Labour are not in a good place in the polls, having trended down since a surge just after David Cunliffe became leader. All the polls last month had Labour in the twenties.
This sort of support level makes a Labour led government look unlikely, but even if other parties on the left plus NZ First got enough support for Labour to cobble together a coalition their hand would be weak if they only had about half of the contributing MPs. The balance of numbers matter.
Polls were discussed in a Q & A interview with Cunliffe on Sunday.
CORIN If we could look at the polls now, back in February Labour was on 34%, you told Nine to Noon your goal was to get higher to the late 30s if not 40, those were your words. Now you seem to be aiming for 31.
DAVID Oh nonsense.
CORIN What’s happened?
DAVID No no I’ve never said that, I’ve said I’m sure that we will be back up into the 30s…
CORIN 2 or 3%…
DAVID No no no, that is 2 or 3% just from the ground game.
This is how Radio NZ reported Cunliffe on Friday:
The Labour Party goes into its annual congress this weekend after weeks of poor political poll results
Despite that, leader David Cunliffe’s message to members will be that Labour can and must win the election.
National dropped on average about 6 or 7 percent during election campaigns, and Labour’s work on the ground to get people to polling booths must add 2-3 percent for it, Mr Cunliffe said.
That put Labour well within striking distance of forming a coalition Government, he said
Polls for Labour over the last month ranged from 23-29%. Adding 2-3 percent to that would barely get them into the thirties at best.
Back to Q & A:
CORIN You still want to get 40%?
DAVID I would love to get 40% and I’m sure we’ll be well up into the 30s, and just remember in the last couple of election campaigns the National government or the National Party has dropped about 6% during the 3 months of the campaign. Now if they do that and we get 2 or 3% off the turnout, and make sure that our policy releases and our media and our comms are well placed, then I’m absolutely convinced we can win this election.
Same claim, hoping for National to drop 6% and Labour to gain 2-3%.
Labour’s media and comms have been performing poorly. Policy releases have also suffered hiccups. They had a hit financial policy release a week ago and had a lot of attention on their weekend congress which may have helped their cause, but Cunliffe’s “I’m sorry I’m a man” comment may have seriously undone a lot of good work.
CORIN Okay, but the trend over the last 2 or 3 months has been down. Under David Shearer Labour was up around 34%, 35%, 36% in some instances. There has been a steady trend down since you have been leader to now what 29?
DAVID Well look I think we should be very clear about the rhythm and sequence and I’ll be quite open with you. Of course we started off after the primary campaign with numbers around 36-37, that’s if you like the blush of enthusiasm.
CORIN Well you had 34% after the campaign, and I think you had 1 point balance in our poll like that campaign. ….
DAVID We had a good conference, we had a good by-election result, we had a reasonable effort I think around the asset sales campaign. I think it’s true that it did go a little quiet over the summer break, and we had a number of changes in our team early in the next year which probably caused us to lose a bit of momentum if I’m honest, but we picked up from that, which is great.
They went quiet over the summer break and came back from it poorly, trending down in the polls since. They haven’t picked up, as David Farrar’s poll of polls shows:
Since the leadership bump last year it’s been all downhill.
There’s been, as you are well aware over the last couple of weeks, a sustained attempt at a smear campaign against Labour.
What has picked up are the excuses, blaming a smear campaign, blaming media bias and blaming polling company conspiracies (Cunliffe has only blamed a smear campaign but Labour bloggers have been claiming extreme bias and conspiracies involving National, media and polling companies).
Labour analyst Rob Salmond has done some research that is behind Cunliffe’s repeated comments on National dropping support. He has blogged on this at Polity – National dropped 6% in 2008, 2011 campaigns.
At my briefing to Labour’s Congress over the weekend, I made a point about National’s performance in recent campaigns, which was later picked up in David Cunliffe’s speech.
National has dropped six percent each time.
For those interested, here is the data that sits beneath this claim. All I did was find any published poll where the field dates included the day three months before election day1, then compared that to the final election result.
This six point drop in National’s performance often went to parties opposed to National. Famously, in 2011 the big beneficiaries were New Zealand first, who rocketed from around 2.5% in the polls all the way to 6.7% three months later. In 2008 the Greens were significant net beneficiaries of campaign-time changes.
Labour seem to be pinning their hopes on a similar trend down for National leading in to this election. It may happen again or it may not, as is the case every election the circumstances are quite different.
It is certain that National will be doing everything they can to avoid a repeat of last election’s tea party debacle, and while Winston Peters will again be looking to benefit from media attention that boosts NZ First he won’t be wanting a repeat of 2008 where NZ First missed the MMP cut.
The Internet Party-Mana mix this campaign could also make quite a difference. IMP could poach support from Labour, and they could also scare swing voters off Labour for fear of a week Labour coalition adversely influenced bu Greens, NZ First and IMP.
And Labour will be keenly aware of a different trend not repeating, when National’s support plummeted to 21% in 2002 when Bill English just failed to impress. Some pundits have been suggesting similar could happen to Labour under Cunliffe.
And Salmond, unlike Cunliffe, was prepared to mention potential negatives for Labour from the past two election trends.
For completeness, I should note that in those two elections not many of National’s went to Labour.
Labour also shed some support during these campaigns, but at less than a quarter the rate of National’s loss.
So Labour are hoping National repeats a downward trend but Labour does the opposite to those trends.
This all sounds like a mix of wishful thinking from Labour plus trying to talk up the polls and talk up the party faithful and the voting public.
At their congress Labour clearly signalled a party and policy approach to their campaign with less emphasis on leadership and Cunliffe. This approach didn’t end well for Labour and Phil Goff last election.
Much could happen between now and September 20, but pinning hopes on National polling patterns to repeat but Labour poll trends to reverse recent and historical seems either hopeful or desperate for something positive.
And the message doesn’t seem to be inspiring the activists. The Polity analysis was reposted at The Standard yesterday afternoon – Polity: National dropped 6% in 2008, 2011 campaigns.
There has only been four comments on that. Another Polity repost on education policy has a more typical 109 comments.
Labour might have to hope for something other than poll history.