Shane Wairau is ready to take the plunge into a new era without a Labour Government.
At 34, the former Labour voter is now married with a 1-year-old son and working as business manager for a tourist bungy jump operation in Queenstown.
After years of loyalty, he's disillusioned.
"The Labour Party has been in that position for so long," he says. "Economists were predicting a slump in the economy and still we didn't seem prepared for it. It still happened. There was nothing to slow it down."
Perhaps it's "just my maturity changing" since he grew up in working-class Invercargill, he says. "Maybe my parents influenced me." But now he's leaning towards National.
From Cape Reinga to Fiordland, there's a similar mood for change among 600 voters questioned by the Weekend Herald this month.
One in every six (88) of the 510 who stated clear leanings at this stage of the campaign were new voters for National - 54 of them switching from Labour, 15 new young voters, nine new immigrants, six from other parties, two who did not vote last time, one returning New Zealander and one whose 2005 vote was unclear.
By contrast, only 34 people, or one in every 15, were new voters for Labour - only four of them switching from National, plus 16 new young voters, four new immigrants, seven from other parties, two who didn't vote last time and one returning New Zealander.
Wairau's concerns are typical of middle New Zealand: interest rates, crime and the struggling health system.
"I'm a homeowner here in Queenstown, which is an expensive place to have a house," he says. The boom town's average selling price in August was $570,533, compared with $503,026 in Auckland.
Three-year fixed mortgage rates have dropped from a peak averaging 9.6 per cent in April to a range between 8.4 and 8.9 per cent since the Reserve Bank cut half a per cent off the official cash rate on September 11, but on a half-million-dollar house that's still a frightening amount of money.
"In this town those small percentages have huge outcomes. I know families who are leaving Queenstown because they can't afford to stay because of only one income," Wairau says.
He is still there only because his wife is a preschool teacher, which allows her to take their toddler to work.
Crime is not so bad in Queenstown. Wairau worries about it "more as a national issue - I was just watching the [news report about the] two policemen shot".
However, he says having a child changes one's view on health issues.
Before his son came along, he had looked into health insurance and rejected it. That's changed now. "I have no doubt we are going to have health insurance, it's the only way to be with a dependant. I feel like I'm being held over a barrel but I can't get away from it."
Wairau is impressed with National's leader: "I like John Key. He's a self-made man. He hasn't come from an area where he was groomed for this. He did his work, paid his dues. If anyone can go from a state house to being significantly well off, that actually gives you respect, as opposed to people who walk into a job because Mum and Dad have hooked them up. He must be smart.
"And as far as business goes, I think he's got a better business mind than Helen Clark has. Helen Clark may have a good relationship with different people from different countries, but you can be a nice person and still get screwed over. I think John Key has a sharper view on business."
By the nature of a street poll, this survey was biased towards lower-income and younger people who are more likely to be in the streets than better-off voters who drive from home to their office carparks. This led to more party votes than phone-based polls have found for the Greens (8.4 per cent) and the Maori Party (4.8 per cent), and fewer for National.
But, like all recent phone polls, it still found National ahead of Labour by 44 per cent to 35 per cent. The others registering at least 1 per cent were New Zealand First (3 per cent), Act (2 per cent) and Jim Anderton's Progressives (1 per cent).
(Yesterday's Herald-DigiPoll put National on 51.4 per cent and Labour on 35.7 per cent. The Greens came in at 4.9 per cent, New Zealand First 2.8 per cent and the Maori Party 1.9 per cent. The DigiPoll gap between the two main parties was 15.7 points.)
Whichever way you count, a chunk of Labour voters is turning elsewhere.
Even lifetime party supporters like 60-year-old tour driver "Hoppy" Hopwood, interviewed at Cape Reinga, are straying from the faith - in his case because a recent takeover of the tour company he works for saw the drivers' wages slashed because of higher fuel prices. Colleague Barry Meredith, 49, says his pay dropped $300 a week.
"It shouldn't be so dollar-driven. They've all got greedy," Meredith says.
"We're going to have to work till we drop because we can't afford to retire," adds Hopwood. "We're all in the drivers' union. They [the employers] offered us 1.5 per cent. We wouldn't accept it, so we haven't had a pay rise.
"I usually support Labour, but I'll probably go with National. With a bit of luck we'll get rid of the Prime Minister."
Mark Savage, 47, also a driver, from Tokerau Beach in the Far North, is staying with Labour: "It's humming along ... better the devil you know than the devil you don't."
On the other hand, Otago farmer Tim Tayler is sticking with National, saying it supports the primary producer, and Labour is a government for the workers.
