the vote.
That might not seem like a lot but at that level of support Labour would get 59 seats rather than the needed 61 for a majority. Suddenly, Labour's dreams of governing alone could be dashed.
NOT GREAT FOR OPPOSITION EITHER
However, it's not great new for the Nationals either. Their vote is up by 2 per cent to 33 per cent, but the Opposition still trails Labour by a country mile.
The rise has been seen in the smaller parties. ACT, which is a small government party, is now up to 8 per cent of the vote and could get as many as 10 seats. It would likely form a coalition with the Nationals.
The Greens, however, has also seen a rise to 7 per cent of the vote that could give it eight seats.
If Labour and the Greens were to continue in some form of partnership - as they are now - it would still see Ms Ardern return as PM. But she might have to cede some ministerial positions to the minor party.
NZ First, the party of Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters, is really in the doldrums on just 1 per cent. It's possible it may have no seats at all after October 19.
It's not the only poll and others look somewhat rosier for Ms Ardern. One by website Newshub and Reid Research still has Labour over 50 per cent of the vote and the Nationals only just scratching 30 per cent.
Nonetheless, polls have generally shown a gradual deflation in support for Labour, down from a high point of 60 per cent. Meanwhile, the Opposition are creeping up from a nadir of 25 per cent.
The Nationals' Ms Collins told TVNZ that her party was "chipping away and we're keeping on going".
"I think it's important to have the momentum," she said.
Ms Ardern said Kiwis were looking for stable government.
"The really strong sense I get from people is right now they are looking for strong, stable leadership in these times."
LABOUR STILL IN POLE POSITION
Politics professor at New Zealand's Massey University, Richard Shaw, told news.com.au he still thought Labour could win power in its own right.
"It only takes 30,000 or 40,000 voters to swing behind parties that don't make it over the threshold and Labour are back in office alone," he said.
Prof Shaw said the shift was likely to do with some Greens voters who decamped to Labour, but then became fearful of what a majority Labour government might mean. So they jumped back to the Greens again.
If you clumped the parties into a centre right and centre left groupings, the shift was less. Labour and the Greens are steady at around 55 per cent.
"It's more shuffling within (the groupings) I think," Prof Shaw said.
Ms Ardern's popularity as preferred PM is unchanged at 54 per cent, more than double that of Ms Collins.
In a piece for academic website The Conversation this week, Prof Shaw warned there could be negative consequences of Labour winning in its own right.
It could return New Zealand to an era of what he termed as "elected dictatorships". These were common until the mid-1990s until the country changed to its current voting system.
"In parliamentary democracies single-party majority governments are powerful beasts, able to wield executive and legislative power without recourse to coalition or compromise with other parties," he said.
In New Zealand, he said, majority governing parties from both sides of politics had a "propensity to go rogue," ignore pre-election commitments and embark on huge reforms with "stunning levels of executive arrogance".
However, he suspected Ms Ardern would be more cautious and might form a partnership with another party even if she did win a majority in October's election.
"For one thing, it is useful to have someone else to blame when things go wrong, as they will," Prof Shaw said.
Originally published as Ardern's election plan in tatters