Exactly three years ago, the Conservative Party was riding high.

A poll on the eve of the 2014 election had shown it was on 4.7 per cent, placing leader Colin Craig and his party on the cusp of Parliament.

With millions of Craig's dollars to spend and populist policies like binding referenda, it eventually received just under 4 per cent of the vote and missed out on Parliament.

Three years on, the Conservatives are a spent force. The party hasn't registered in most mainstream polls during the campaign, peaking at 0.3 per cent in the latest Newshub-Reid Research survey.


In a sign of its desperation, the party put out a press release this month celebrating that one of its candidates had picked up 28 per cent of the vote in poll of Manurewa High School students.

"It's obviously disappointing," leader Leighton Baker said. "We would have liked a bit more air, a bit more oxygen.

"But we've maintained a heavy social media presence. Where we've been able to present to people, we've got good traction and people like what we're saying."

The Conservatives are fielding 27 candidates this year and have a list of 12. One of the few positives is membership, which continues to grow.

The Conservatives' election manifesto remains largely the same as 2014, though it has softened its hard-line position on law and order and placed more emphasis on prevention and rehabilitation for youth offenders.

Because of its low polling, the party didn't make the cut for the minor leaders debates and received just $52,000 in the Electoral Commission's broadcasting allocation - only slightly more than minnows like the Ban1080 party and the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis party.

"Once you don't get air, it's very difficult to poll because no one knows about you," Baker said.

"The comment we get from a lot of people is 'We didn't know you guys were still around'."


Baker stood in the traditional battleground seat of Epsom, thinking it would get attention for the party.

"Unfortunately it hasn't been a battleground. None of the candidates are actually pushing for the candidate vote - only Act."

The Conservatives imploded in mid-2015 after Craig, the party's founder and main backer, resigned amid allegations of inappropriate conduct towards his former press secretary Rachael MacGregor. The entire board quit, a new leader was not found for more than a year, and the party has never recovered.

Craig no longer plays any role in the party and has stopped donating.

Without his money, the party has spent less than $100,000 on its campaign, mostly out of individual candidates' pockets, compared to $1.9m in 2014. It could only afford 100 billboards nationwide.

Baker said the party still has a future.

"This time around it was always about rebuilding. The previous election showed there was large support for Conservative-type views. I honestly believe that if we'd been given a fair amount of oxygen this time we would have made it over the line."