Will National’s support solid through leadership changes endure?

Support for National has remained fairly substantial and solid, despite the stepping down of the popular leader John key, and also the retirement of his replacement Bill English.

The current leader Simon Bridges has been far less popular, and party support has dropped a bit over the last couple of years that is to be expected for a party relegated to Opposition. National Party support seems to not be affected very much by leadership changes.

Here is how the polls have tracked since the last election.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opinion_polling_for_the_2020_New_Zealand_general_election

Bridges’ leadership doesn’t seem to have impacted much on that.

It’s still half a year until the election and anything could happen in that time, but especially with the diminishing of small party support National looks likely to get a reasonable share of the vote again this year (but may struggle to get enough to get back into government).

Josh Van Veen considers  Simon’s Dream: The enduring appeal of National in the Twenty-Twenties 

National supporters might look back wistfully on the early 2010s. But they long ago dispelled the notion that the party’s fate rested with one individual. In that regard, the National Party of 2020 is ‘Tolstoyan’… Despite losing the 2017 election, National remained the largest party by a wide margin. With 44.5 percent of the party vote to Labour’s 36.9 percent, English could boast of having led his party to an impressive result.

For a third term in government party that was a good result, not a lot down on the 47.04% that National got in 2014.

While Bridges’ personal support languishes behind that of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, National continues to poll higher than Labour. It is clear that a significant number of New Zealanders would vote for party over leader. Almost three years to the day of Key’s resignation, a 1 News/Colmar Brunton poll forecast a National victory. If an election had been held in December 2019, according to this poll, Simon Bridges would be the country’s 41st Prime Minister. The poll can’t be dismissed as an outlier. It was the second consecutive poll to indicate the same result. Not only that, but numerous other polls have suggested a tight race. At best we can say the odds are even.

I think that the outcome is certainly too hard to call at this stage.

So why is National still popular? Ask a journalist or commentator and they will most likely tell you that it is because the new government hasn’t delivered. Labour’s promise to fix the housing crisis and end child poverty turned out to be empty. Not to mention the incompetence of certain ministers, bad communication and disunity between the governing parties. They say “Oppositions don’t win elections, Governments lose them.” This explanation would be more convincing if Labour had won a numerical victory in 2017. There would be ground to lose to National. In fact, the numbers suggest that nothing much has changed since election night.

A more plausible explanation is that National’s appeal runs deep in the New Zealand psyche. To understand this, we have to forget about policy details, sensational headlines and the day-to-day vagaries of social media. In practice, there isn’t much difference between the way Labour and National behave in office. One is slightly more generous when it comes to the redistribution of wealth, the other has a reputation (deserved or not) for being meticulously scrupulous with public finances. Where ideology is concerned, Labour and National have both converged on the liberal centre. That is to say, the two major parties share a moderately liberal outlook on issues of public importance. Both have embraced globalisation, diversity, environmentalism, the redress of Treaty breaches, and poverty alleviation.

Beyond political rhetoric the actual policy paths of both National and Labour are much more similar than different. The current Government has tweaked more than lurched.

So perhaps it should be unsurprising if the party of John Key, Bill English and Simon Bridges can be identified with a vaguely utopian belief that New Zealand is still a land of plenty where rugged individuals can prosper – with just a bit of help from the government. According to this cherished belief, there isn’t much wrong with New Zealand.

To National supporters, few things are more repugnant than denying the archetypal New Zealander the fruits of his or her labour. But even more insulting is the imposition that those who ‘got ahead’ by hard work and enterprise should feel guilty about others left behind. To suggest that homelessness is a societal problem is to implicate everyone who has in some way profited from the housing market. To say that child poverty exists because we don’t pay enough tax is to accuse people of being selfish.

Yet there are no reasonable grounds for assuming that a National voter cares any less about impoverished children than a Labour voter. According to the 2017 New Zealand Election Study, 86% of National voters agreed with the proposition that “the government should provide decent living standards for children”. A majority (67%) also believed that the government had a responsibility to provide decent housing to those who could not afford it.

Perhaps that is why it has become fashionable in right-wing circles to dismiss talk of kindness as mere ‘virtue signalling’. Ardern might have spoken with more empathy than English but they both professed a moral conviction that it was their duty to help the poor. Most voters agreed. The crucial difference is that English did it without offending the sensibilities of New Zealanders who believe that wealth is acquired only through hard work and sacrifice.

