John Key: Safe hands, forked tongue?

RESULTS: The latest Fairfax Media-Research International Poll asked voters what sort of people they thought the National and Labour leaders were.
FAIRFAX NZ
RESULTS: The latest Fairfax Media-Research International Poll asked voters what sort of people they thought the National and Labour leaders were.

Prime Minister John Key is considered a safe pair of hands in a crisis, but more voters believe he is more likely to lie than Labour leader Phil Goff.

The latest Fairfax Media-Research International Poll asked voters what sort of people they thought the National and Labour leaders were. It found 34.9 per cent believed Mr Key was most likely to bend the truth, while 26 per cent thought Mr Goff was.

A further 21.3 per cent said both would lie.

The poll was taken in the week after the first televised leaders' debate, in which Mr Goff caused a stir by calling Mr Key a liar.

It found more than half of voters, or 52.2 per cent, said Mr Key was their preferred prime minister, compared with 13.5 per cent for Mr Goff.

Auckland University political marketing lecturer Jennifer Lees-Marshment said a preferred prime minister was normally somebody who told the truth. The poll showed voters had a nagging underlying fear that there was something to Mr Key they hadn't yet seen.

"They think there is something yet to be revealed about Mr Key whereby he's not quite telling us the truth."

Labour tried during the 2008 campaign to paint Mr Key as "slippery" and although it didn't stick at the time, the latest poll shows he hasn't manage to shake off that suspicion.

The poll also asked who could better handle a crisis, and 66.6 per cent picked Mr Key, compared with only 10.4 per cent for Mr Goff.

The National-led Government has had to deal with a series of disasters in the past 13 months, including the September and February Christchurch earthquakes, the Pike River mine tragedy and the Rena oil spill. Yet Mr Key has passed all the tests thrown at him, Left-wing political commentator Bryce Edwards says.

"There hasn't been a sense of him panicking, there hasn't been a sense of him failing to deal with these problems, so people do see him as a steady hand in the wheel."

But Mr Goff came across as negative, partly because it's the Opposition's role to attack the Government.

"People want someone positive in a crisis," Dr Edwards said.

An overwhelming number of voters, 62.6 per cent, also believe Mr Key has the best grasp of economic issues facing the country, compared with 16.6 per cent for Mr Goff.

Political scientist Joe Atkinson said that this could be due to Mr Key's career in investment banking before going into politics.

The poll also asked who was more in touch with the opinions of average New Zealanders.

The results were almost neck and neck, with 38.7 per cent saying Mr Key, compared with 37.3 per cent saying Mr Goff.

Dr Lees-Marshment said it showed Mr Goff was connecting with ordinary people.

"It may be the comments about jobs, about GST on food, and it may be that he's just showing empathy for the impact of the Government's policies on the ordinary person that Mr Key isn't."

It was something Labour could build on, she said.

Though Mr Key was telling voters that he understood the recession was hard, he was not saying he understood it hurt people. "A leader needs to be seen to be feeling people's pain."

The poll of 1000 voters was conducted between November 3 and 7 and had a margin of error of 3.1 per cent.

- Fairfax NZ