Tight race ahead for Key and Cunliffe

TIGHT RACE: John Key and David Cunliffe could be in a race to reach Winston Peters on Saturday night.
Fairfax NZ
TIGHT RACE: John Key and David Cunliffe could be in a race to reach Winston Peters on Saturday night.

John Key and David Cunliffe could be in a race to pick up the phone to Winston Peters tomorrow night as our final Stuff.co.nz/Ipsos poll tips the election will be tight.

On today's poll National would be the next government but a last-minute swing has seen it drop a massive 5 points since our last poll a week ago.  Labour is up - but the real beneficiaries of the swing against National are NZ First and Colin Craig, whose Conservative Party is on the cusp of making it to Parliament.

* Beehive Live

KINGMAKER?: Winston Peters could be at the top of the calling lists tomorrow night.
Fairfax NZ
KINGMAKER?: Winston Peters could be at the top of the calling lists tomorrow night.

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* Opinion: Cliffhanger looms at general election

* Possible coalition line-ups

THE DARK HORSE: Conservative leader Colin Craig.
THE DARK HORSE: Conservative leader Colin Craig.

National is blaming its drop on a surge of supporters voting strategically.

But if the swing against National continues it would need the Maori Party and UnitedFuture to hold their current seats and may still need NZ First.

That makes it likely the result will be decided not on the night - but by the horse trading which follows, said pollster Matt Benson.

''At the end of this roller-coaster ride, the shape of our next government looks likely to be out of the hands of the voters and more likely to be decided upon at the negotiation table,'' he says.

That could put Peters in the box seat - and Key has left the door wide open for a deal.

He is refusing to rule out offering Peters the deputy prime ministership - and told Fairfax yesterday he would try to talk to Peters the day after the election, regardless of whether he needs his vote or not.

''If we were in a position to form a government my view is we would sit down with every party and consider what we think is best. We'd be thinking about the next three years and what would potentially get us in the strongest position to be a fourth term government.'' 

Peters told a street meeting in Kawakawa yesterday that neither National nor Labour could win the election.

And he promised that if NZ First were kingmaker, coalition negotiations would be wrapped up a lot quicker than the six weeks in took in 1996.

''Perhaps within probably five days of the final count. Is that quick enough for you?''

The final count is due two weeks after the election, on October 4.

Asked if Peters could provide stable government, Key responded: ''I think so, possibly.''

His comments are in stark contrast to the last two elections, when he ruled Peters out, as a recipe for instability.

The wild card is Craig - if the surge in his support continues and he passes the 5 per cent threshold he will be in Parliament and National will have an easy ride to a third term. He has made it clear he would back National over Labour.

Key confirmed he would start working the phones on Sunday morning if he was in position to form a government and would fly to Wellington on Monday morning to continue negotiations at the Beehive.

Cunliffe refused to say who he would call first - and said his negotiating team would meet on Sunday morning to decide the next steps if it looked like Labour was in the frame.

The swing against National appears to precede Kim Dotcom's ''Moment of Truth'' meeting on Monday night alleging New Zealand is conducting mass surveillance against its citizens.

But it follows a torrid campaign in which Labour has been largely invisible while Key battled fires on every front, including Nicky Hager's Dirty Politics book, Justice Minister Judith Collins' resignation, and claims that the Government lied over mass surveillance which featured at Dotcom's meeting on Monday night, with the appearance of former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden by video link.

Asked about the event, 80 per cent were aware of the information presented and 69 per cent said it would not change their vote.  

* The poll was conducted between September 13 and 17 with a sample of 1002 voters. It has a margin of error of 3.1 per cent.

What pollster Matt Benson says: 

"We have a race on our hands.

In the last Stuff/Ipsos poll before Saturday's election, we have National down 5.1 points to 47.7 per cent and Labour up 3.7 points to 26.15 per cent.

These results are remarkably similar to the 2011 election where National received 47.3 per cent of the vote and Labour 27.5 per cent.  So it looks likely the final election outcome will be a result of party negotiations rather than a clear result from the voters.

The Greens drop 1 point to 12 per cent. ACT, UnitedFuture and the Maori Party are all relying on their electoral seat outcomes. If each party can retain its current seats this will deliver National with a combined 62 seat total in a 124 seat Parliament.

NZ First comfortably cross the 5 per cent threshold at 6.6 per cent. Align NZ First with Labour and the Greens and you have a Left block of 61 seats; with the remaining Internet-Mana seat most likely left out of both blocks.

Based on this outcome National and its partners might just sneak through.  However, there are only one or two seats between a National-led versus a Labour-led government. This once again puts Winston Peters and his NZ First party front and centre as kingmaker.

This could all change if the Conservatives can cross the line and boost National's ranks, thus avoiding the need for any agreement with NZ First.  Our poll result has them falling short at 4.5 per cent; however they are on the ascendancy and well within margin of error to achieve 5 per cent.

So at the end of this roller-coaster ride, the shape of our next government looks more likely to be decided upon at the negotiation table." *Comments are now closed

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