Much is made in NZ political punditry of John Key’s supposed popularity. Mostly this rests on his dominance of the standard “preferred PM” question in political polls. But the incumbent PM has almost always led on this measure – partly it’s a matter of simple visibility, partly it’s a matter of “the devil you know”. Does it represent actual popularity? In Key’s case I think the answer is – not any more.
Consider the Northland by-election. When it became clear that Peters was a real threat to the supposedly safe National seat, the Nats threw everything they had at it – including John Key. They lost badly to Peters. If Key was popular, why didn’t his personal appeal to voters save Northland for the Nats?
Consider the current flag debacle. It’s been Key’s project from the start but he hasn’t won over voters. In fact, Curia’s polling must be telling the Nats that Key is actively damaging the campaign for change, if yesterday’s headlines are anything to go by:
Dont make it about me: Prime Minister John Key’s plea on the eve of flag vote [sic]
Flag debate: Key to stay out of debate during voting process
Flag process challenged by politics, voters urged to put that aside
If Key is popular, why is his involvement actively damaging to the campaign to change the flag?
Consider the growing signs of unrest, summarised by Bryce Edwards in Increasing hatred for John Key?. Key has recently been booed at the Auckland Nines, the Big Gay Out, and at Ratana. He has been exposed by an internal leak, and criticised for “trolling”, “partisan sledging”, “snark”, lack of substance and more – Key is “reaping what he sows”. Are these the hallmarks of a popular PM?
If, as seems likely, the flag change referendum opts to retain the current flag (I for one will not be voting for the abominable tea towel) then there’s going to be quite a post-mortem – both nationally and within National. I don’t think that the myth of Key’s popularity will emerge intact.