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National no longer a sure winner - poll

TRACY WATKINS AND ANDREA VANCE
Last updated 11:00 20/02/2013
John Key
CHRIS SKELTON/Fairfax NZ
ALLIES A CONCERN: Prime Minister John Key
David Shearer
SLOW RISE: Labour leader David Shearer

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Latest poll results showing Labour edging towards National were "heartening" but there was still work to do, Labour leader David Shearer says.

A Fairfax Media-Ipsos political poll shows Labour making progress but support for the John Key-led National Government is holding up.

Today's poll puts National on 44.9 per cent – 1.3 percentage points down on our last poll in December, and back to where it was last August.

But the big story is Labour's slow rise under Shearer. The party is up 1.9 points to 36.3 per cent, 3.7 per cent higher than in August.

Shearer said that as the Government became "increasingly shrill" it became clear National was out of ideas.

"We've got to be the party of ideas," he said.

The poll results were "heartening" and followed a trend.

"It shows that we're on the right track, we've still got a long way to go," he said.

Labour would focus on the areas that were important to people such as well-paying jobs, housing, education and poverty.

Shearer admitted his party had a lot of work to do in the rural areas.

National out-polls Labour in most rural areas except the upper-South Island, which includes Marlborough, Nelson, Tasman and the West Coast, though Labour's healthy lead may be due partly to a smaller sample size.

"We've got some way to go there but we came from a low start," he said.

Labour had been concentrating on the rural areas with visits and media campaigns but it hasn't been enough to date.

Shearer said Labour did poorly in those areas in the 2011 election because its policies weren't specifically rural focused.

"I believe now ... that they're worried about their future and we've got to put policies in place that will make sure that they're vibrant and viable cities and provinces," Shearer said.

The rise in poll results comes despite dissent within Labour's ranks, heavy criticism of Shearer's leadership style, and a leadership challenge, all within his first year on the job.

Labour has now closed the gap with National to just 8.6 percentage points, compared with 20 points on election night in 2011.

With Labour allies the Greens making up the shortfall on 10.7 per cent, the poll points to a much tighter race in 2014.

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On today's numbers, it would be a dead-heat between a National-led bloc and a Labour-led bloc in a 122-seat Parliament.

That is a big concern for Prime Minister John Key, whose present allies the Maori Party, ACT and UnitedFuture are unlikely to return in numbers, if at all.

FAIRFAX MEDIA-IPSOS POLL RESULTS:

- Fairfax Media

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