John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: Voter turnout a worry for National Party

Prime Minister John Key. Photo / New Zealand Herald / Alan Gibson
Prime Minister John Key. Photo / New Zealand Herald / Alan Gibson

Not so much your typical party conference; more a group-hug exercise in exorcising evil spirits.

The first day of National's annual get-together had one purpose and one purpose only - eradicating even the merest hint or whiff of complacency ahead of the coming election campaign.

National has no shortage of enemies attacking it from the outside. But the party fears its most insidious and dangerous foe is much closer to home.

From the Prime Minister downwards, speaker after speaker issued warnings to the 600 or so delegate of complacency born of National's stellar opinion poll ratings.

If nothing else, such was the constant hammering of this message that Wellington's Michael Fowler Centre should be a Complacency Free Zone by the time the conference winds up at lunch-time today.

However, the party apparatchiks who are sent to the conference by their electorate organisations are the last people who need to be reminded of how close the election is likely to be - and thus how vital it is to get National-leaning voters to the polling booths.

The real audience for yesterday's top-table lectures was those voters who think the September election is a foregone conclusion and they do not need to worry themselves as to whether they make it to the ballot box or not.

Both John Key and Steven Joyce - National's election campaign guru - made a point of stressing that Labour did not have a monopoly on the so-called "missing million" - the number of no-shows at the last election.

To the contrary, ten of the 12 electorates recording the biggest drops in turnout between the 2008 and 2011 election are currently held by National.

When it came to numbers, Joyce produced the most sobering of the lot. While some polls might suggest National could not lose, the party's average level of support across all the major polls was a full two percentage points lower than at the same stage of the cycle in 2011.

And we all know how close was the final result of that election.

Little wonder then that the mood of the conference was more tentative than triumphant.

- 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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