National has no need to pull rabbits out of hat

TRACY WATKINS
Last updated 08:37 14/05/2014

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New Zealanders' misplaced confidence in the economy has seen National continue to ride high in today's Stuff.co.nz/Ipsos Political Poll, says Labour leader David Cunliffe.

A dismal past few weeks for National, in which the Government has largely been in damage control to contain ministerial scandals, has barely put a dent in National's popularity.

While both major parties took a slight hit, National remains high on 47.6 per cent support.

That was down 1.8 percentage points on our last poll, but still enough to govern alone if the results were mirrored on election night.

And with Finance Minister Bill English poised to unveil tomorrow what he hopes will be an election-winning Budget, the poll suggests there is no need to pull any rabbits out of the hat.

Labour has slipped 2.3 percentage points to 29.50 per cent, taking it below the morale-busting 30 per cent threshold for the first time. 

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Cunliffe said he remained confident the Left would take the election to wire.

"The Left-Right balance is very close, as it was in the previous Roy Morgan, which showed the Left ahead. So this really is anybody's game and it will be a cliffhanger result.

"Our team is working well and we will continue to press the Government on issues of cronyism while setting out own positive policies, and that will be our approach throughout the campaign," he said.

National was probably expecting a bigger hit in support after allegations about its links to wealthy Chinese donors claimed one ministerial scalp, Maurice Williamson, and embroiled another, Justice Minister Judith Collins, in questions about her trip to China last year. But Prime Minister John Key appears to have quarantined National from any fallout by acting swiftly against Williamson and putting Collins on notice.

Today's result is likely to cause soul searching within Labour, however, over Cunliffe's failure to get traction against Key despite the succession of ministerial scandals.

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The poll shows Cunliffe sliding in the preferred prime minister stakes to 13.4 per cent, down 3.9 points from our last poll in February and well behind Key, who is on 48.6 per cent. Labour also suffered a blow during the polling period with the news that former leadership hopeful Shane Jones is quitting Parliament.

Cunliffe was reticent about his own polling figures.

"You never know from poll to poll, these things bounce around. I'm looking forward to getting out campaigning as we get into the election proper, and getting to know a whole lot more New Zealanders - it's relatively early days."

But Labour's biggest enemy may be the improving economy, with the poll showing 63.6 per cent of voters believe the country is on the right track.

Cunliffe agreed National's high polling figures appeared to be off the back of consumer confidence. But National had done little to boost the economy, he said.

"As the commentary suggests, it looks like the key driver is the right track/wrong track, which is probably driven by economic confidence. What is clear to New Zealanders is that is a cyclical thing - it's a temporary thing and the underlying problems of the economy remain unaddressed, and Labour's policies will bring better jobs and higher wages for all Kiwis," he said.

Tomorrow's Budget will give National a chance to trumpet the economic turnaround and unveil a slim surplus as payoff for years of belt tightening. Key will also be hoping it draws a line under the distractions of recent weeks.

He said there would be no "significant surprises" tomorrow but conceded that National was holding some giveaways in reserve for when it hit the campaign trail in a few months.

However, he said there would be "one or two" giveaways in the Budget - tipped to be an extension to paid parental leave, and measures targeting housing affordability.

In other numbers, the Greens are up 2.7 points to 12.7, suggesting they have picked up some of Labour's soft support, while NZ First is virtually unchanged on 3.7 per cent. That would put NZ First out of Parliament on election night but leader Winston Peters is expected to turn that around on the campaign trail.

Colin Craig's Conservative Party is rating only 1.6 per cent, meaning it would need National to gift it a seat to get into Parliament. ACT, polling at just 0.9 per cent, would also need National to gift it Epsom again.

Kim Dotcom's Internet Party is on 0.6 per cent, the Maori Party on 1.9 per cent and Mana on 0.5 per cent.

The Stuff.co.nz/Ipsos Political Poll was carried out between May 10 and May 12. It surveyed 1011 people by telephone and has a margin of error of 3 per cent.

- Stuff

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