More in keeping with the country's mood, two Invercargill retailers in their 50s who give their names as Caroline and Heather feel abandoned by their party.
"Labour is supposed to be a family-oriented party, but taxes have gone up, it's harder for young people to get a house. Two of my children live in Australia," says Caroline.
"My father is 90. He's been a Labour man all his life. He is lost. He doesn't know who to give his vote to."
Heather, whose only child has also gone to Australia, says: "I've been a Labour person all my life and I'm absolutely lost. It really hurts me and I almost feel like not voting - and I used to go out and canvass for Labour."
The mood for change sweeps from low-income suburbs such as Manukau's Clendon, where 18-year-old hairdressing student Ashley Kumeroa is voting National because she resents paying taxes for people who are "fit enough to work but decide to stay home", to comfortable Half Moon Bay, where 31-year-old mother-of-two Janet Corbett is switching from Labour to National.
"I just feel it's time for a change," she says, with one eye on 19-month-old son Declan at the local playcentre.
"The things that affect me are children's things - things that Labour has promised haven't really happened." Family issues matter too for Marleen Cleyndert, 40, of Bucklands Beach, who has come to NZ from Holland with her Kiwi husband and is leaning towards National: "I look at it from my children's point of view and I rate [NZ] very good - the fact that things are very family-orientated ... I think I would go for National unless someone in that party does something outrageous, but I should have a close look at who they group together with to make sure that's the right choice."
The desire for change feels softer than in the previous three elections when incumbent Governments were tossed out, in 1984, 1990 and 1999. In all those years there was a bitterness, and a sense of betrayal among traditional party supporters, that is largely absent this year - Caroline and Heather notwithstanding.
Susan Hainsworth, 36, a blood technician in Palmerston North, sums up the predominant feeling: "I think National has become more central and I just think we need a change from the same-old, same-old."
Student Landi Engelbrecht, 17, year 13 student at Bethlehem College, Tauranga, would vote National: "It's bad that the minor parties have more say than the majority of the people ... There have been some good things from Labour in the last few years but I think this country needs a change and National would be the next party to do it."
Or take Wellington doctor Grant Cave, also switching to National at 36: "Economic stewardship seems to have gone reasonably well with the Labour Government, so I'm hoping they [National] don't change a lot. I wouldn't mind a slight shift to the right in social policy, but not a hell of a lot."
Instead, many voters this year simply have a healthy democratic instinct that no Government should take power for granted.
"I think the Government has got too arrogant in the way they force everything down our throats," says Rodney Thurlow, 38, a Rotorua sawmill scheduler and father of a baby born in May.
As before the last two elections, the Weekend Herald began every interview by asking people to rate the state of the nation on "the things that matter most" on a seven-point scale between "excellent" and "awful".
In 2002, 49 per cent opted for one of the top three options, "excellent", "very good" or "good".
In 2005, when we boasted the lowest unemployment in the world, this proportion rose slightly to 52 per cent.
This year, with the nation in recession and the world's financial system in meltdown, those picking "good" or better have dropped to 35 per cent.
Despite all the gloomy headlines, this survey found a very mixed economy. Anything connected with the building industry is suffering badly _ down 30 per cent at the Rotorua sawmill where Thurlow works. But dairying areas such as Southland, where 100 sheep farms have converted to dairy in the past year alone, are booming.
In Hamilton, bar manager Joe Te Paa, 26, says: "They say there's a recession on. I haven't really noticed it in the bar. Turnover is up 20 per cent from last year."
Nevertheless, worries associated with the cost of living, low wages and the exodus of people to Australia are the biggest single driver of votes away from Labour, mentioned by 134 people.
No one expects miracles, but people are looking for some relief, whether through tax cuts, family assistance, higher pensions or benefits or the kind of low-interest loans that helped many of today's older voters into their first homes decades ago.
"Everything's going up. No one's getting any wage increases," says Onehunga mechanic Graeme Wedding, 54, who is voting National for the first time since the Muldoon era in the 1970s.
"I always thought Labour was supposed to look after the working people, but they're not. I think they could have given us some relief on our fuel instead of taking a percentage of the increase."
Samoa-born Malae Shaw, 34, crossed the Tasman three years ago with her husband and two children and received Australia's A$4000 "baby bonus" (now A$5000, or NZ$6118) when their third child was born last year. After time with relatives in Porirua, the family is heading back to Sydney.
"We are entitled to more than A$700 ($858) a fortnight with three children," she says. The same family on the NZ average wage would get family assistance of $452 a fortnight after October 1 in this country.
