Has Canterbury swung Left?

ANNA TURNER AND FAIRFAX
Last updated 08:16 29/05/2013
John Key
KARL DRURY
John Key has suffered a set back in Canterbury.

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Canterbury appears to swimming against the national political tide as fallout from the earthquakes and schools shakeup reverberates around the electorate.

John Key's National surged ahead in today's Fairfax Media-Ipsos poll, with 49.4 per cent support across the country, up 4.5 percentage points since February, but it lost that much ground in Canterbury.

In Canterbury though, it garnered just 44.5 per cent support after winning 49.1 per cent in February.

Labour, which shed 4.4 percentage points to drop to 31.9 per cent support nationally, saw a healthy increase in Canterbury, jumping from 33 per cent support in February to 40.3 per cent today.

While the Canterbury figures come with a greater margin of error, of plus or minus 8.9 per cent, it is a marked contradiction.

National enjoyed a spike in support in Christchurch at the 2011 general election. Increasing its party vote and claiming the Christchurch Central seat from Labour was seen as a tacit endorsement of its earthquake recovery policy and a big win in a traditionally left-leaning city.

With central government since assuming even greater control of the rebuild - led by the central city blueprint and schools overhaul - today's apparent swing to the Left pumps plenty of air into the Christchurch political football.

Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee was not concerned by the results, believing National support in Canterbury was as "strong as ever".

"There's still a lot of unresolved issues for people but there is a lot that's positive happening, too. What I detect is a far more positive atmosphere there than there has been for quite some time."

Brownlee dismissed the notion that the schools shakeup, with a major announcement due today, was hurting the Government in the polls. "[It] does create a certain amount of discomfort for people in the short term but in the long term it's a billion-dollar reinvestment in primary and secondary education in Christchurch and as that becomes clearer people will have a different view of it."

Christchurch-based Labour MP Clayton Cosgrove said the results were both "interesting and positive".

"I do take it with a grain of salt because it was a small poll with a high margin of error, but it's good news."

He believed people were "frustrated" with a lack of action over earthquake-related issues.

"People in Christchurch have been through hell over the last few years. The Labour guys who work in the community every day see it every day. [Peoples'] patience is wearing thin."

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Canterbury University political science lecturer Bronwyn Hayward said the poll showed Canterbury was in a "state of flux".

"We have seen a really large shift in electorate occupancy after the earthquakes which I think external commentators are underestimating."

National would be keeping a close eye on Canterbury, she said.

"Despite the Government trying to minimise this, they are watching.

"They are very exposed because since they have taken such a strong role in Christchurch, the city's recovery starts to symbolise the Government's performance for Christchurch people," she said.

Nationally, the survey, taken in the days after the steady May 16 Budget, suggests an improving economic mood has lifted National's poll ratings.

The Government has confirmed a return to surplus next year, unemployment fell to 6.2 per cent in the March quarter and an improving housing market in Auckland and Christchurch is providing a feelgood factor.

That is supported by a big shift in the mood of the nation, with 59.2 per cent thinking things are heading in the right direction, up from 52.2 per cent in February, against 40.4 per cent who think it is on the wrong track, down from 47.8 per cent three months ago.

Outside Canterbury, the strongest negative responses to National came over asset sales and the general integrity and behaviour of Key - seen by some as "smirky" - and his MPs.

The survey shows the Greens are holding steady on 11.2 per cent. UnitedFuture, ACT, Mana and the Maori Party could muster just 2.1 per cent between them. NZ First was well shy of the 5 per cent MMP seat threshold on 3.2 per cent and the Conservatives were on 1.6 per cent.

CENTRAL NORTH ISLAND

Voters in the central North Island show a sharp rural urban divide in their support for the Government.

Manawatu, Taranaki and Waikato urban voters were more evenly balanced between the Government and Opposition parties. National gained 44.7 per cent, while Labour was backed by 36.4 per cent, with another 4.1 per cent.

In rural parts of the provinces there was no such balance, with 71.4 per cent backing National, more than any other part of New Zealand.

Labour was backed by 14.4 per cent in rural parts of the middle North Island, with 5 per cent backing the Greens.

New Zealand First was preferred by 4.7 per cent of urban voters and 7.7 per cent of rural voters.

The poll covered 90 urban and 54 rural voters from the middle North Island, who are decided and intending to vote.

UPPER SOUTH ISLAND

Voters in the upper South Island continued to strongly back the Government, with a clear majority backing National.

Over half - 56.8 per cent of decided and intending voters backing National, compared to 21.5 per cent who said they would vote Labour.

The area covers Marlborough, Nelson, Tasman and the West Coast.

Green Party support continued to be strong in the top of the South Island, with 19.7 per cent backing the likely main support party should Labour be able to form a Government.

The backing in the Upper South Island for the Greens compared to 11.3 per cent across New Zealand and was the strongest of any part of the country.

New Zealand First was the only other party to gain support in the upper South Island, in a poll which saw little backing for the minor parties.

The poll, which was taken before Winston Peters’ latest attack on immigration policies, showed 2 per cent support for New Zealand First in the upper South Island, below its 3.2 per cent support nationwide.

- The Press

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