Just when it was beginning to look as if the only imponderable in this election campaign was whether John Banks would take Epsom and save the Act Party from extinction, a new poll suggests a change in the political wind. In Friday's Herald-DigiPoll, National had dipped below 50 per cent for the first time in this campaign.
Of even greater interest was the reappearance of NZ First on the political radar. In the Herald poll a week earlier, the party had been languishing at 1.7 per cent; this week, it was at 3.7 per cent. It might have been dismissed as a blip, but the One News/Colmar Brunton poll the previous evening and a Roy Morgan poll released on Friday showed similar trends.
This is way beyond anomaly: if TV3's next results, announced tonight, agree with those three, it will be a minor seismic shift and the prospect of NZ First's making it back into the House on the strength of its party vote will look like something other than a fevered fantasy.
The inevitable question has to be why support for Winston Peters - who is inseparable from the NZ First brand - should have started climbing.
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As politicians staring at defeat are fond of saying, the only poll that counts is the one on election day and many voters change their answers to poll questions when faced with the ballot paper. It is more than possible that some of the support for Peters has been from people wanting to send a message to someone else: to tell John Key that he shouldn't count on the unbridled power of an absolute majority; to tell Labour it doesn't look like a credible Opposition, never mind a Government; to tell Act to go away.
Certainly, Peters and NZ First have done little to deserve any rise in support on their merits. He's promised cheaper doctor visits and motor registration for his grizzled fan base and plans to extend the discounts to Super Gold Card holders. People other than pensioners may wonder whether giving the pensioners more free outings to Waiheke should be on the agenda when the economy is tanking but as Peters knows better than anyone, talk is cheap.
And voters would need particularly short memories or a particularly forgiving nature to overlook Peters' political past. The man who has always stoutly refused to signal his post-election intentions - it is for voters, not politicians, to decide the makeup of Governments, he would growl - now says he will come to an arrangement with no other party, but sit on the Opposition benches.
Yet it is worth wondering how reliable such a promise is. This is the man who, in 1996, campaigned on a platform of getting rid of the National Government and then joined National in a coalition, and in 2005, said he would spurn the baubles of office, and took the Foreign Affairs portfolio in a Labour-led administration.
He has fallen out with every party he has ever made an arrangement with and contributed enormously to the disenchantment that some voters have felt with MMP. And even when he has been caught out - as with the grubby Owen Glenn donation saga - he has attempted to paint himself as the victim of a media witch-hunt rather than of his own narcissistic and manipulative style.
On present indications, National could easily form a Government, and John Key has made it plain that he wants nothing to do with the man. It is worth wondering what Peters offers when he tells the electorate that his highest aspiration is to sit in opposition. At times like these, the country needs a breadth of vision and a desire to contribute - not simply a promise to be a publicly funded detractor of everyone else.