"We will never come back," Shaw says. "It's sad because I was brought up here. My parents are here, they are not going to move, if anything they will go back to the islands."
A few days later in the Mangere Town Centre, several Pacific Island families are visiting from Australia. Self-employed screenprinter Johnny Disco, 36, says there's "a whole migration of all people of PI races because they can't afford to stay here".
Low-income Maori communities are being hollowed out too. At Te Kao, just south of Cape Reinga, 37-year-old Josephine Everitt says people looking for work now go to Australia rather than Auckland: "Everyone is still going to Australia for better money."
Selina Abraham, who works at Te Hapua and is staying with Labour says: "Everything's going up except our wages - food prices, petrol prices. It's cheap [living here] because there's not a lot of employment ... I worry about what our kids are going to grow up into. When I was at school, punishment was in. Now no one wants to be a teacher and the kids run the school."
Her remarks underline that crime is another issue which is costing Labour votes. It was mentioned by 121 people in this survey.
At Otara's Manukau Institute of Technology, instrument technician Daniel Webby, 18, tells how he rang the police for a mate who was "getting mugged". "They didn't come," he says.
He was a friend of Augustine Borrell, the 17-year-old stabbed to death at a Herne Bay party last year, and is angry the alleged killer has been under house arrest instead of in jail.
In Christchurch, a grandmother pushing her grandchild in a pushchair around a suburban mall declines to give her name because she was "home-invaded, bashed and robbed the week before last". "I haven't been able to stay in my own home since then," she says. "Psychologically, I'm terrified at night. It's life-changing."
Back at Manukau's Botany Town Centre, South African immigrants Emile and Sam Cupido, 25 and 23, had their car stolen recently, something that had never happened to them in South Africa. They are giving National their first votes in this country.
"John Key is a businessman. A small country like this could be run like a business," Emile says.
"He could lead this place forward if he's willing to give harder sentences for people that are committing crime."
It's a common refrain from almost everyone who mentions the crime issue.
"I want to see which party will be the toughest," says busy Te Puke cafe worker Bernie Stasiewicz, 51.
"They should harden up the prisons - less internet and underground heating and three-course meals," chimes in pregnant Telecom call-centre worker Maree Ragg, 28, relaxing in the lunchtime sun in Christchurch.
Well behind living costs and crime, our struggling health system worries voters too, mentioned by 60 people.
Bucklands Beach mother Kristin Leach, 32, and her husband have decided to take out health insurance after friends found there was an 18-month waiting list to get grommets for a baby with glue ear.
"We don't want to risk that," she says.
Carolyn Swanson, 56, a rural mail agent in Christchurch, has been on the urgent list for three years for a foot operation. "I've always been a Labour voter, but I'm thinking otherwise."
Finally, welfare is the fourth big issue driving voters, mentioned negatively by 30 people.
Said Whakatane farmer Don Pamment: "There are too many no-hopers around, too much unemployment -_ a lot of guys that are not willing to work. They're getting paid not to work. I think they should be looking at putting people into work more."
Many of those leaning towards National, like Mangere Bridge chicken-boner and mother-of-three Sandra Taratu, 43, are attracted by the policy to make sole parents work at least 15 hours a week when their youngest children turn 6.
"They [Labour] are paying all our tax on the beneficiaries - they should be working too," says Taratu, who has voted Labour all her life.
"Maybe I'll vote for National. They are going to get all the ones that are on the benefit to work."
How the survey works
This article, and others to follow next week, are based on 600 interviews from Cape Reinga to Fiordland, mainly in the streets, between September 2 and 21.
Everyone was shown a card saying, "On the things that matter most, I'd rate the current state of New Zealand as: 7/Excellent, 6/Very good, 5/Good, 4/Okay, 3/Poor, 2/Very poor, 1/Awful." People were then asked to explain why they made their choice.
They were also shown the reverse of the card, listing all 20 parties registered with the Electoral Commission as at September 2. They were asked which party they were thinking of giving their party vote to, and why.
Other questions about moral issues will be reported next week.
Interviews in Auckland (32 per cent), the rest of the North Island (41 per cent) and the South Island (27 per cent) reflected the voting populations in those regions. Women made up 51 per cent and men 49 per cent.
Europeans made up 72 per cent of the sample, Maori 14 per cent, Asians 7 per cent, Pacific people 6 per cent and others 1 per cent, all within 1 per cent of their numbers in the population.
The sample had the correct share of young voters under 30 (21 per cent). There were slightly too many people aged 30 to 49 (42 per cent, against 40 per cent in the voting-aged population), and slightly too few aged 50-plus (37 per cent against 39 per cent).
* Monday: Moral issues.