John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: Casualties beginning to show in battle for votes

Prime Minister John Key and Labour leader David Cunliffe. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Prime Minister John Key and Labour leader David Cunliffe. Photo / Mark Mitchell

It takes more than two polls to confirm a trend, but there are signs of some very significant straws in the electoral wind.

The latest Herald-DigiPoll survey and Wednesday's 3News-Reid Research poll suggest support for some minor parties is starting to fracture. This is the upshot of the decline in the Labour-Greens bloc. It has now shed more than 10 percentage points in the past nine months.

Labour has been the major casualty. But the Greens do not seem to be benefiting, their support remains around the 2011 election level. In contrast, New Zealand First, the Conservatives and Internet-Mana seem to be on the rise.

The Greens may be paying for not being able to work with National. It looks like those who would lean Labour's way are starting to drift to New Zealand First instead of the Greens. Winston Peters has cleverly marketed his party's potential role as a brake on a third-term National Government by suggesting it might sit on Parliament's cross-benches and stay out of power, using its votes in the House to keep John Key "honest" - as Peters puts it.

The really intriguing battles centre on the pitch for young and elderly voters. The breakdown by age in the Herald poll has to be treated with caution because of the low sample numbers in each category.

The Greens, however, are holding steady among 18- to 39-year-olds. The gains are being made by Internet-Mana, which has positioned itself as the anti-Establishment party, thus filling the gap left vacant by the Greens in its search for more middle-of-the-road respectability, especially on economic policy.

Like Internet-Mana, Colin Craig's Conservatives also now look like bettering the 5 per cent threshold, especially because wavering voters will now have more confidence their votes will not end up being wasted.

Craig seems to be pulling votes off Labour, whose share of the votes of the elderly has basically halved since Helen Clark's heyday. There is also a hint that Craig is starting to squeeze New Zealand First's grip on the elderly.

That suits National fine - as long as Craig does not start poaching National's support. Backing for the governing party fell slightly in the 3News poll, but remained static in the Herald poll.

And that is one of the two big questions. Will National's support start to go into decline? It is too early to say. The other question is whether Labour can go any lower. Hard to say. But no one would bet against it.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

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John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

Herald political correspondent John Armstrong has been covering politics at a national level for nearly 30 years. Based in the Press Gallery at Parliament in Wellington, John has worked for the Herald since 1987. John was named Best Columnist at the 2013 Canon Media Awards and was a previous winner of Qantas media awards as best political columnist. Prior to joining the Herald, John worked at Parliament for the New Zealand Press Association. A graduate of Canterbury University's journalism school, John began his career in journalism in 1981 on the Christchurch Star. John has a Masters of Arts degree in political science from Canterbury.

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