Yet another poll - the Herald-DigiPoll survey today - suggests National is heading for a decisive re-election in September. Fully 50 per cent of those willing to state a preference would vote National, a response unchanged since our previous poll in March and consistent with polls published by TVNZ and TV3 two weeks ago. Three different polling companies, three separate population samples, same results; they are unlikely to be wrong.
And yet nobody in the National Party appears to believe they can win a clear majority of the vote on September 20. Though Labour and the Greens together have amassed not much more than 40 per cent in our latest poll, and New Zealand First are well below the 5 per cent threshold for contention, interest still centres on National's need of viable partners.
The latest poll makes a case for giving Conservative Colin Craig an electorate. With 1.5 per cent, his party has more than double the support of Act and on that basis it could bring two MPs into Parliament if Mr Craig can win an electorate. That remains a big "if". Mr Craig's unfashionable moral views present an easy target. But he appears to have learned from his initial mistakes. If he makes no more of them in the next few weeks he could well find National clearing a seat for him. The Prime Minister gave a broad hint on Newstalk ZB yesterday that an accommodation is likely.
Act, meanwhile, had 0.7 support in the poll taken last week, broadly the same support it had before its sole MP, John Banks, was found guilty of filing a false return for an Auckland mayoral election. If its nationwide party vote has not been damaged, nor probably are its prospects of holding Epsom.
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Act candidate David Seymour would be greatly assisted by the Labour Party if it issues a coded message to its supporters to vote for the National candidate. Nothing would be more certain to drive remaining voters for the National candidate into Act's arms. Epsom voters have demonstrated at successive elections that they understand strategic voting under MMP very well.
John Key says he will be straightforward in his signals this time. No more cups of tea, he will tell voters in certain electorates that if they want to re-elect the Government they should give their electorate vote to the partner he will name. The risk for National is that not all voters understand the respective weight of their two votes and some might give their party vote to the partner. If National comes tantalisingly close to 50 per cent on election day, it might wonder what might have been had it not diverted some of its vote.
But history suggests it will get no closer than the 47.3 per cent it won at the last election. No party in power has increased its vote at its third election in living memory. Election campaigns are exercises in partisan awakening. Labour will put all its efforts into motivating voters who usually support it but did not vote last time. They are those who, by nature and background, never vote National but see no reason at present to change the Government. They might tell pollsters they would vote National but doing so is a different matter. If Labour can get them to a ballot box, habit can do the rest.
They will ensure that Labour does better than the 30 per cent it has been receiving in polls. But this close to an election, Labour should be doing better. It is not offering a leader and a team that looks ready to govern. David Cunliffe's hope of lifting its vote to 40 per cent or more looks impossible in the 95 days remaining. Unwavering polls reflect a wish for no change.
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