Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Claire Trevett: Stubbornly wide gap in polls adds uncertainty

Winston Peters' rising popularity has been the thorn in John Key's campaign. Photo / Janna Dixon
Winston Peters' rising popularity has been the thorn in John Key's campaign. Photo / Janna Dixon

For an election campaign which began trundling along on the train tracks of a foregone conclusion, it has been surprisingly peppered with life.

The foregone conclusion has remained stubbornly in situ, despite both National leader John Key and Labour leader Phil Goff expecting the polls to narrow as the election loomed. So far the only narrowing has been in the gap between Labour and the Greens.

Now with just two days to go, it seems Key and Goff are equally concerned that the polls won't narrow.

Key has become fearful that National's lead means people will assume everyone else will vote so they don't need to bother.

Goff, on the other hand, is still insisting they will move up, issuing an enigmatic "just keep watching" when asked again this week when those polls were going to follow his orders and narrow.

Key's greater concern is that National voters don't vote but NZ First voters do vote. The rise of NZ First has been the thorn in his campaign and it has been entertaining to watch the reaction. It veered from "ignore him and he'll go away" to the Lady MacBeth "out, damned spot, out I say!" strategy.

Key warned of the catastrophe that would shroud the nation if NZ First did return, but by yesterday was back to the ignoring approach, belatedly realising that all the harping was only giving Peters oxygen.

Meanwhile, Labour has been trying to deal to its own damned spot, John Key, by scrubbing at the Teflon with a Steelo.

Goff got in a scrub when Key was trying to dodge questions about the teapot tapes. Alas for him, nobody can wield the Steelo like Winston Peters who worked up such a froth that Goff's protestations were lost in the suds. All Labour has learned is that Key's coating is more titanium than Teflon.

And the relationship between John Key and the public is one of the most instructive lessons from this election. Such is the thrall in which the public hold Key that his word largely goes unquestioned. He has drawn on it twice, quite deliberately - the first time in his handling of the teapot tapes, and the second in his warnings about Winston Peters. If he has made mistakes on either of those, he has managed to delay any fallout until after the election. For the time being, it is writ in the Gospel of John, ergo it must be.

Election campaigns can be a humiliating experience. Normal people have job interviews in private and it is not broadcast to the nation when they fail the psychometric test.

Political candidates, usually proud people, have the whole country watching their job interview which consists of bowing and scraping with a running commentary of every blunder.

Some credit must be given to them for even embarking on such a folly.

It has not been arduous for Key, but things have not been so jolly for Goff. How Labour must have watched on in hope as the country embraced the underdog teams during the Rugby World Cup directly before the election campaign.

But that support lasted only until the underdogs were playing the All Blacks and this election Key is the All Blacks.

Nonetheless, Goff is playing like Wales in that semifinal, with an unrelenting never-say-die approach. The public sees a dead man walking, which was not helped by his party making it clear it did not want him as the centrepiece of what was inevitably going to be a presidential-style campaign. Goff has stood up anyway and been admirably resilient to the humiliation of the polls, bouncing up day after day to go through it all again.

Few have envied him his job and he has not resiled it. He has done it with little obvious help from his front bench, most of whom have stayed in their own little corners of the world, whiling away the time until the inevitable happens. Whatever does happen on Saturday and whatever Goff's fate after that day, his efforts on the campaign have ensured he will not leave his job in disgrace.

- NZ Herald

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Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor and joined the Press Gallery in 2007. She began with the Herald in 2003 as the Northland reporter before moving to Auckland where her rounds included education and media. A graduate of AUT's post-graduate diploma in journalism, Claire began her journalism career in 2002 at the Northern Advocate in Whangarei. Claire has conjoint Bachelor of Law/ Bachelor of Arts degrees from the University of Canterbury.

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