Some are linking Labour’s polling to National’s in 2002. Well, I think it’s worth remembering the other side of the 2002 polls. Labour’s support plunged 13% in the last month of the campaign from 50%+ support to the point where a Nat-led government was a real threat. Then, there was 1996, where Labour went from polling 4th to losing by a hair.
In 2002, it seemed like Labour might be about to put the stake through the vampiric heart of the odd foe. National was in the teens, while Labour polled into the late 50s with the Greens, Alliance, and Progressive as potential supporters to its left. Helen Clark was the most popular PM on record, with support levels the same as John Key’s today.
Then it all started to come apart. It wasn’t so much National, who regained only a few percent. It was the minors. People didn’t want to give Labour all that power but didn’t want National, whom they had just thrown out after 9 years.
The problem was, so many people shifted from supporting Labour to backing NZF, the Greens, and, most dramatically, UF that Labour nearly ended up losing. Sure, it looks in retrospect like it was a walk over for Labour, when you only look at the Labour and National numbers, but National, ACT, NZF, and UF polled a combined 45% to Labour’s 41% and the Greens’ 7%. And some of the polls had Labour down into the 30s. It looked for a while like some kind of National-led coalition could have gotten the numbers. Even as it was, Labour ruled as a minority government with UF.
From looking forward to an absolute majority to suddenly facing defeat in the space of 4 weeks. And, Labour actually had options on whose backing to secure to govern in 2002. If National drops even to 45%, it’ll need some unworkable coalition that needs both ACT and the Maori party to support everything.
Now, let me take you back to 1996.
It seems hard to believe now that Labour polled as low as 16% in the lead up to the first MMP election. Behind Alliance and NZF, which got as high as in the 30% with National in the clear around 40%. Helen Clark was a new leader and unpopular with the public. There were several coup attempts. It looked like Labour, which voters still hadn’t forgiven for the 1980s, might be consigned to minor party status.
It all turned around in the last couple of months. Support for the Alliance and NZF tumbled. National shed 7% while the newly-minted ACT came from nearly nothing to 6%. Labour surged about 10% to get 28%, still its lowest result since the before the First Labour Government, but enough to govern if Winston Peters hadn’t done the dirty.
You can even go back to 1990, when I remember National polling at 65%, which must be some kind of record, only to come in 18% lower on election night.
So yeah, a lot of the polls suck. And it’s not Labour’s policies that are the problem.
And, yeah, there’s a media narrative to contend with. A lot of jounros have been calling the result of this election result for the past three years and that inevitably shapes how they view and report events.
But these things do turn around. Sometimes very dramatically. And the journos do love a good fight and the underdog coming back. I don’t think the Left should be disheartened.
We’ve got some serious issues to campaign for; this is our one chance to stop asset sales and get a capital gains tax. We’ve got to fight like we’re going to win, because that’s the only way we will.