It’s a pity of the two Chrises, Chris Hipkins is not the religious one. With less than three weeks to go before early voting starts, it already looks like the only thing that can save his party and government are prayers and miracles.
Of course, anything can happen in an election campaign. Anything. But Labour and National are now separated by 14 points - with Labour on 26.8 per cent and National on 40.9 per cent in tonight’s Newshub-Reid poll.
Even a 13 point rise of “Jacindamania” proportions (measured from former Labour leader Andrew Little’s last poll to the election result) would still see Labour polling about where National is now. A shift of that magnitude would need to come mainly at the right’s (rather than the Greens’) expense for Labour to be competitive again.
The Ardern comparison is apt. The last time Labour polled this low in the Newshub-Reid poll Little was leader.
Tonight’s poll was just the latest of a string of terrible prints that have put Labour on track to break a record in the MMP era. Fresh from winning 50 per cent of the vote in 2020, becoming the most popular party in the MMP era, Labour looks set to follow that record with a rather more ignominious one, the lowest polling of a major party after a stint in Government.
Its 26.8 per cent in the Newshub-Reid Research poll tonight is lower than the next worst performance by a government: 30.5 per cent from the Jenny Shipley-led National Party in 1999.
Something staggering has happened in the last year and it’s not clear that anyone has fully grasped it.
Labour and the left more generally were polling competitively as recently as April and May, both recording numbers you would expect from an incumbent government in its second term (particularly if you factor in the Greens, which brings “the left” close to where “the right” was under National).
Since then, that lead has evaporated. Labour’s unpopularity has now become historic.
Hipkins appeared to be putting on a brave face today, as he fronted for his obligatory poll interviews with Newshub. He must feel unlucky. His party’s polling slump began after his string of departing ministers became too much for voters to ignore.
The big slumps began after minister Michael Wood resigned in June, followed by fellow minister Kiri Allan in July. The other contributing factor to the poll slump is economic malaise that can only partly be blamed on the Government - most of it came from offshore.
Hipkins, it has to be said, has had the most rotten luck of any recent prime minister.
That luck is only getting worse on the campaign as we see that for all Christopher Luxon’s flaws as a politician (his recent Q+A train wreck is a good example of this), he is a strong campaigner, and a master of the 10-second conversation.
Hipkins, while appearing like a competent and normal human in more traditional political settings like Parliament and broadcast interviews, appears stilted and awkward when pretending to be normal in public. The campaign, alas for Hipkins, is showing up his flaws and Luxon’s strengths.
Things will get worse tomorrow, with the release of the Pre-election Economic Fiscal Update forecasts from Treasury, which are likely to show a gloomy outlook both for the Government’s finances and the economy at large, ideal mood music for the centre-right.
No election can be written off as a foregone conclusion.
It’s worth remembering that small changes in the margins of multiple parties can have a large impact on a bloc’s ability to form a government.
Recent polling has shown Labour’s governing partner, the Greens’ vote stabilise and even increase (which will no doubt have some in Labour scratching their heads over the wealth tax call. Expect this to be a major faultline in the bloody scrap to succeed Hipkins should he lose the election).
Te Pāti Māori continues to poll well. The Greens have 16 seats on this poll, their largest caucus in history, while Te Pāti Māori would bring in four MPs.
Meanwhile Act is having its first real crisis since its 2020 surge, losing five candidates recently. National’s other possible coalition partner is NZ First, which is not in Parliament on tonight’s poll, but is over 5 per cent on others.
Even so, 12 seats separate the right bloc from the left - seven would need to be exchanged from right to left for Labour to cling to power.
It’s not yet impossible, but it’s looking less likely by the day.
Thomas Coughlan is Deputy Political Editor and covers politics from Parliament. He has worked for the Herald since 2021 and has worked in the press gallery since 2018.