'Game on' in race for local seats

Political polls predict Waikato could be a swathe of blue after the general election but commentators are painting a different picture, suggesting there will be a tighter contest when people vote on September 20.

The Stuff.co.nz/Ipsos Political Poll has National steady on 55.1 per cent while Labour has slipped to 22.5, a drop of 2.4 per cent.

Those figures would have John Key's National governing alone with 72 seats.

But while National is expected to maintain its grip on Waikato's rural-based seats, a more even contest is tipped for Hamilton's two electorates.

Former Labour Hamilton West MP Martin Gallagher said history and logic suggested Labour would claw back support during the campaign period, adding the party was focused on winning back Hamilton.

"If we look back three years ago, National was polling on average 50 per cent and they did drop back . . . so I would take the latest poll with a grain of salt," he said.

"I would be very surprised if Labour didn't close the gap because during the campaign, parties get more even air time and everyone is in battle mode." Labour's candidates in Hamilton East and West had opened up high-profile campaign offices which showed they were "deadly serious" about the contest.

"It's not a flag-waving exercise," Gallagher said.

Waikato University political science lecturer Dr Alan Simpson was surprised by the poll results, saying Labour leader David Cunliffe appeared to have united the party.

Simpson also expected Labour's support to rise while National had to guard against complacency.

"These things really do depend upon turnout. It doesn't matter where you are in the polls. If you don't get your people out then you're going to suffer."

Labour MP and Hamilton West candidate Sue Moroney said the poll results were at odds with her party's internal polling.

It was "game on" as far as Labour was concerned.

"It seems odd in the same week we announce free doctors visits for over 65s that that poll says that we've lost 10 per cent support from over-65s. It just doesn't make any sense," Moroney said. The Stuff.co.nz/Ipsos Political Poll was conducted by telephone with a total sample of 1007 people and in accordance with the New Zealand political polling code.

Moroney said the methodology skewed results in favour of the right and the days of landline-only surveys were numbered.

"A lot of people who are low-income Labour supporters don't have landlines," she said.

"When they move, because they tend to move quite a lot, they don't keep paying disconnection and reconnection fees, they just take their cell phones with them."

Former Prime Minister Jim Bolger said National historically polled well in Waikato and predicted the party would retain Hamilton's two electorates.

"Occasionally National has lost the Hamilton seats but I don't expect that. I think they've got two able Members of Parliament [David Bennett and Tim Macindoe] currently representing Hamilton East and West."

Former Hamilton Mayor Russ Rimmington said National could put up "a donkey" in Waikato's rural-based seats and still win. He anticipated a tighter tussle in the city.

Tertiary education was a major aspect of the region and city's economy and Labour could make serious political headway with innovative education policies.

"The key for Labour is not to get caught up with giving away too many lollies," Rimmington said.

"It's always easy to give away other people's money and they'll need to guard against that. [Former Australian Prime Minister] Julia Gillard made that mistake and Australia quickly went into the red."

Hamilton political scientist Dave Calderwood said Labour was still not shaping up to be an alternate government in "voter's eyes" and it was why the party continued to poll low.

"This is turning into another election like 2002 when National was in the same position and lost ground during the campaign. This implies that National might win in 2017 as well.

"What this means is that National could become a four-term government, something not seen since the 1960s."

Calderwood said this election would be one which favoured third parties because voters would start to tire of National and want a change.

". . . but Labour isn't seen as a viable alternate government yet. But, apart from the Greens, there isn't anything exciting in the other third parties.

"Internet-Mana is a recycled Alliance, New Zealand First is tired but probably still worth a protest vote."

Centre-right voters unhappy with National might push the Conservatives over 5 per cent, he said.

"They seem to be the possible gainer in this election and this poll is encouraging for them. ACT might get some votes too from the same source but isn't moving so far and United Future is in it's usual doldrums."

Local electorates looked "very blue". National should hold both Hamilton seats and the surrounding rural seats while Labour would hold on to the Maori seat, Hauraki-Waikato.

Waikato voters spoken to by the Waikato Times said they did not place too much emphasis on political polls, with parties' fortunes appearing to fluctuate week-by-week.

Waikato University student Jack Kennedy, 22, said he was impressed by Key's leadership skills overseas but remained an undecided voter.

Fellow student Shaun Sanders, 27, said he was leaning toward supporting Labour but did not believe the political parties had adequately defined themselves to voters.

"Sometimes there doesn't seem much difference between any of the parties. Labour criticised National for wanting to sell land to overseas buyers but when Labour was in Government they did the same thing."

Waikato Times