The enduring appeal of National can’t be explained by Labour’s failure to deliver or brilliance on the part of Simon Bridges. Rather, it is due to the million or so voters who find some emotional coherence in what the party represents on an individual level. It would be a mistake to dismiss these voters as reactionary bigots or selfish boomers. While such people undoubtedly exist, few lack a moral compass and concern for others. Just about everyone is offended by the sight of human suffering.

But the simple truth is that most New Zealanders are comfortable and few understand material hardship. They have difficulty accepting that strangers doing it tough can’t just go to Work and Income for help. Homelessness and child poverty, while troubling, only exist in the news media. For them, New Zealand is still a land of plenty. Any statement to the contrary is a personal attack.

I think there may well be many who see not much wrong with Aotearoa as it is – for those prepared to work.

When leftists say “tax the rich to feed the kids” and demand justice for beneficiaries, it is as if they are speaking a different language to everyone else. Ardern’s decision to permanently rule out a capital gains tax confirmed that National, not Labour, is closer to the mythic New Zealand ideal. Whatever his shortcomings as a leader, Bridges’ sense of history is clear. He knows that National can win in spite of any one individual.

Labour must now make a difficult choice: whether to rely on NZ First and the Greens or go head to head with National in a contest for the political centre. This choice will define New Zealand politics for the next decade. To get it wrong would be Simon’s dream.

Labour is moving more towards being reliant on the Greens at least – the Labour-Green ticket. And they will also need to grapple with how much to associate themselves with NZ First as an  essential part of their continued coalition chances.

National may not manage to lift their support to get into power later this year, but they are still seen as a large single party with solid support.

 

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22 Comments

  1. Blazer

     /  13th February 2020

    Labour are the lesser of 2 evils.
    National only pay lip service to fairness and equality.
    NZ’ers need to be taught how the debt based system was conceived and how it has transformed into such an ugly monster, directly responsible for all the pain in the world.

    Reply
  2. Zedd

     /  13th February 2020

    the reality being.. you could put a suit on a ‘shop front mannequin’ & stick a blue badge on it & many Natl. supporters would still vote for IT.. ‘welcome to the (party) machine’ :/

    I dont see that with other parties.. even in so-called ‘safe left seats’

    Reply
    • Zedd

       /  13th February 2020

      It seems that ‘the RIGHT’ have this delusion; that they are ‘born to rule’.. regardless of a total lack of any real policy, beyond: Cut taxes & maximise profits for the big corporates/farmers (aka ‘landed gentry’) & slash the ‘social safety net’ for the bottom 49.9% who likely rarely/if ever vote for them 😦

      Reply
      • Corky

         /  13th February 2020

        ”Cut taxes & maximise profits for the big corporates/farmers (aka ‘landed gentry)’

        Guess who hasn’t been down on the farm recently?😂

        ”The reality being.. you could put a suit on a ‘shop front mannequin’ & stick a blue badge on it & many Natl. supporters would still vote for IT.. ‘welcome to the (party) machine.”

        Yep, doesn’t say much for the Left…does it!😀

        Reply
        • Duker

           /  13th February 2020

          Has Simon gone down the farm ( where the taxpayers are paying $100s mill for the cow virus) and extolled the virtues of the Paris Climate treaty ( which he signed NZ up to) and Zero Carbon ACT which all Nats MPs voted for…

          Reply
          • Corky

             /  13th February 2020

            What has that got to do with the price of fish? Hundreds of mills for a cow virus? Crooked gun owners? Political hypocrisy…nothing new.

            Reply
    • Zedd

       /  13th February 2020

      welcome.. to the machine

      Reply
  3. Alan Wilkinson

     /  13th February 2020

    Why should workers vote for a party that doesn’t contain any?

    I think that explains the allegences of most voters given their differing perceptions.

    Reply
    • Duker

       /  13th February 2020

      you mean manual workers?
      Any more than Nikiki Kaye represents the party of farmers, business owners and investors.
      We had that 30 yr charade of Bill English pretending to be an actual soutland farmer when he was like Helen Clark, grew up on a farm and off to university ( English left the farm to go to boarding school in Wellington and that was his real background , the Branch chairman at Hataitai before his selection was a giveaway. Why didnt he just make it all clear instead of the complete charade which in political terms was ‘living a lie’

      Reply
      • Alan Wilkinson

         /  13th February 2020

        No, I meant all kinds of workers look for a party they feel best represents them. Applies to both National and Labour. Non-workers vote Green or Labour if at all.

