The future for Labour

16:00, Nov 09 2014

The deaths of major political parties in Western democracies are often predicted but very seldom occur.

There was some talk after National's 2002 election disaster that New Zealand First could become the major party on the right. That now looks really stupid.

In the last few years tens of millions of words have been written about the inevitable demise of the Australian Labor Party (ALP).

While the ALP has some problems it has been in front in every major Australian poll since the first Coalition Budget in May.

Whether New Zealand Labour has a future has been questioned since its terrible party vote result in the September election.

Labour will be encouraged that most voters do see Labour as retaining major party status.


Given a choice, only 13 per cent think the party "has no place in modern New Zealand politics and is going to fade away"; 78 per cent think "its current problems are just the usual political cycle and it remains the alternative major party political party that people will turn to when they get tired of John Key and National".

National voters are most likely to plump for the fade away option but overall 76 per cent think Labour is here to stay and 18 per cent that it has had its day.

If the Greens are indeed the natural replacement for Labour their own voters do not think so.

Seventy-seven per cent of Green voters believe Labour will stay the alternative major party and 10 per cent that it will fade away.

There is certainly on the face of it a place for a centre-left party in New Zealand.

Asked to define themselves on a 0-10 left to right scale based on degree of support or opposition for Government provision of services, the need for Governments to intervene in the economy and a progressive tax system, 30 per cent of New Zealanders were clearly left (0-3) on the scale; 42 per cent in the centre (4-6) and 25 per cent clearly right (7-10). As is often observed the centre is the battleground in New Zealand politics.

If the 42 per cent in the centre bloc are split up further 12 per cent go left ; 10 per cent go right and 20 per cent remain smack in the middle of the scale.

That leaves 42 per cent on the left; 35 per cent on the right and 20 per cent dead centre. At first sight that appears promising for centre left parties.

The problem for Labour is that National is now both totally dominating the centre and winning more left votes than Labour and the Greens are winning right votes.

Amongst the "clearly left" Labour has 42 per cent; the Greens 25per cent ; National 19 per cent and New Zealand First 10 per cent. In the centre National has 56 per cent, Labour 18 per cent, the Greens 12 per cent and New Zealand First 9 per cent.

Amongst the "clearly right" National has 76 per cent; Labour 13 per cent; New Zealand First 4 per cent and the Greens just 1 per cent.

Looked at another way National has moved further from its base than Labour.

Only 39 per cent of National's current party vote is from "clearly right" voters; 46 per cent from the centre and 12 per cent from the "clearly left".

Fifty-four per cent of Labour's vote is from the left; 31 per cent from the centre and 14 per cent from the right.

The Greens have a stronger left profile with 59 per cent of its vote from the left, 38 per cent from the centre and just 1 per cent from the right.

John Key's flexible political positioning and popularity is a major obstacle to Labour and the Greens driving out National inroads into the left base and improving the left's appeal to the centre.

He has some appeal to the left and strong appeal to the centre. His favourability rating with the clearly left is 31 per cent positive; 64 per cent negative.

Amongst the critical centre bloc he rates 67 per cent positive; 30 per cent negative. But, as Cameron Slater observed in the campaign, leaders come and go.

There are certainly the voters there to propel a centre left party into Government.

All results cited in this article are from questions included in UMR's telephone omnibus survey.

This is a survey of a nationally representative sample of 750 New Zealanders 18 years plus. Field work was from 16- 26 October 2014.

Stephen Mills is Executive Director of UMR Research