Labour gains ground in latest poll

National remains on track to govern alone as the latest Fairfax Media/Research International poll shows Labour making up ground – but not enough to start measuring up new Beehive offices.

Labour needed a king hit in the opening days of the campaign to shake voters off National after trailing by 20-plus points for most of the past three years.

But it has so far failed to deliver one.

Today's poll was launched the same day Labour announced its bombshell retirement age policy – but though the poll may have picked up some sentiment in response to that, there will probably be a lag of at least a week before the full impact of its plan to raise the retirement age to 67 is felt. The policy was a huge gamble and could see voters swing either way.

On today's poll, Prime Minister John Key could easily govern without needing coalition allies, with National's support at 52.6 per cent, a 21.3-point lead on Labour, which is on 31.3 per cent support.

But what the poll also reveals is that any slump in National's support could see the situation rapidly change, because of the state of its likely allies.

The ACT party, on 1.2 per cent support, needs John Banks to win Epsom to have any hope of making it into Parliament – and that is by no means assured, according to some polls.

The Maori Party, which has governed with National, is in disarray – and facing a three-way challenge in the Maori seats that could see it return to Parliament with fewer MPs than its current four.

Labour, on the other hand, is shored up by support to its Left for the Greens, who remain the only minor party with a sizeable share of the vote.

At 9.7 per cent support their vote, combined with Labour's, puts the Left on 41 per cent, still 11.6 points behind National and a long way from forcing an upset.

Winston Peters and his NZ First Party, on 1.5 per cent, appear to have no hope of returning to Parliament.

Prime Minister John Key and Labour leader Phil Goff squared off in their first televised head-to-head debate on TV One on Monday night, but the result was so close it seems unlikely to have influenced voters either way.

Labour is up 3.2 per cent in today's poll – and the pollsters say that is significant, even if Labour continues to trail National by such a large margin.

Phil Goff has also had a lift as preferred prime minister – from 6.9 per cent to 9.1 per cent.

That is a reflection of his higher profile now the campaign proper is under way.

Both major parties have staked out their territory: Labour announced its plans to lift the retirement age and introduce compulsory superannuation; National has outlined how it plans to use the proceeds from selling a minority stake in the state-owned power companies.

It also flagged an overhaul of the welfare system yesterday, planning to tackle long-term beneficiaries, including many on sickness and invalids' benefits.

The poll was conducted between October 27 and October 31 and surveyed 1000 people. It has a margin of error of 3.1 per cent.

- Fairfax NZ