Ouch. The latest poll showing Labour slipping down into the 20s after playing an ace card will make for some very nervous and frustrated Labour MPs heading into caucus on Tuesday morning.
Labour’s drop down four points to 29 per cent in the 1News Verian poll makes the ground very unstable under Labour’s feet. It is their worst result since before Jacinda Ardern became leader in 2017. In short, it will feel very much like the chance of a third term is slipping away at pace.
National and Act are now well ahead of the Labour-Greens combo. National was on 37 per cent, up two and getting closer to that 40 per cent mark. Act was also up 1 to 13 per cent. On those numbers they would get a comfortable majority of 65 seats in Parliament. The Greens had picked up two and were on 12 per cent while NZ First was also up, on 4 per cent and Te Pāti Maori on 3 per cent.
Labour’s hopes that the announcement to take GST off fruit and vegetables would be enough to re-invigorate its flagging support have come to nought.
The poll was taken from August 12 to 16, starting the day after the GST announcement was made. Labour’s addition of partner leave to its paid parental leave package came on August 14.
Instead Labour has dropped – and Labour’s leader Chris Hipkins has taken a hit with it.
He is down three points as preferred Prime Minister to 21. While National’s leader, Christopher Luxon, has not risen from the 20 he sat on in July’s poll, there is now precious little between them.
That question has become not so much a question of who is most popular as who is least unpopular – and in that regard Hipkins has lost all his early advantage.
The pressure will really go on Hipkins now. Unlike 2017, Labour does not have a Hail Mary leader this time around unless Grant Robertson has another road-to-Damascus conversion and changes his mind.
Hipkins will still back himself in the head to head against Luxon on the campaign.
However, Hipkins’ trouble is that once the polling starts to slide, it is very difficult to reverse it. It is also very difficult to hold on to the discipline, unity and enthusiasm that are needed to reverse it.
A range of issues will be behind the drop: no government can face into the blizzard of soaring inflation for long without being punished, and voters may also be punishing Labour for its string of internal woes.
This poll also indicates the GST policy was seen as an attempt to offer something that looked more generous than it was, purely for the sake of votes. National had done a very good job of discrediting it before it was even announced.
It was not so much pork barrel as broccoli barrel but voters are clearly not convinced that 25 cents off a turnip is worth it. Although it was coupled with boosts to Working for Families, there is precious little political capital to wring out of Working for Families any more.
It’s not quite home and hose for National and Act yet. So far, Labour’s attempts to discredit National’s policies and claim it will cut services to pay for tax cuts have had little impact.
However, the policies and Luxon’s leadership will come under increased scrutiny as the prospect of a National-Act government starts to look real.
Hipkins has made a fair few captain’s calls so far. He will face tough questions from his caucus about how he intends to turn things around and get Labour back into contention.
He will be asking himself the same question. If he comes up with an answer, he can only hope the voters will still be listening.
Claire Trevett is the NZ Herald’s political editor, based at Parliament in Wellington. She started at the NZ Herald in 2003 and joined the Press Gallery team in 2007. She is a life member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery.