What Do the Polls Tell Us?
Silvereye's key takeaways from recent polls and what they could tell us about New Zealand's 2023 General Election.
26th October 2022
Current conventional wisdom has it that the current second term majority Labour government has rapidly aged into a tired third term government, opening stage door right for National (with Act) to sweep into power. Recent issues involving health, immigration, climate change, and continued challenges in policing are examples which reinforce this perception of drift.
As does the local elections where Labour endorsed two Labour Mayoral candidates in Auckland and Wellington with both losing. Paul Eagle presents a caucus headache being a sitting MP who finished fourth in Wellington. Auckland has a centre-right conservative Mayor giving National a shot in the arm in what is a vital city. It also sets up an unofficial contest between Wellington’s new Mayor - and de facto Green MP- versus Auckland’s centre-right. Who does better will potentially act as an electoral indicator.
Despite this, polling trends show that Labour (with the Greens and Māori Party) are still very much in the running, but the gap is now widening. The centre-left was within touching distance of the centre-right whose advance had somewhat stalled since May, but the most recent poll shows a divergence again.
New Zealand First remains an electoral wildcard for 2023 consistently polling in the 3% range in some polls but needs one of the two major parties to falter in 2023 and to mop up “disaffected” voters for it to have a viable route back. This could break in 2023 if it can rebrand as a big ‘C’ conservative party.
With the resignation of former Labour MP Gaurav Sharma triggering a by-election on Saturday, December 10, all parties will be putting their best foot forward. The deadline for candidate nominations to be received will be noon Tuesday, November 8 so those who wish to run the race will be confirmed then. A bellwether seat, it was won strongly by Labour at the last election. While any outcome won’t unseat the government, it will provide a political sideshow of interest to media and political junkies.
With 54% of New Zealanders believing the country is heading down the wrong track, interest rates increasing, consumer sentiment turning bearish, commodities coming off, cost of living crisis, rising inflation, Covid-19 peaks and the War in Ukraine, polling should be more definitive. This will hearten Labour and should concern National, given Labour is an effective campaigning machine and holds all the levers of power. The looming Christmas/New Year period is an opportunity to reset for both major parties. Whoever does the most effective job will likely take the Treasury benches in what will likely be a very close election, similar to 2005.
Consistently negative sentiment is not good for any government
Labour was historically swept into a majority through managing Covid-19 and it would seem the electorate has discovered buyer’s regret in terms of sentiment over the past eleven months. It should worry the government that a year away from a general election, four of five most recent polls put wrong track in the majority. The effect of this is concussive especially if the “right track” continues to slip. “Do not know” are still a substantial block yet to make up their mind.
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National has its nose in front, just, but there are justifiable jitters. It is polling in September at similar levels to where it was in March when it overtook Labour under Chris Luxon. The Government will be buoyed that it managed a small rise against a prevailing bearish mood.
This indicates the public are perhaps still ambivalent about Luxon reflected in preferred Prime Minister numbers. While National is back, is it and its leader doing enough to convince voters it would make their lives better?
This creates hope for the centre-left. If they can out-campaign National, then they could break the global habit of Covid-19 incumbent governments losing. More so as both Act and the Greens are running neck and neck. Despite the Māori Party coming off the boil it could hoover up far left votes.
Cometh the election, Cometh Winston? New Zealand First has polled consistently in the 3% range over 2022. While it’s an electoral mountain to reach five percent, the stars are aligning for the political equivalent of Lazarus. The recent NZ First conference saw some renewed vigour from the party. Banking 3%, his route back remains gathering disaffected and undecided voters. It’s make or break time. Fail in 2023 and NZ First will struggle to survive two terms out of office.
Ardern trending down, but remains well ahead
Yes, the Prime Minister has lost a fair degree of her shine in 2022 from heights around the mid 40’s in February but retains the strongest star power. A bigger question is why Luxon has stalled. There are still plenty of “don’t knows” re the preferred Prime Minister and this sets up an intriguing opportunity for one of the contenders to really grab the momentum into 2023.
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Where the parties are:
For Labour, the Christmas recess will sound like a bell in a title fight. A dose of pragmatism that defined Helen Clark could see them win in 2023. A better-than-expected set of government accounts creates some fiscal headroom for the Minister of Finance to deliver a suitably designed election year budget, although he is likely to pitch his “safe pair of hands credentials” to the electorate. This at a time when the economy will be coming under further pressure from rising interest rates and cost of living increases. If accompanied by adroit moves on three waters and co-governance, a loosening of skilled immigration and more muscular law and order, the government could be fully reset. 2023 will also deliver the Prime Minister set pieces like HRH King Charles III’s coronation and a likely Royal visit too.
As for National, Chris Luxon has made them contenders, but the public have looked at him and appear still somewhat ambivalent in their views at this stage. That said it’s a quantum improvement from where they were. There’s a suspicion that some in National believe that they only need to ‘sit back and win by default.’ While true oppositions seldom win elections, they must be credible too. The public in polling say they like National, again, but are questioning what it stands for. Their strategy for election year has yet to fully emerge. Timing of policy announcements is important. Kiwis want an aspiring Prime Minister to give confidence that they are connected, understand where they want to take the country, are in charge and can get the job done.
Act is supplying a model others could emulate. The party is disciplined, enthusiastic and mixes cutting commentary with an alternate policy platform at every turn. Seymour’s verbal dexterity gives him an ability to explain complex issues simply. His caucus is performing above and beyond expectations with an energy for campaigning showing through.
The Greens benefit from a strong brand and they are fortunate for that. While some suggest they are underperforming, they are still polling reasonably well. The messy on/off challenge to James Shaw raises questions over his longevity as he makes the party credible. If he goes, so does the party’s ‘Remuera set’ appeal that could affect the Greens re-election chances.
Te Parti Māori are with Act the star performers in terms of saying what they really think. They make no apologies, know the issues their targeted voters want aired and could potentially capture enough votes to hold the balance of power.
Silvereye Communications 26 October 2022