John Armstrong:

Why is John Key still riding high in the polls? Put it down to several factors. First, an understanding of and empathy with the New Zealand character and what is acceptable and not acceptable. His moderate conservatism is straight out of Sir Keith Holyoake's textbook.

Key's second priceless asset is his finely-honed political instinct in which he has the sense to trust - even when receiving advice to the contrary. Few leaders who have spent six years in the job would have their feet still firmly planted on the ground. He is never aloof. Nor arrogant. He does not talk down to people. He can laugh at himself.

Key takes nothing for granted. Few other leaders would read polling data as avidly and earnestly as him. He also watches his opponents like a hawk. Behind the easy, ever-present smile is a very sharp intellect which can absorb copious amounts of detail - and then regurgitate it months later when circumstances demand.


With the equally unflappable Bill English alongside him, Key has projected calm and purpose in dealing with some of the biggest crises faced by a New Zealand PM. That has brought huge reward from voters. Key puts major emphasis on improving the things that really matter to ordinary people rather than the here-today, gone-tomorrow issues which titillate the fickle inhabitants within the Beltway.

Key's affable nature is not a false front to be worn solely for public consumption. But it does disguise the other John Key - the one driven by ambition.

His public persona neither exhibits nor exudes any of that. Labour severely underestimated him - and is still paying the price.

John Armstrong is Herald political correspondent.
Claire Trevett: Give him a hat, and he'll put it on, put on the music and he'll dance, give him a microphone and he'll sing. John Key can be a buffoon. In fact, sometimes he goes out of his way to be a buffoon. There is a very good reason for that, and it shows in the polls every month.

His show of a good-natured, even-tempered, self-deprecating personality is one of his most potent weapons. It makes him seem approachable, and that helps explain why his personal ranking is so high above his party's popularity. It also blurs the fact that he is wealthier and more powerful than most voters. If his Government is having a hard time, the next time he gives a speech he'll get in a self-mocking joke about it, a tactic that simultaneously acknowledges the headache it is causing him while getting across the message that it is not as major an issue as is being made out.

Counterbalancing that is his eloquence on the economy. His grasp of that is critical to engendering trust in voters.

His political antennae are finely tuned - and if they pick up something the voters don't like, he'll call out "abracadabra" and make it disappear.

His sense of humour is his most underestimated asset. Voters get bored of leaders - it is one of the most corrosive factors on their popularity. Only tyrants and comedians can slow the process of that boredom. Labour cannot abide it, and that alone shows how powerful Key's persona is.

If it was not aware of that, Labour would not devote quite so much of its time deriding him for it.

Claire Trevett is Herald deputy political editor.
Liam Dann: As the Bill Clinton campaign slogan said: it's the economy, stupid.

People vote with their pockets even when they are complaining about myriad other issues.

Of course, in theory the economy is stuffed.

What seems to be confounding many on the political left is that they are getting so little traction from what are clearly difficult times.

Factory closures, receiverships and job cuts are a regular feature of the news. The dollar is too high, and exporters are hurting.

But take a look at the flip side of this grim scenario. Interest rates are at record lows, every time a mortgage holder heads back to the bank they walk away with a better deal.

Meanwhile the value of house prices is still rising.

Inflation is also low and the high dollar keeps import prices low.

It is a good time to be a consumer.

No one wants to say it out loud, but for a big chunk of middle New Zealand - homeowners with some job security - these are relatively benign times.

Ironically, if the economy starts to grow faster the Government will come under more pressure as rising interest rates and inflation start to put the squeeze on household budgets.

Liam Dann is Herald business editor.