        Reply
        • Alan Wilkinson

           /  13th February 2020

          .. or possibly Winston First.

          Reply
          • Duker

             /  13th February 2020

            This isnt 1950 , where labour Mps were ex coalminers, etc…but you dont seem to have heard of tertiary education available for almost all rather than the wealthy few like back then

            Reply
            • Alan Wilkinson

               /  13th February 2020

              I’m not sure what you are on about or if you know. Tertiary education was available to anyone bright enough to win scholarships or bursaries to university back then or through technical colleges and apprentceships to trade qualifications. But none of that is relevant to my point that all kinds of workers from manual to professional to self-employed align with parties that they perceive represent them.

            • Duker

               /  13th February 2020

              Ridiculous …bursaries were minimal right up to the 70s and restricted numbers. I know because I Had one.
              The cost barrier was very real for almost all manual workers children, there were a few exceptions for really really bright kids but mostly they went to right schools and got support from teachers and the ‘right subjects’
              Average students with wealthy parents never had a problem

            • David

               /  13th February 2020

              The rush to attack certain people who comment on here with little regard as to whether there is a valid reason or a point made is disappointing.
              Your point Alan, well made, is a global phenomenon with traditionally blue collar workers parties containing none and generally having a disdain for them as they become populated and staffed by a strange university educated clique who are more concerned with micro aggression, gender and race issues in the worlds most tolerant and progressive countries. Ardern to her credit has avoided most of the progressive nonsense.

            • Duker

               /  13th February 2020

              Its just a false claim, manual workers might be 15% of the population now, and I doubt you will find a claim even from the 30s where they said ‘we are the party of the manual worker’
              Its just a national party smokescreen as the term ‘manual worker’ is outdated .
              at the turn of century ( 1890s) farmer and farm worker were the most common occupations and ‘miners’ were another big group.
              Nowdays ‘teacher’ is a very large group along with ‘public service’ etc .

            • Alan Wilkinson

               /  14th February 2020

              As far as I know none of my classmates were wealthy. We all biked to school with our cut lunch. It was very egalitarian. University meant holiday jobs and poverty relative to those who went into fulltime work but that was a freely made choice. At least for those living in a university city the choice depended more on mind than money.

  4. oldlaker

     /  13th February 2020

    Duker, I went to university in the 70s from an impoverished background (including foster homes and other institutions for poor kids) and I went to university after school without a scholarship or bursary, but qualified for one after a year’s study. Bursaries were not generous but there was plenty of work if you wanted it, both during the university year and in the breaks.
    I worked part-time in a shoe factory and as an industrial weaver for years at university and I managed to survive.
    The problem now is that work seems harder to get and rents are higher. And, I think, many students expect a higher standard of living. But anyone who was determined could put themselves through uni in the 70s.

    Reply
    • Duker

       /  13th February 2020

      Of course , the 70s was when it changed and it accelerated form the 90s on with student loans
      My point was about before that 40s, 50s and 60s
      Auckland University had 4000 students in 1959 and 9300 by 1970 and by 2010 was 43,000.

      A ten fold increase over 50 years

      Reply
    • Blazer

       /  13th February 2020

      @Oldlaker ..the 70’s signalled the end of the golden years in NZ.
      Financial machinations ,especially Nixon removing the US$ from the Gold Standard in 1971 began the relentless drive of monetising every facet of human existence.Health,education…everything…resulting in the magic show today ,where western manufacturing has been offshored and we exist with unpayable debt burdens and a reliance on the non tradeable sector of society for the vaunted holy grail of G.D.P ..’Growth’.

      Reply
  5. oldlaker

     /  13th February 2020

    Blazer, I agree. The thing about NZ in the 70s was that all the political parties were still committed to full employment, even if that meant the public service soaking up nearly all the unemployed, sometimes with make-work schemes. That ended, of course, in 1984.
    Even growing up dirt poor on a benefit in a state house (when I was sporadically allowed home), there was always some degree of hope because I never needed to worry about finding work in the future.
    Now, of course, we are largely tolerant of (or resigned to) a big wodge of people at the bottom of society without prospects of gaining steady work or adequate housing.
    I’m very aware that these days a fractured family like my own might well be living in a car…

    Reply
    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  14th February 2020

      Make-work schemes have gone upmarket to the middle class via the RMA, Building Act and H&S. The less fortunate are reduced to moving road cones around.

      Reply

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