Still to be seen if Brand Key tarnished

20:08, Aug 18 2014

It seems that as voters we would much prefer a beer with National leader John Key than his Labour rival David Cunliffe.

In fact, on a series of everyday measures of trust and personal appeal, Key easily out-rates the man who wants to replace him as prime minister.

But it is yet to be seen if the "dirty politics" furore has taken the gloss off Key's image.

Asked in the latest poll who they would rather have a beer with, 61 per cent said Key and 27 per centCunliffe.

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The gap was slightly narrower when voters were asked who they would trust to borrow their car (53 to 29 per cent), be stuck with on a desert island (55 to 29), or house-sit (55 to 31).


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Opinions tended to split along party lines, with National and Labour supporters broadly backing their own man on all questions.

However, National voters rated Key higher than Labour voters ranked Cunliffe.

For instance, 21 per cent of Labour voters would prefer to have Key house-sit for them but only about 9 per cent of National supporters would toss Cunliffe the keys to the family home.

The poll pre-dates the release of Nick Hager's book Dirty Politics and the fallout from claims that National was involved in "black ops" using blogs, such as Cameron Slater's WhaleOil, to attack opponents.

One player at the heart of Helen Clark's government in 2002, when Hager's book Seeds of Distrust disrupted her campaign, said the reaction was "shades of 2002" and it would damage Key.

"Some skin's going to be lost here before it's all over."

The former insider said that like Hager's earlier book, it came "from left field", interrupting the campaign and blowing out of the water an attempt to focus on the party's crucial messages.

National had deployed senior minister Steven Joyce to hose down the issue but that ploy had failed.

The story was still running and was likely to stay in the headlines as the main source for Hager's book began posting documents under the Twitter handle Whaledump.

"Now Key's in the fray. In all his regular media slots it is the topic - he's been dragged down from his pedestal."

Canterbury University politics lecturer Bronwyn Hayward said the standard view was that talk about a lack of integrity in politics, such as those in Hager's book, and National's negative push-back would lower voter turnout.

But a recent study had shown that in a proportional voting system with a free media it could instead galvanise voters to go to the polls.

However, Hayward said that based on her discussions with young voters, the controversy would lower support for Key. Key's "branding" was close to Kiwis' own self-image of a self-made everyman, she said.

Even some young National voters were having "an existential crisis" over the style of politics shown in the book, especially those who saw themselves as "compassionate conservatives".

"Brand Key as everyman has been successful . . . and this fundamentally undermines his brand," Hayward said.

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