John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: Unflashy Shearer starts to turn the numbers around

David Shearer. Photo / Michael Cunningham
David Shearer. Photo / Michael Cunningham

Up, up and away? At last, a significant surge in David Shearer's rating as most preferred prime minister. The popularity of the unassuming Labour leader has jumped by more than five percentage points to just over 18 per cent in today's poll.

The sudden increase will be a major boost to Shearer's confidence after three days' worth of being pilloried by all and sundry over his $50,000-plus American bank account which he failed to declare in the MPs' Register of Pecuniary Interests.

The rise is vindication aplenty for Shearer's belief that solid personal poll ratings are built on substance rather than false pizzazz and pretending to be someone you are not.

Taking the former approach meant he had a pretty torrid first year as leader and failed to convince doubters in his party that he is up to the job.

Today's poll should go some way towards silencing those critics. It will serve as justification for the Labour caucus decision to back the unflashy Shearer ahead of the more colourful, more heart-on-sleeve David Cunliffe. The poll might even have a slight band-wagoning effect as voters realise it's now okay to like Shearer.

It will definitely help him assert his authority as leader of the major Opposition party and get out of Russel Norman's and Winston Peters' shadows, thus (Labour hopes) giving him more attention from the media as the run-up to the 2014 election begins.

But the critics will not be silenced completely. They will say Shearer is lucky the poll was conducted before his admission regarding his New York bank account.

Those critics will note Shearer still lags way behind the Prime Minister, who continues to rate at a staggering 60 per cent-plus as preferred prime minister. Shearer is the preferred choice of only half of Labour supporters at most.

There is no sign yet that he can pull voters across to Labour who are only weakly attached to John Key-led National. Key has long had the reverse effect on Labour. The good news for Labour from the poll is that Key's personal rating - upon which National's grip on power almost solely hangs - seems to be in decline. But it is a very slow decline.

With the Herald and other recent polls showing support for the centre-left running at between 43 and 47 per cent while the centre-right is registering at between 46 and 52 per cent, National, if only narrowly, still holds the advantage as the halfway point of the parliamentary term approaches. Shearer's improved rating is a start in turning those numbers around. But it is only a start.

- 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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