As the election campaign enters the critical six-week countdown, it has become more interesting and possibly more even.
As far as most voters are concerned, it may be too late for voter appeals. Many may have made up their minds for various reasons and would not be open to being swayed.
Still, with the polls generally showing a tight race and a National/Act coalition with an advantage, the parties are chasing anyone still persuadable, or having second thoughts, or trying to decide which side is the better fit for them.
In a speech on Sunday, Labour leader and Prime Minister Chris Hipkins, tried to apply pressure on his centre-right rivals with his own framing of what’s at stake.
He ruled out working with New Zealand First and its leader Winston Peters after the election with a sprinkling of “C”-words. Hipkins called Peters and his party a “force of instability and chaos” and a National/Act/NZ First government one of “cuts, chaos and confusion” and a “coalition of fear”.
National had called Labour/the Greens/Te Pāti Māori a “coalition of chaos” earlier in the campaign at a time it might have seemed an apt description to many voters because of high-profile failures by ministers.
Hipkins’ choice to throw his opponents’ favourite jab creates a comparison between the coalitions and invites voters to consider which one might be more stable.
It draws attention to the potential for each side to be a three-piece, highlighting tensions between Act and NZ First, and some recent political stumbles on the right.
Hipkins is also making a leadership contrast between himself and National leader Christopher Luxon, who hasn’t ruled out working with NZ First.
Luxon, in his return serve, tried to influence perceptions of his rival saying: “It is incredibly sad that Chris Hipkins has decided to go so personal and so negative.”
“I understand it because he has no record to run on - he has no ideas to take the country forward. Chris Hipkins is really desperate, and it’s sad to see. We’ve got a positive plan to take New Zealanders forward.”
Peters said NZ First had previously ruled out working with Labour “because of their racist separatist policies”.
Both sides paint the other as a source of divisiveness in the country and, interestingly, Hipkins’ speech focused on the culture wars as an “imported” debate.
While policies are important, some voters are more moved to support one party or another on emotional values and identity. What they stand for.
Hipkins mentioned women’s right to choose; co-governance; and transgender battles as he sought to present Labour approaches as more in tune with the electorate - and tried to keep supporters inside the party’s tent.
On NZ First, he said: “I just don’t see any compatibility with my vision for an inclusive, progressive and prosperous society.”
He said the centre-right grouping “holds a compilation of views I think would alienate large sections of our society”. And he summed it up as: “Kiwis deserve to know who they are voting for, what their bottom lines are”.
The closer the election looms the more appeals there will be about who to vote against with turnout so crucial.