Has Canterbury swung Left?

ANNA TURNER AND FAIRFAX
Last updated 05:00 29/05/2013
John Key
KARL DRURY
John Key has suffered a set back in Canterbury.

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Canterbury appears to be swimming against the national political tide as fallout from the earthquakes and schools shake-up reverberates around the electorates.

John Key's National surged ahead in today's Fairfax Media-Ipsos poll, with 49.4 per cent support across the country, up 4.5 percentage points since February, but it lost that much ground in Canterbury.

Here, it garnered just 44.5 per cent support, after winning 49.1 per cent in February.

Labour, which shed 4.4 percentage points to drop to 31.9 per cent support nationally, saw a healthy increase in Canterbury, jumping from 33 per cent support in February to 40.3 per cent today.

While the Canterbury figures come with a greater margin of error, of plus or minus 8.9 per cent, it is a marked contradiction.

National enjoyed a spike in support in Christchurch at the 2011 general election. Increasing its party vote and claiming the Christchurch Central seat from Labour was seen as a tacit endorsement of its quake-recovery policy and a big win in a traditionally Left-leaning city.

With central government since assuming even greater control of the rebuild, led by the central-city blueprint and the schools overhaul, today's apparent swing to the Left pumps plenty of air into the Christchurch political football.

Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee was not concerned by the results, believing National support in Canterbury was as "strong as ever".

"There are still a lot of unresolved issues for people, but there is a lot that's positive happening, too. What I detect is a far more positive atmosphere there than there has been for quite some time."

Brownlee dismissed the notion that the schools shake-up, with a major announcement today, was hurting the Government in the polls.

"[It] does create a certain amount of discomfort for people in the short term, but in the long term it's a billion-dollar reinvestment in primary and secondary education in Christchurch and as that becomes clearer, people will have a different view of it," he said.

Waimakariri-based Labour MP Clayton Cosgrove said the results were "interesting and positive".

"I do take it with a grain of salt because it was a small poll with a high margin of error, but it's good news."

He believed people were "frustrated" by a lack of action over quake-related issues.

"People in Christchurch have been through hell over the last few years. The Labour guys who work in the community every day see it every day. Patience is wearing thin," he said.

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University of Canterbury political science lecturer Bronwyn Hayward said the poll showed Canterbury was in a "state of flux".

"We have seen a really large shift in electorate occupancy after the earthquakes, which I think external commentators are underestimating."

National would be keeping a close eye on Canterbury, she said.

"Despite the Government trying to minimise this, they are watching,'' she said.

"They are very exposed because since they have taken such a strong role in Christchurch, the city's recovery starts to symbolise the Government's performance for Christchurch people."

Nationally, the survey, taken in the days after the steady May 16 Budget, suggests an improving economic mood has lifted National's poll ratings.

The Government has confirmed a return to surplus next year, unemployment fell to 6.2 per cent in the March quarter and an improving housing market in Auckland and Christchurch is providing a feel-good factor.

That is supported by a big shift in the mood of the nation, with 59.2 per cent thinking things are heading in the right direction, up from 52.2 per cent in February, against 40.4 per cent who think it is on the wrong track, down from 47.8 per cent three months ago.

Outside Canterbury, the strongest negative responses to National came over asset sales and the general integrity and behaviour of Key - seen by some as "smirky" - and his MPs.

The survey shows the Greens are holding steady on 11.2 per cent. UnitedFuture, ACT, Mana and the Maori Party could muster just 2.1 per cent between them. NZ First was well shy of the 5 per cent MMP seat threshold on 3.2 per cent, and the Conservatives were on 1.6 per cent.

- The Press

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