State of the parties

The election campaign has effectively kicked off in earnest. The next six months will be a long time in politics. It’s difficult to predict many things. Everything remains up for grabs.

Two polls yesterday had similar results for the three main parties, and the recent Roy Morgan is also included.
RM=Roy Morgan, CB=One News/Colmar, RR=3 News/Reid Research

National
RM 45.5, CB 47, RR 45.9

Polls have ranged in the low forties to low fifties, averaging around the current levels which are similar to National’s last election 47%. They seem to have survived recent Labour attacks on Judith Collins and Hekia Parata reasonably unscathed.

It’s very unlikely National will get a majority of seats alone so is as much reliant on small party results as it is on keeping it’s own support up in the high forties. The Maori Party, ACT and UnitedFuture are all in doubt but stand a reasonable chance of getting several seats between them. It’s doubtful if the Conservatives will get into the mix.

An improving economy is in National’s favour which will be balanced against second term attrition.

John Key remains reasonably popular although down from the last term. He usually does well in one on one debates but has to be careful to not appear arrogant or dismissive.

If they avoid major scandals (especially involving Key) National should hold up but will be hoping for weak partners to step up.

Labour
RM 31.5, CB 31, RR 31.2

Polls have settled down in the low thirties after a brief surge after David Cunliffe took over the leadership. Recent attacks on National have failed to lift Labour, negative politics may knock the opposing party a little but it’s usually not good for gaining support, which Labour desperately needs to do.

Labour are totally reliant on a partnership with the Greens. A plus is that Greens look solid. A minus is that Labour remains unconvincing. Labour may also need NZ First and possible Mana and/or the Internet Party. A party that still looks in disarray with a difficult to manage combination of parties makes Labour’s job of convincing voters they are ready to govern again challenging.

After an initial surge of support Cunliffe keeps slipping, getting 8-9% in the latest Preferred Prime Minister polls. He struggles to look authentic and is often missing in action. Labour have not yet succeeding in recovering from the departure of the Helen Clark and Michael Cullen partnership  both a party and with leadership.

It’s possible Labour could end up cobbling together a coalition but the election and the post election negotiations will both be difficult for them. A chance of a collapse in support hovers should the voters give up on Labour’s various vulnerabilities.

Green Party
RM 14, CB 11, RR 11.3

Greens had a recent poll of 8% but that looks to be an outlier, they have otherwise ranged between 10 and 14 averaging 11-12 which means they are holding their last election support (but they often poll higher than they get in elections).

The Greens are looking very well organised and are into campaign mode. They are the one solid party of this term and if they avoid campaign disasters should come to close to maintaining their current MP numbers, and could increase them.

Their main problem is not their own, it’s their essential coalition partner, Labour. If Labour fail then so do the Greens no matter what they achieve.  NZ First are also a threat because if Winston Peters returns he will hold stronger cards then the Greens, being able to play off National against Labour. The Internet Party may take some Green vote.

Russel Norman has often looked like the Leader of the Opposition this term. He is experienced, focussed and ambitious. He is a consistent strength for Greens but his ambitions on economic matters worry some and may end up playing against him. He is being promoted as possible Deputy Prime Minister.

Metiria Turei is co-leader and is currently ranked number one in Green ranking. She tends to work with the Green base more than the wider public. The traditional media seem to dismiss her chances as Deputy Prime Minister but the Greens will decide who they want to put forward. Their official stance is co-leadership but two deputies will be out of balance in a coalition. Turei would provide an interesting dynamic in an old school Labour dominated cabinet.

Greens should do well but their fate is out of their hands, they are reliant on Labour looking like a credible Government and they would prefer NZ First and the Internet Party drop out of the picture.

NZ First
RM 3.5, CB 7, RR 4.9

NZ First is fluctuating in the polls but maintains a healthy average and looks a reasonable chance of beating the 5% threshold again. They are benefiting from National slips and Labour’s lack of traction.

The NZ First MPs are very low profile and as usual look like relying on Winston Peters. The old campaigner pops up occasionally but is mostly out of the news – but he knows how to campaign and will time his run.

Peters is a master of manipulating media and will be looking for any opportunity to jump on a defining issue in the last few weeks of the campaign. National will be doing their best to avoid another cup of tea disaster but the media seem addicted to boosting their ratings with Peters and therefore boosting his chances.

At this stage NZ First looks a good bet to succeed this election. The big question mark is what that means for any coalition possibilities and there will be fears of Winston induced instabilities. This is more likely to limit their numbers rather than drop them below 5%.

Maori Party
RM 2.0, CB 0.9, RR 1,5

Party support in polls and elections hasn’t been a significant factor for the Maori Party in the past because their strength has been in electorate seats, but this may change this year.

The Maori Party has a battle on it’s hands to retain any of it’s three electorate seats this time but the odds are good to keep at least one of it’s current three. If it only keeps one or two then their party vote may become a factor in their final count.

New leader Te Ururoa Flavell is out there trying to build a profile but is an unknown at this level. He needs to step up and find a way of getting some media attention, which could be difficult because he is (so far) uncontroversial.

The Maori Party should return but will have to battle hard to keep their numbers up. Labour’s struggles may help them

ACT Party
RM 0,5, CB 0.3, RR 1.1

ACT have recovered from poll zeroes but it’s early in their attempted recovery. All will depend on Epsom. If they succeed there they could help National retain power.

