Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards: Political round-up: Polls and paradoxes

National remains strong amongst recent political polls.  Photo / NZ Herald
National remains strong amongst recent political polls. Photo / NZ Herald

It's the major paradox of New Zealand politics in 2012: the Government has been embroiled in so many poorly managed controversies and had to defend clearly unpopular policies, yet recent polls show their popularity apparently unchanged from their record high of the last election. Opposition politicians must be wondering just what would it take to dent National's poll ratings.

Scott Yorke's blogpost, A Plague On Both Your Polls!, puts forward five possible explanations for the paradox, all of which are worth considering:

1. While the populace don't like these policies, voters think the negatives are outweighed by the good things National are doing.
2. People don't like National, but they dislike the opposition parties more.
3. The polls are unreliable/wrong.
4. It takes time for public sentiment on issues like asset sales etc. to show up in polls. People are growing more dissatisfied with things, but it is not yet showing up in their voting choices.

It's all a media beat-up, and people still love Key and his government.

Yorke himself argues in favour of Option 4 - the 'delayed voter reaction', which many journalists and politicians are forever waiting on. The Government line is clearly option 5 - see, for example, Public backlash is media 'rubbish' - Key. David Farrar goes further, suggesting the Sunday Star Times should be renamed The Standard, after the Labour aligned blog - mainly due to Anthony Hubbard's column from yesterday: People are getting angry, John.

Clearly a number of journalists are also perplexed at the paradox between the headlines and the poll ratings (and since they produce those headlines it would tend to support claims of a 'media beat-up'). For the latest TV3 poll details see Duncan Garner's National remains strong - Video.

Tracy Watkins' National faces second-term drift argues that the Government is displaying a 'belligerence that wasn't there in its first term' while simultaneously fighting on an extraordinary number of fronts, but points to National's 'natural advantage over Labour on economic management' as a possible reason for voters continuing to back the government. Similarly, John Hartevelt thinks the Government has just decided to get on with the job and the politics will look after itself as long as the economic numbers add up, but warns that the SkyCity deal will be a real test of that strategy - see: PM gambles on popularity in SkyCity row.

It pays to remember that the polls ask which party respondents would vote for, not how well they feel the Government is doing. That means that those polled have to choose between options, and what is clear is there is no shift in the crucial centre-swinging vote from National to Labour. This is putting pressure on David Shearer, and Andrea Vance reports that he has already been 'forced to counter speculation about his leadership five months into the job' with his deputy Grant Robertson also having to deny an imminent challenge - see: Voters not put off National.

Shearer himself thinks the polls will change but appears to be just as bewildered as anyone about Labour's lack of progress, saying the poll results were 'sort of surprising'. Key has some advice for Shearer: 'You need more than being a nice guy'. David Farrar agrees that Shearer is under pressure but thinks he has until the end of the year to improve - see: Pressure on Shearer.

On Campbell Live on Friday night, the Prime Minister showed why he is crucial to National's success, making a good job of selling two unpopular policies - watch: John Key on the Crafar farm and Sky City deals Video.

Key will be hoping he can move on from the Crafar issue now but there is dissatisfaction on the right that the legal challenge and the subsequent publicity may put off future foreign investors. Fran O'Sullivan says the overseas investment regulations need to be overhauled as past politically motivated changes to 'defuse or stop outright politically controversial deals' are scaring off potential overseas investors - see: Crafar ruling robust first step. The Herald editorial (Investors sure to be put off by Crafar loops) agrees with this analysis and says the Crafar decison has made it harder, not easier, for overseas investors.

John Armstrong's column, Williamson did right to expose real story, examines the inclusion of the 'China strategy' in the justification for the sale, arguing that it has 'exposed a few home truths' about New Zealand attitudes to foreign investment and the shallowness of the debate. Equally though, it could be argued that the revelations could be seen to support the Green's claim that our Government was leaned on by the Chinese Government, and that the deal was not approved just on its own merits. Meanwhile, Andrea Fox reports that a hikoi and large protest march are potential platforms for opponents of the deal to express their concerns - see: Maori warn of backlash to land sale.

The SkyCity deal is the other challenge facing the Government, and it continues to attract overwhelming criticism, as evidenced by the following very strong opinion pieces combating it: Matt McCarten's Key the gambler seems set to roll those dice, the Herald's editorial, Principles at stake in SkyCity deal, the Herald on Sunday's Pokie deal is a devil's bargain, and Tim Watkin's Steven Joyce: SkyCity just pining for the fjords. In that latter, Watkin analyses Stephen Joyce's performance on Q+A, comparing his denial of criticism over the SkyCity deal to the pet shop owner in the famous Monty Python dead parrot speech. He also compares the casino deal with the proposal to mine on conservation land and thinks it could end the same way - with a backdown. He thinks another comparison been made with the Government's Warner Bros deal may not be valid as the public affection for hobbits is vastly greater than for pokie machines.

The Herald has put a massive effort into covering this story and that continues today with Michael Dickison examining SkyCity's estimates for new jobs and finding they are almost double that of comparable convention centres overseas - see: SkyCity job estimate higher than rivals. Kathryn Powley also reports the SkyCity theatre has stopped taking bookings for the theatre at the end of the year because the architects have already been called in to measure up the space for the new pokies - SkyCity theatre under threat. This can only add to opposition claims that the deal has, in fact, already been done.

The issue of paying for the national convention centre has overshadowed the question of whether there is a business case for such a facility. Business leaders in Auckland have asserted it almost as a matter of faith but Gordon Campbell has looked in detail at the 2009 Ministry of Economic Development Report and finds 'to say the least that case in unproven' - see: On the dubious economic case for the Auckland convention centre.

Criticism of the SkyCity deal crosses the left-right divide as it's seen to violate many free market principles. Matthew Hooton takes the PM to task in Pokie poll a wakeup call for John Key wondering why 'a supposedly centre-right government thinks it should intervene to create a loss-making business'.

Other worthwhile contributions on the issue include The Nation's Colin James on the Sky City deal, which provides an intelligent view on whether this is 'selling law', Brian Rudman's Which way will wowser Banks jump?, Tapu Misa's Is 'free' convention centre too good to be true?, and an excellent piece by Will de Cleene which gives a personal and relevant account of his experience with gambling - see: A game of chance. The inevitable Trade Me auction has been listed - see: Toby Manhire's New Zealand law for sale? Check TradeMe.

Other important or interesting political items today include:

* Steve Braunias updates The secret diary of ... John Key.

* The Act Party has just had it's annual conference, which is very well covered by John Armstrong in his pre-conference item, Self-serving MPs' strategy plain to see, and then afterwards: With zero support revive or die are Act's alternatives.

* Cameron Slater asks So who is Alistair Cameron?.

* Andrea Vance delves into the Forbidden subjects in New Zealand politics, looking at euthanasia, gay adoption, and abortion.

* Mike Butler probes a recent opinion poll, and details how Maori and non-Maori think about separate seats and whether the Waitangi Tribunal should be abolished (Polls reject separate Maori representation).

- NZ Herald

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Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago. He teaches and researches on New Zealand politics, public policy, political parties, elections, and political communication. His PhD, completed in 2003, was on 'Political Parties in New Zealand: A Study of Ideological and Organisational Transformation'. He is currently working on a book entitled 'Who Runs New Zealand? An Anatomy of Power'. He is also on the board of directors for Transparency International New Zealand.

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