Editorial: National rides high despite Labour's best shots

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Labour leader David Cunliffe said of the latest polls, it is "still fairly early days" and they would "bounce right back again". Photo / APN
Labour leader David Cunliffe said of the latest polls, it is "still fairly early days" and they would "bounce right back again". Photo / APN

So much for Oravida, Judith Collins, Maurice Williamson. National's troubles of the past two months have evaporated in two separate public opinion polls taken since the Budget. Colmar Brunton, for TVNZ, and Reid Research for TV3, both find more than half of their sample intending to vote National. This must be devastating for Labour, whose sustained barrage on Ms Collins in Parliament over the past two months does not appear to have moved any votes.

The latest results are strikingly similar to those in a Herald-DigiPoll survey in March, shortly after Labour's barrage began. Then, as now, National had 50-51 per cent and Labour 29-30 per cent. National's numbers were 4 per cent lower in the television polls last month, suggesting the May 15 Budget has given it a boost.

Extending paid parental leave and making medical treatment free for all children may have paid a political dividend. The public may also be rewarding National for its curb on public spending that has all but cleared the recession deficit and enabled the Government to project a better-than-expected surplus.

Much as Labour and the Greens must hope the latest polls are no more than a post-Budget bounce, they do not look like it. They are consistent with polls over the past three years, suggesting the April drop was the temporary flux. If conflict-of-interest questions over Ms Collins' Oravida dinner in China had any impact, they have not changed votes.

Four months out from the election, Labour is the party in trouble. It ought to be polling well above 30 per cent by this stage to have much hope of success in September. If its result is not 10 or more points higher at the election, it must be doubted it could lead a credible government.

The question would not arise on the results of the latest polls. Even with the Greens (10-11 per cent) and New Zealand First (4.8-5.6 per cent), a Labour-led coalition would not have the numbers.

But an apparently comfortable lead at this stage is also a mixed blessing for John Key. He does not entertain any hope that National will break the 50 per cent barrier on election day. National will need one or two small partners in the next Parliament and it would no doubt like some of its support in the polls to be going to potential partners by now.

Polls survey the party vote, not the electorate vote that Act seeks on the understanding it will keep the Government in power. It can also count on Peter Dunne, if he retains his electorate, to support the party with the most votes. But National will want, and possibly need, additional partners. It may yet insist that Mr Williamson make way for Conservative Colin Craig in Pakuranga, though Mr Craig needs to make a stronger impression in the polls.

The Conservatives are still rating below 1 per cent, no higher than the Internet Party, Kim Dotcom's as yet incalculable contribution to our politics. The more one-sided the main contest becomes, the more the election is at risk of being distracted by sideshows and trivia in the margin of polling error.

Labour leader David Cunliffe said of the latest polls, it is "still fairly early days" and they would "bounce right back again". It is very late in the day. Most voters make up their minds well before the election campaign begins, though it is true that campaigns restore voters' usual loyalties. Labour is likely to do better than 30 per cent, National will almost certainly fall short of 50 per cent.

But right now the prospects for Labour could hardly look worse. It has fired its best shots in the past two months and the voters are unmoved. The economy is growing, the Prime Minister is popular and so far there is no prevailing mood for change.

- NZ Herald

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