National has caught up with Labour in the popularity stakes, according to a poll.

A survey published yesterday in the Sunday Star-Times put Labour and National level with 32 per cent support.

New Zealand First, with 8 per cent, was the only other party to secure support above the MMP threshold of 5 per cent.

The survey comes after National Party leader Don Brash appeared to get widespread support for a speech last week attacking the Government's policies on Maori issues.

The poll covered 491 people and its margin of error was 5.3 per cent.

Because it was a snap poll, there are no previous surveys with which to compare it.

Mainstream polls have been giving Labour about 45 per cent, with National in the mid-20s.

Last year National set itself an initial target of 30 per cent as a foundation to build on between now and the next election.

The Government hasn't yet struck back on Dr Brash's speech, apart from a few acidic comments. When it does, it will probably argue that statistics prove Maori are not the same and that policies must reflect that.

Health Minister Annette King has already said that Maori die younger and generally have poorer health than non-Maori.

She said that what Dr Brash described as "race-based funding" was simply doing what he called for by dealing with people on the basis of their needs.

Maori responses to his speech have been damning, but National has not been attracting much support from Maori anyway.

Dr Brash listed four other key policy areas his party must deal with apart from the Maori issue. They are: narrowing the gap between our living standards and those of Australians; ensuring every child leaves school able to read and write; dealing firmly with crime, drugs, gangs and vandalism; and ending the "creeping paralysis" of welfare dependency.

- NZPA