26% gap to close in 96 days

22:05, Aug 21 2011

The One News and 3 News polls out last night both showed National with around a 26 per cent lead over Labour. The election is only 96 days away, so the question is, can such a gap be closed in a short period of time?

The answer is yes, as Labour doesn't have to actually get more votes than National. They just need Labour, Greens, NZ First and Mana (and possibly the Maori Party) to get more votes than National, ACT and United Future.

On the average of the two polls, National plus ACT plus United got 57.2 per cent, and National would have 68 seats, ACT 2 and United Future 1, giving the Government 71 seats, or 75 if the Maori Party retains its current four seats.

Labour, Greens, NZ First and Mana total 40.2 per cent. So the right-left gap is a more modest 17 points. But as NZ First is on only 2.3 per cent it won't qualify for seats, so the left's seats are Labour 37, Green 10, Mana 1 for 48 total. If they can persuade the Maori Party to support them, then they have 52 seats to 71 for National, ACT and United Future. They need to pick up 10 seats or around 8 points to be able to govern 62 seats to 61.

So what is the chance they can gain 8 per cent in 96 days? In 2008 Labour actually lost 2 per cent in the last three months, while National dropped 4 per cent. So the gap closed by only 2%.

The challenge is not helped by two other issues - the prime minister and the opposition leader.

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The One News Colmar Brunton poll asks respondents who their preferred prime minister is. Fifty-seven per cent said it was John Key; this is the highest any politician has had since they started asking this question in 1984. Helen Clark had an average 41 per cent rating in her first term. John Key's average has been 51 and growing. He is the most popular prime minister of a generation.

The 3 News Reid Research poll asks a slightly different question. It asks respondents to rate the performance of both John Key and Phill Goff seperately. So you can say that they are both doing a good job, or that neither is doing a good job, or that one is and one is not.

Key, as expected, is well regarded. Seventy-five per cent of New Zealanders think he is performing his job well and only 15 per cent say he is doing a poor job. But with Phil Goff, only 26 per cent say he is performing well and 53 per cent say he is performing poorly. These results are bad enough by themselves, but equally of concern is they they are getting worse, not better. In December 2010 only 39 per cent of New Zealanders said Goff was doing a bad job, and he has managed to increase that to 53 per cent of New Zealanders. And if you go back to February 2009, he was regarded poorly by only 27 per cent of New Zealanders.

A cruel observation would be that two years of campaigning has managed to double the number of people who think he is doing a poor job. Can that trend be turned around in 96 days? It will set a political record, if it can be.

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