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Chris Ford: The bouncing polls

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Chris Ford
Chris Ford

 We've been treated to the latest series of opinion polls and they've been bouncing around like crazy.

The vast majority of the polls show National to be polling in the 47 percent range. Labour, by contrast, is polling around the 31-35 percent range. The Greens seem to be steady at around 10 percent while New Zealand First is either across the threshold or just under it depending on which poll you consult.

I wasn't surprised at the post-Budget bounce that National recorded in some polls. They designed their Budget to satisfy the crucial middle class swing voters in Auckland and in the provinces who are beginning to enjoy the first signs of economic recovery. Conversely, they made sure that its more harsher measures (such as limiting disability family carer payments and postgraduate student allowances) impacted on people less likely to vote National.

The Nat's cynical manipulation of the electorate continues unabated. Divide 'em and rule 'em, that seems to be the way!

However, the news for Labour, the Greens and Mana is not all bad.

While the left coalition has slid down in at least two of the latest polls (Ipsos-Fairfax and TVNZ-Colmar Brunton), they have risen in two others (Roy Morgan and TV3-Reid Research). This contradictory picture can largely be put down to Labour and the Greens successful NZ Power policy (a masterstroke of genius) and their ongoing campaigns on housing affordability. Interestingly, National has stolen some of Labour and the Greens thunder on housing but not (as yet) on electricity. 

Also, I was talking to fast rising Labour MP David Clark today. He put another interesting spin on the bouncing poll phenomenon in that (according to the pollsters he and his colleagues had spoken to) this is a precursor to a more longer-term switch in voting preferences from centre-right to centre-left. I only hope he's right about the electoral future of the left, that is!

My view is that the polls are fluctuating wildly in anticipation of a close election next year. I say this because I remember how volatile the polls were prior to the last election in which an incumbent government was seeking a third term, namely, the 2005 General Election held during Labour's time in office. After Don Brash's Orewa speech, the Nats gained from the fastest turnaround in voter support seen in New Zealand polling history. Just six months later, though, Labour began regaining ground but they still faced a rejuvenated National Party. Eighteen months later this produced an effective two percentage win for Labour over National - a real squeaker in anyone's terms!

Another factor to note is that in all post-war New Zealand elections where an incumbent government has sought a third term (barring 1966), the final result (in both seat and vote percentage terms) has been extremely close. During my lifetime, I can remember how close the 1981 and 1993 elections were as well.

That's why I expect 2014 won't be any different. On that basis, I expect that National's numbers will begin to fall away by the end of the year and Labour and the Greens will slowly begin to edge up. Having said that, I believe that the Nats will still be leading in the polls at Christmas but the question will be by how much. My hunch is their lead will be cut to an average of 5 to 6 points and, if the most recent polls are any indication, Labour and the centre-left could even be leading in some of them, and in a more consistent way, by year's end.

The 2014 election race has well and truly begun! Expect a rocky ride, New Zealand voters!






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