Editorial: Latest polls expose National's weakness
Recent political polls showing a significant drop in public support for the Government has further exposed National's electoral Achilles heel – a lack of a viable coalition partner.
A 3 News-Reid Research poll showed support for National has dipped four points to 45.8 per cent, while Labour was up 3.8 per cent to 33.2 per cent. A TVNZ-Colmar Brunton poll also showed support for National down four points and Labour up four. While Prime Minister John Key says he's not "down in the mouth" about the results, he should be concerned.
If the current polling is translated into seats in Parliament, National would struggle to form a government. The Maori Party would hold the balance of power, and co-leaders Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples know that placing the crown on Mr Key's head would be an act of political suicide.
The Maori Party has already paid a heavy price with its voters for entering into a support agreement with National, despite securing some big policy wins, most notably the establishment of Whanau Ora. If the party finds itself in the position of kingmaker and chooses National ahead of its more natural allies to the Left, it will face a backlash from its supporters it's unlikely to survive.
Mr Key and National have defied many pundits by maintaining stratospheric levels of public support during their first 3 1/2 years in power, but that popularity simply isn't sustainable long term.
As it has learned in recent weeks, particularly with its botched handling of its class-sizes policy, it cannot make the tough decisions it needs to in order to achieve its goal of returning the country to surplus without alienating some voters.
That political reality heightens the urgency for National to cultivate a coalition partner with enough seats to help it form a government after the 2014 election. Mr Key's eyes must be turning, albeit reluctantly, towards the Conservative Party or, even more reluctantly, to Winston Peters and NZ First.
Labour is still a long way behind National, but it has options. The eight-point swing against the Government has shifted the political landscape markedly; any further drop in support without the emergence of a significant parliamentary ally could see the ground crumble beneath its feet.
ONE MORE THING...
I stopped into the Manawatu Wine & Food festival at the weekend and, while it was great to see so many outstanding wineries from Hawke's Bay and Wairarapa there, the highlight was Manawatu's own wine-making treasure, Pohangina Valley. Sure, a wine trip to Havelock North or Martinborough is thoroughly recommended, but not before you try the outstanding wines being produced right in our own backyard.