The ACT party vote could lift from their 2011 debacle when Don Brash ousted Rodney Hide and took over, and installed an unlikely John Banks in Epsom.

New leader Jamie Whyte is intelligent but intellectual. He will struggle to interest the media unless he stuffs up. He will also struggle to appeal to voters. As he builds experience and if he can appear confident he may lift things a bit.

ACT’s best chances may come from National spin-off. If enough voters want National returned but don’t want to reward National too much or don’t want a single party majority  then ACT may benefit.

Mana Party
RM 0, CB 0, RR 1.1

You can’t take much from the polls for Mana, their supporters may be the hardest to find for pollsters.

On their own Mana are unlikely to lift much in party support. This is probably why they are considering a deal with Kim Dotcom, realising lifting their own party vote will be difficult. This may help them, but it could just as easily damage their brand.

Hone Harawira is the obvious essential for Mana and should retain his Te Tai Tokerau electorate – unless there’s a backlash against the Dotcom dalliance. This is a real risk for Mana. Labour have got the respected Kelvin Davis as candidate again, he has been closing the gap on Harawira in previous elections.

Mana are a good bet to retain an electorate but the Internet Party is a risky punt.

UnitedFuture
RM 0.5, CB 0.1, RR 0.1

United Future have really struggled to impress in polls for two terms. To the voting public the party is non existent, although a surge of membership last year when UnitedFuture was de-registered shows there is still some interest out there.

Peter Dunne’s chances in Ohariu look reasonable. Labour and Greens no longer have candidates with public profiles. National are likely to assist with a low profile candidate. Dunne knows how to work his electorate.

Otherwise the prospects for UnitedFuture simply aren’t there. They don’t have a very active party and they have no people other than Dunne with any profile.

Dunne is a good bet to retain Ohariu and may help National stay in power but that is the best that can be expected.

Conservative Party
RM 1.5, CB 2.3, RR 1,9

The Conservative Party has maintained an average of around 2% with a range of 1-3. They should be able to maintain this – but doubling support to make the 5% threshold will be very difficult, despite being one of the best financed parties.

Colin Craig is determined and rich, and he has some appeal but he is also seen as wacky and is sometimes unfairly called Crazy Colin.

An easy electorate ride has been talked about but it remains elusive for Craig. National would be taking a big risk gifting him a seat and look lukewarm on it at the moment.

The jury is out on Craig’s chances. The Conservatives may pick up some ‘alternative to National’ votes but 5% looks a high hurdle. The media probably won’t do them any favours like the do for Peters.

Internet Party
RM 0, CB 0, RR 0.4

The polls were too soon for the Internet Party launch this week so don’t mean much. Roy Morgan had them on 0.5% for two polls when the first launch attempt was aborted but they got publicity. They are likely to feature in polls from now because the media will give them coverage.

It’s far too soon to tell how the Internet Party will go. Kim Dotcom will attract some support from his substantial existing following but he will put others off – and he can’t stand so either has to fade into the background or he will be seen to be interfering.

The Internet Party needs some credible candidates. They’ve said they won’t be announcing them until June but have claimed to have an existing electorate MP ready to join. There’s a lot of doubt about this, and even if they did it would be extremely difficult for such a candidate to hold their seat, they would be competing with their ex party and risk splitting the vote.

If they secure a high profile candidate I would expect the Internet party to announce it as soon as possible. Otherwise a leaderless candidate-less party will struggle to impress.

The Dotcom financed party could play a significant part in the election. It’s possible (but unlikely) they boost Mana’s seats to two or three. They may take some National vote and are likely to pick up some protest vote.

But as Russel Norman openly fears they could take votes from the left and waste them by failing to reach 5%. The Internet Party make their primary goal of defeating John Key harder for the left.

Other Parties

There are no other parties with profiles.

The Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party keeps getting some support but is generally looked on as a protest or wacky baccy party. They have competed with Greens on cannabis law reform and could get some traction on this – Russel Norman said on The Nation in the weekend that cannabis law remained a Green policy but it would not be one they would be promoting.

The Alliance and Democrats for Social Credit keep chugging away but will continue to be ignored by the media so have no show. Losers are already picked regardless of their merit.

Focus New Zealand registered in January and are targeting the rural vote but will struggle with that.

Brendan Horan has been trying to get an Independent Candidates party off the ground but his own chances of retaining a seat and any party chances have been written off already. The media doesn’t do different approaches to democracy. And Horan doesn’t seem to have a significant following.

This simple fact is that it’s a near impossible for new parties without rich founders able to buy attention.

After the MMP review the threshold has stayed at an insurmountable 5%. The review recommend a drop to 4% which would have made no difference for small parties wanting to add themselves to the mix.

The large parties seem to actively avoid allowing nuisance parties to interfere with their ambitions and shut down their chances. Ironically more small parties would give the large parties more options and more bargaining power.

Summary

National may slip in support a bit but are still looking reasonably in charge. Greens are looking strong. But the rest is up for grabs, which means this year’s election is still very open – with more complicating factors than usual.

The Colmar Brunton poll showed a large wild card (or cards): Don’t know 13%, Refused 5%

The media play a major role and can make major stories out of the trivial. It’s a major concern that the balance of our democracy could swing on the whim of journalists. They have become very powerful, and they know it. And they are accountable to no one but their ratings and egos.

Our elections risk being more superficial lottery than a contest of policies and parties.

Unfortunately this year’s election may be decided on the least worst option as the positives in our politics are paltry. The parties, press and people are all culpable.

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