Much ado in the commentariat about the latest Fairfax poll which has Labour on 28%, with Phil Goff 6% for preferred PM (Edwards at Politics Daily has his usual good summary). Yes it’s another bad result for Labour, no denying that. But some of the commentary around it is even worse! Take Danyl at DimPost for example:
The latest Fairfax poll has Labour on 28%, cementing the expectation that the main opposition party is heading for a bloodbath in November. …
My point is that there’s no downside to replacing Goff as leader, even at this late stage. The voters are adamant: they don’t like him. A leadership change is a signal that Labour are actually listening to what the voters are telling them.
Exactly wrong. There us no upside to replacing Goff as leader. It just looks like panic, and the electorate don’t like panic (see 1990). Those who are obsessing about Goff’s personal rating don’t seem to know much history. Consider the following, from a source that I don’t usually quote:
The preferred PM rating has little if any bearing on which party will win an election. Bolger in 1990 had a single figure Preferred Pm rating yet National won by the then biggest landslide in history. In 1999 Helen Clark trailled Shipley as Preferred PM right up until the final weeks of the campaign.
A year out from an election it is very rare to have anyone but the incumbent PM as the Preferred PM. As a measure it is not without some value in measuring trends, but the party vote question is a magnitude more important than Preferred PM.
Nor do I think that Danyl gives Goff nearly enough credit:
Labour’s MPs – especially those list MPs contemplating a sudden and unwanted year end career change – will be convincing themselves that the polls will tighten once they enter the formal election campaign. After all, that’s what happened back in ’08. The trouble with that theory is that Helen Clark was a very formidable, very experienced campaigner,and Phil Goff is . . . not. Goff’s leadership qualities (or lack thereof) are more likely to cost the party additional support during the campaign.
Goff has displayed, in some respects, more courage in leadership than Helen Clark ever did. I’ve been truly impressed with the way Labour, under Goff, have prepared themselves for the election. They have set out a true policy alternative, costed it rigorously, and stared down the supposed “electoral suicide” of capital gains tax in order to fund it. Bold, clever, and compassionate. Helen Clark was a brilliant leader, but I don’t recall her ever taking such a gamble.
In the important respects, Labour is doing everything right:
Labour knows what it’s doing, but hardly anyone seems to know what Labour is doing. Fairfax’s first political poll, released this morning, shows the opposition is chasing all of the right issues.
Six out of 10 count the sale of state owned assets as important or very important and 83 per cent put the cost of living in that category. The state of hospitals and the education system, a traditional Labour policy stronghold, is the top priority of voters with 91 per cent rating it important or very important. And 59 per cent are exercised by the issue of income and capital gains taxes.
Labour is in full voice on all of the above. On paper, voters should be impressed that Phil Goff’s MPs are in touch with what’s worrying them and, in the case of living costs and tax, it has a clear set of new policy ideas to tackle the problem. Yet still, Labour is getting thrashed.
At the same time Key is messing up everything he touches:
The past few weeks have been filled with political hiccups and blunders, but Prime Minister John Key’s informal manner and unpolished accent are still winning with voters. His rebuttal of Labour’s capital gains tax was scatter-gun, his handling of the Israeli spy scandal clumsy and the immediate response to the Norway massacres premature. But today’s Fairfax poll has Mr Key in front as preferred prime minister on 53 per cent – streets ahead of Labour leader Phil Goff’s 6 per cent.
If that does not, over time, move the polls, then nothing will. If voters have decided that they’re simply not going to listen to Labour, then so be it – we were always going to be the underdogs in this fight. But I remain confident that Labour is doing exactly the right things: setting out policy that is better for New Zealand, presenting that policy with a calm and united team, and trusting in the voters to make the right choice in November.