Scaremongering by opposition parties on immigration seems to be misplaced, with the issue barely registering as a concern among voters, a new poll reveals.
Labour and NZ First are raising the impact of migration on housing and interest rates as September's general election approaches.
But in the latest Stuff.co.nz/Ipsos poll, just 4 per cent of respondents cite immigration as the most important issue the country faces.
The economy (20.6 per cent), education (21.6), health (19.2) and unemployment (14.3) are the top four issues important to voters. A little over 12 per cent were worried about housing affordability.
In the past year, around 71,000 immigrants arrived in New Zealand - the highest number in 11 years. The poll asked if migration levels should change; 44.5 per cent said they should not.
However, most respondents believe a policy that would restrict non-residents buying property would be "somewhat effective". Among Aucklanders, in the midst of a housing shortage, the top response was "very effective".
Last month Labour leader David Cunliffe blamed immigrants for rising house prices.
"It would take 80 per cent of our housing supply just to accommodate this year's migrants - and National is doing nothing," he said.
Among Asians (15 per cent) and those not in paid employment (7.4), immigration was of most concern.
Labour has signalled it will look at controlling inward migration and work permits as a way to dampen housing demand and general price inflation.
Immigration has long been a touch-stone for NZ First leader Winston Peters, who claims it drives up property prices and inflation and will make NZ Super unaffordable. Concern is highest - at 8 per cent - among those who intend to vote NZ First.
The poll also shows Kiwis have an accurate perception of the levels of migration. It asked respondents to estimate what percentage of the population was born overseas. The average response was 25.92 per cent - very close to Statistics NZ figures, which recorded 25.2 per cent for 2013.
Immigration minister Michael Woodhouse said the results were not surprising. "It suggests to me that Messrs Cunliffe and co are missing the point. I would interpret it as saying there is a minority of people who think it should decrease but actually it's not that important to them."
Labour's immigration spokesman, Trevor Mallard, said the debate around economic tools should not be stifled because some people took a racist approach. "You can't ignore migration because a small proportion of New Zealanders are racist." The question was whether more could be done around "peaks and troughs" of migration.
"Where you can see a net spike then it is worth looking at ways you can level that off . . . I think it is important the tools work both ways - that it is pro-migration in a negative cycle and knowing the peak of migration when the economy is overheated."
Peters said the result was wrong and he did not listen to polls.
- Sunday Star Times