Campbell has a good post on the problem of voters’ emotional reactions to Key and Goff as exemplified by the Sunday-Star Times Horizon poll (the striking thing is how little emotional response they elicit). I’ll look at the party numbers.
I don’t look at every poll in detail, usually just the Roy Morgans because they’re the only ones that are regular enough to give a good trend, but the Horizon poll is interesting because they ask the undecideds to decide. The aim is to get a better idea of how an election held today would actually turn out, although its inevitably very changeable because undecideds are quite likely to change their minds week to week.
The numbers are:
New Zealand First: 8.9%
United Future: 1.2%
Other/don’t know: 7.2%
On those numbers, (and assuming current electorates are held, except Wigram goes to Labour) the seats are:
New Zealand First: 12
Maori Party: 5
United Future: 2
It’s a 123 seat Parliament.
National+NZF= 64 (1996-98 redux).
Nat+ACT+Maori Party+UF=62 (ie. same parties as now completely at Hone’s ransom).
Lab+Greens+NZF+UF=63 (essentially, 2005-2008 again but more powerful Greens and NZF)
National+ Labour = 89 (Matthew Hooton’s bizarre fantasy)
Now, I don’t expect National or Labour to actually poll that low or NZF, Progressives, United Future to get so high (I’m hopeful for the Greens). But the key point of the poll is clear – Key’s popularity is not enough for National to sleepwalk to victory. They’re not going to get a majority themselves, so ACT winning Epsom becomes crucial for National.
If National polls in that mid-40s danger zone then they won’t be able to make a majority with ACT and UF, they’ll need the Maori Party or NZF. That means, whereas Key can currently play ACT and the Maori Party off against each other, he would be reliant on the support of Hide and Harawira or Peters for every law he wants to push through. That’s a hell of an ask. And if those numbers work then there’s probably a Labour-led option with the same number or fewer parties that can also make a majority.
This clearly has National worried. The spin from Matthew Hooton is that it would be a travesty of MMP if Labour led a government on the numbers in the Horizon poll, for example. Hooton says such a result would “show that fringe parties with no public support, rather than the voters, get to choose the prime minister”. That’s rubbish, of course – the PM would have the support of a coalition of parties that a plurality/majority of voters voted for. That’s a more democratic situation than existed under FPP when a party could win fewer votes yet more seat and govern alone (1978, 1981), or win just 35% of the vote but govern alone (1993).
Hooton et al claim that Labour would have no mandate to govern if it didn’t get more votes than National. But the actual point is that it is the coalition of parties that has the mandate, and the support of the most people. It doesn’t matter whether or not the largest party is in the government. The government just needs to the confidence of parties that were given a majority of the seats by the voters.
One interesting thing that Horizon does is compare people’s current voting intention to their vote in 2008 (I assume this is one measure they use for weighting their results to get rid of bias). Here’s the table of results for vote in 2008 vs voting intention in 2011. The figure in bold in each column is the percentage of a party’s supporters in 2008 who intend to vote for them again, the one in red is the party they’ve lost most support to.
ACT is obviously in big trouble, shedding all but its very core support. The Maori Party, too, has shed a hell of a lot of its previous voters – mostly to National and New Zealand First. Greens voters are loyal as you would expect. National voters are highly loyal so far too although there is obviously quite a bit of disenchantment because they’ve lost far more supporters than they’ve picked up. Labour is picking up the the largest share of people who stayed away from the polls last election but is failing to attract this large group dissatisfied with National, or even retain own voters. That’s a failure of the leadership to supply a vision, which Campbell talks more about. Instead, the dissatisfied are increasingly looking to Peters and New Zealand First.
PS. Interesting to see Bill English’s advice to Labour in the Herald today: “It should have gone to the beach, acquired a reputation for being lazy but remorseful [the Nats think politics is all about benig lazy]. The punters would have accepted that. They would have said you know you are irrelevant and you’ve figured out why I chucked you out. Then Labour could “come back all fresh and keen in election year, bounce up to 35 per cent and they are away”. [So, English sees Labour at 35% as the danger zone, that’s where they are in the Roy Morgans]