OPINION: The political drums have been beating hard for the Conservative party as a future coalition partner for National.
Media reports in late October noted that "John Key has been talking up the Conservative polling in private and in public, suggesting it has been doing as well as 4 per cent in Auckland".
The headline story from the November TV3 poll was a more than doubling of the Conservative vote to 2.8 per cent.
There was a subsidiary coalition-party-for National beauty contest running in the Christchurch East by-election.
The Conservatives with 487 votes were easy winners over the near-dead ACT Party on 56 votes.
There are risks and rewards for National in promoting the Conservatives. The case can certainly be made that the Conservatives will give the 5 per cent MMP barrier a good shake in 2014.
The last time a serious Christian party contested a New Zealand election was in 1996 when the Christian Coalition came up just short at 4.3 per cent.
It is too early to assess how much Colin Craig’s musings about the moon landing will hurt Conservative prospects, but on the face of it he is a much more saleable prospect than the very odd 1996 co-leadership of uninspiring ex-National MP Graeme Lee and later convicted paedophile Graham Capill.
In the 2011 General Election the Conservative party, almost out of the blue, secured 2.7 per cent of the vote.
This was on the back of Colin Craig’s personal wealth.
The Conservatives out-spent all but the National party in 2011.
He can presumably dig deep again and will have more time for fundraising.
The Conservative party will also almost certainly be going into next year’s election with much more free media publicity than in 2011 and, at the very minimum, probably some form of informal endorsement by National.
Even if the Conservatives do get to 5 per cent that is not all good news for National if its own vote is cannibalised.
Analysis of the Conservative vote in UMR polls throughout 2013 (a total sample declaring a voting intention of close to 14,000) shows they make very little appeal to centre-left voters.
Fifty six per cent voted Conservative in 2011, 20 per cent voted National, 3 per cent New Zealand First, 2 per cent Labour and just 0.6 per cent Green.
There is also a big risk for the centre-right that, without the insurance of an electorate deal, the Conservatives come in at less than 5 per cent.
If God was on the side of the centre-left the Conservatives would get 4.9 per cent.
That would not only be a wasted vote for the centre right but around half would effectively be redistributed to the centre-left.
The prediction market, I-Predict, currently has the Conservatives expected to secure exactly that - 4.9 per cent next year.
UMR polling throughout 2013 has the Conservatives averaging 1.8 per cent.
Their vote has varied between 1.1 per cent and 3.9 per cent.
The peak of 3.9 per cent was last month and almost certainly attributable to a very high media profile for Colin Craig after the TV3 poll.
The Conservative vote has been nowhere near 4 per cent in Auckland averaging just 1.5 per cent and only a slightly higher 1.7 per cent in Craig’s home territory of the North Shore.
The Conservative party has performed best among rural and provincial voters and amongst older men.
Its best region is Nelson where it averaged 3.7 per cent.
Another electorate deal ceding a seat to the Conservatives would seem to be a sensible insurance policy for National.
It still carries risks.
It will evoke memories of the ill-fated arrangement with ACT and potentially reinforce untrustworthy negatives for the prime minister.
Fallout from that cup of tea with John Banks reduced John Key’s personal ratings from the stratospheric to the very good.
New Zealand voters do not like the exemption which allows a party which wins an electorate seat, but doesn’t get 5 per cent of the party vote, extra seats.
A late November UMR survey showed 73 per cent want this exemption removed and only 13 per cent want it retained.
Being linked to the Conservatives may also affect National’s standing amongst the middle ground voters John Key won from Helen Clark in 2008.
An October survey by UMR showed that neither New Zealanders as a whole nor National party voters believe that the Conservatives would make a good coalition partner.
Only 4 per cent of all New Zealanders think that the Conservative party would do a good job if it was part of a coalition government; 24 per cent have a neutral view and 48 per cent think they would do a poor job.
National voters are not much more convinced with only 6 per cent thinking that the Conservatives would do a good job; 29 per cent taking a neutral position and 45 per cent thinking they would do a poor job.
There is an obvious National strategy to frighten voters about the Green contribution to a centre-left Government.
National voters are, however, only slightly more negative about the Greens with 9 per cent considering the Greens would do a good job as part of the Coalition government; 31 per cent neutral and 56 per cent thinking they would do a poor job.
- Stephen Mills is the Executive Director of UMR Research