Kiwis worried the country just isn't working properly
National got into office promising to deliver a brighter future - but voters are asking where the jobs are.
The latest Fairfax Media-Ipsos poll revealed job creation and unemployment is the single most pressing issue facing the country.
Nearly a quarter (24.5 per cent) are worried about high unemployment - which currently stands at 7.3 per cent - a 13-year high.
More than 82 per cent rated the issue extremely important or important. It was followed by the growth of the economy, with 18.5 per cent singling it out as their top issue. Slightly more than 78 per cent thought it extremely important or important.
But even though National has bumbled its way through 2012, voters are still giving the Government the benefit of the doubt - blaming the sluggish economy on global conditions ahead of government policies.
The results mirror the recent US elections when President Barack Obama weathered criticism because he was not held responsible. Asked if economic hardship is mostly due to the global economy, almost 43 per cent said they strongly agree. A third blamed the Government.
Unsurprisingly, the majority of National voters blame the global economy (73 per cent). A large chunk of the Greens (50 per cent) and Labour supporters (45 per cent) believe it is out of the Government's hands - although 58 per cent of Labour's supporters prefer to blame National policy.
Almost two-thirds of NZ First supporters point the finger at National policy.
But our poll shows a slight shift in whether voters believe the country is on the right track.
More than half say we are moving in the wrong direction - 51.1 per cent, up a smidge from 50.2 per cent in our July/August poll.
All this combines to indicate that next year's political battleground will be centred on the role National has played in our economic woes.
We asked 1000 respondents what advice they would give the Government for 2013 - and again jobs stood head and shoulders above the rest.
Gary Burt, from Canterbury, said the Government must follow through on its programme to sell off state-owned assets and reduce national debt. "That's the right thing to do or else we'll end up like Greece or Spain: debt ridden," he said. "[The] civil service won't exist - no social services, no police. Someone has to pay for all this."
He believes the Government has done a "fantastic job" on earthquake recovery.
Mary, also likely to vote National, believes the party must act to grow employment "by helping to develop businesses within New Zealand and keeping our skilled workers [here]".
She sees a need to get people "off the benefit and into paid work or work as volunteers". And she wants the Government to come down severely on petty criminals.
Lester blames dismal economic conditions on the high dollar and says Prime Minister John Key has become arrogant "regarding [it] not being a crisis - it's causing job losses". "Him, being a former foreign exchange dealer, would have more understanding of exporters than anyone else in this country," he said.
Steven says he would vote Labour and says Key needs to realise "that ordinary New Zealanders are suffering". He added: "The cost of living has gone up and incomes have drastically dropped."
Greens supporter Genevra wants the Government to "try and create more employment [and] help attract more overseas markets". She wants less focus on Auckland and said: "I don't think they look after primary producers as well as they should."
Karen Harris says "jobs aren't safe any more". "I just think that there are more people without jobs and the country is going downhill. Everything's going backwards. Homes are being sold - which is why they need to be built."
Carl says Key has looked after only high-income earners. "The gap between wages earned is out of whack. This is reflected in statistics. The top-end [is] getting a shit-load."
Linda agrees National are "just worried about the rich". She told our pollsters: "People on benefits are worse off than what they have been. [Key] doesn't care about the middle class and the poor people - he makes them just poorer. The people that battle just battle more now."
However, Key believes voters think he is doing a good job handling the economy - because they are realistic.
"Our internal [polling] numbers are still very strong. They are not silly. If you look at their own behaviour, they are saving money . . . saving, repaying debt because they are absolutely aware of the international situation."
He concedes "there's no question there has been some sluggishness. In the end we have to get the unemployment rate down. With a bit of luck we will get there . . . it's a frustratingly slow process
sometimes . . . those international headwinds are really hard to contend with."
Green Party co-leader Russel Norman believes National has its "head in the sand" over employment figures. He points to OECD rankings - in the quarter before National came to office New Zealand had the eighth lowest unemployment rate in the OECD. Now it is 15th.
This year, the average OECD unemployment rate has stayed at 8 per cent. Here it has risen from 6.4 per cent to 7.3 per cent.
Labour leader David Shearer says people are expressing insecurity about their jobs. "So many people say to me 'I'm working a whole lot harder than I used to be but I'm just not getting ahead'.
"The Government is completely out of touch on this one. It's not good enough to say it's the global financial crisis. People are really worried about their prospects."
The Government's woeful handling of education policies, such as increasing class sizes, closing Christchurch schools and the teacher pay saga, also sharpened voters' minds. Raising education standards is the third most pressing issue - ahead of getting the nation out of debt. Eight per cent are worried about cost of living. The sale of assets sales appears to be less pressing - just 8 per cent thought it a pressing issue. Water rights registered with just 4 per cent. However, two-thirds agreed with the statement "New Zealand's assets need to be protected - even if that means getting deeper into debt". Labour's policy of building 100,000 affordable homes resonated with almost the same number of people - who also agreed there was a housing crisis.