National is riding a wave of soaring optimism to start election year in pole position.
A new Fairfax Media-Ipsos poll puts National on 49.4 per cent against 31.8 per cent for Labour and 10 per cent for the Greens.
On those numbers National would win 64 seats in a 123-seat parliament – a lead of 10 seats over the combined Labour-Green vote and easily enough to govern alone before minor parties are taken into account.
The strong result for National comes against a backdrop of improving economic data, including a strong growth outlook of more than 3.5 per cent this year, a rise in confidence levels and a fall in unemployment to 6 per cent.
That is reflected in a big jump in the number of those who think the country is on the right track – 63.7 per cent agree, compared with 35.6 per cent who think New Zealand is on the wrong track.
Significantly, for the first time since we started polling specifically on ‘‘the mood for change’’ a slim majority say they want to stick with the current Government.
The results show a small shift to the Right in the balance of power since October with National down 0.8 percentage points, Labour down 1.8 and the Greens down 0.7.
NZ First was still below the 5 per cent MMP threshold for list seats, but was up 1.3 to 3.6 per cent.
Kim Dotcom’s planned Internet Party drew no support. The internet mogul has said he will scrap the party in the run-up to the election if it is polling under the 5 per cent mark.
The Conservatives were up 1.3 percentage points at 2 per cent.
The poll results are a huge boost for National in the lead up to an election which will be fought on its handling of the economy. It is also a blow to Labour which sought to seize the political agenda early with a plan to pay new parents a $60 a week baby bonus but appears not to have won any traction on that issue.
While Labour’s plan was popular with its target voters, there was overwhelming opposition to raising taxes to pay for new spending promises.
The poll found 67.2 per cent opposed and only 27.2 per cent in favour of raising taxes to fund new initiatives.
But Labour leader David Cunliffe said the question was unfair because the vast majority of New Zealanders would not be affected by its planned tax rises, which would include a higher top tax rate and a capital gains tax.
Labour is yet to confirm the detail of its tax plan for the 2014 election, however.
The polls suggests Labour has a lot of ground to make up on National in convincing voters it has a better economic plan.
Labour has tried to move the debate away from economic growth and on to squeezed household budgets and what it says is growing inequality in society.
It has also highlighted the pressure home owners and new home buyers will face from rising house prices with the Reserve Bank expected to lift interest rates next month.
Prime Minister John Key said National had a strong plan for New Zealand and had ‘‘slowly and methodically implemented that plan’’.
"New Zealanders can see for themselves that is paying dividends.’"
* The phone poll surveyed 1018 people from February 8-10 and has a margin of error of 3 per cent. The results were: National, 49.4 per cent; Labour, 31.8; Green Party 10; NZ First, 3.6; Conservative 2.1; Maori Party, 1.1; Mana 0.3; ACT 0.5; United future, 0.1; Other 1.2.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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