Two polls have been released in the last 24 hours - a Colmar Brunton poll by One News and a Digipoll by the Herald. They agree on certain things, and disagree on others.
What they agree on is that Labour are polling in their 20s and National (rounded) is at 50 to 53 per cent.
Where they disagree is over the level of support for NZ First. The ONCB poll has them at under three per cent, and the NZHDP at just under five per cent.
We will find out next week, which scenario eventuates - NZ First making five per cent, or falling short. If NZ First makes five per cent, then there is a reasonable chance Peters will hold the balance of power. His caucus will defer to him absolutely.
This means that Winston Peters will decide who gets to be Prime Minister of New Zealand for the third time out of six MMP elections. In 1996 he chose Jim Bolger over Helen Clark, in 2005 he chose Helen Clark over Don Brash and if he holds the balance of power in 2011, make no mistake he will choose Phil Goff over John Key, and there will be a Government that can only pass a law if it can get the Greens, Winston, Hone, and the Maori Party to all agree to it.
Winston's history with choosing Prime Ministers and his pre-election utterances is well established by now. He spent most of 1996 railing against Jim Bolger and the National Government. He was careful though never to explicitly rule them out - he just made everyone think he had.
In 2005 he said NZ First would give confidence and supply to the largest party, and refuse to be part of any Government, saying they will refuse the baubles of office. He then went on to become Foreign Minister.
In 2011, he has left masses of wriggle room. He has not pledged to allow the largest party to govern. He has merely said they should be able to first try and form a Government. That may mean he'll talk to them for ten minutes before he picks up the phone and makes Phil Goff Prime Minister.
Many New Zealanders, unaware of how MMP works in practice, will be shocked. They'll say how can the guy who leads his party to a massive defeat, getting (for example) 6% less support than they got when thrown out in 2008, end up Prime Minister?
But this is a design feature of MMP, not a defect. MMP will more often than not require minor parties to decide after the election who will be Prime Minister. Sometimes their preferences will be known before the election, sometimes they will not be.
So what will be the impact of these polls showing that for a third time, Winston Peters may get to decide who will be Prime Minister? The first impact will be in Epsom I suspect.
Again polls have shown a certain reluctance for National voters to tactically vote for ACT. I speak often to many National supporters in Epsom. To a person, they all want National to have a coalition partner to the right (economically) of National. The debate is whether ACT in its crippled state is worth saving, or whether you do the humane thing and put it to sleep with some electoral euthanasia, allowing a new party to arise phoenix like from the ashes.
The prospect of Winston Peters installing Phil Goff as Prime Minister should be sufficient to resolve that debate. If they do not vote for John Banks, then a change of Government becomes significantly more likely.
The other vote which may be affected is the electoral system referendum. As most of the country groans as Peters rises in the polls, the Vote for Change lobby group celebrates as this is the focus of their campaign against MMP. They will argue with passion in the final week that people should vote for change on 26 November, as this will then allow New Zealanders to have a second binding referendum in 2014 on whether or not to keep MMP or swap to the preferred alternative. Many New Zealanders may look at the potential outcomes of the election and think that they wish to see the outcome of this election, before making a final decision on MMP. Only a vote for change will allow that, Vote for Change points out.
I will be voting for change on 26 November, but will not be voting in Part B for the Supplementary Member or SM system, as promoted by Vote for Change. I agree with the Campaign for MMP that this system (as defined in the referendum) is closer to FPP than it is to MMP, and I think FPP is part of the past, not the future.
My vote will be for the Single Transferable Vote or STV system. Like MMP, STV is a proportional system but it means all MPs get directly elected by the people. You don't have (for example) half a dozen people whom no-one has ever heard of or voted for, coming in on the NZ First party list. Under STV, they have to win election in their own right. It is the system of choice by the UK Electoral Reform Society and the Proportional Representation Society of Australia.
MMP is perfect for demagogues such as Peters. He selects who will be on his party list, and they become MPs based on his personal popularity, despite the fact 99% of New Zealanders could not tell you who the top six candidates on his list are. Their loyalty is purely to him, not to the New Zealand public.
STV will still deliver broadly proportional results, but candidates will have to actually be someone whom voters rank high enough with their ballots, to elect to Parliament. This should result in a significant improvement of the quality of candidates, if there is no backdoor through a party list.