The Te Tai Tokerau byelection campaign has been given renewed urgency for Mana Party leader Hone Harawira after a poll that puts him and Labour candidate Kelvin Davis neck and neck.

In the Native Affairs Baseline poll of Te Tai Tokerau voters, 41 per cent said they would vote for Mr Harawira and 40 per cent for Mr Davis if the byelection was held now.

The Maori Party's candidate, Solomon Tipene - who entered the race late and made some blunders in the first week of his campaign - was well back on 15 per cent.

The survey of 508 voters screened on Maori TV's Native Affairs last night during a live debate between the three main candidates - the first time all of them had fronted together.

Mr Harawira, who quit Parliament to seek a new mandate under the Mana banner, has been widely expected to hold on to the seat he won for the Maori Party with a 6308-vote majority against Mr Davis in 2008, and the poll result has come as a surprise.

Mr Davis - a first-term list MP - is now more widely known and although Mr Tipene polled well below the other two, his support was significant enough to indicate that his candidacy is damaging Mr Harawira's prospects by splitting the vote.

Yesterday, Mr Davis said the poll was encouraging, but he was aware the only poll that counted was on June 25.

Mr Harawira said he had questions about the accuracy of the result given it was conducted by landline. Many Te Tai Tokerau voters had only cellphones because of rental costs, so the poll method effectively disadvantaged the poor voters in the electorate.

He said Mana Party polling placed him safely ahead. But he took the Native Affairs poll as a sign not to be complacent.
Mr Harawira said he was perplexed by some of the results, including the question of trust.

"I find that difficult to understand. I know that people trust me to be honest, trust me to speak up and trust me to fight for them when the chips are down."

Mr Tipene said he was not surprised by his low result, because Mr Harawira and Mr Davis were well known and had been campaigning for longer than he had.

The poll also showed Mr Harawira was perceived as knowing the needs of local people better, but Mr Davis was generally considered more trustworthy. When asked about personal characteristics, 50 per cent said Mr Davis could be trusted, compared with 38 per cent for Mr Harawira. But 57 per cent thought Mr Harawira knew the needs of local people, compared with 43 per cent for Mr Davis. Mr Harawira was also considered to have more personality - 66 per cent
associated him with "lots of personality", compared with 26 per cent for Mr Davis.

The poll showed the Maori Party's support had also held up reasonably well in the electorate since Mr Harawira resigned. There is no party vote in a byelection, but 25 per cent of those polled said that in a general election they would give their party vote to the Maori Party.

The Maori Party's coalition with National was also not as strongly opposed as some observers might have expected - 57 per cent of the Mana and Maori Party supporters polled said they would prefer a coalition with Labour, compared to 28 per cent who preferred National.

Of all those polled, almost three-quarters said they would prefer their electorate MP to work alongside the main governing party, whichever party it was, rather than going it alone.

Prime Minister John Key and Labour leader Phil Goff have ruled out working with a Hone Harawira-led party in a future government.

The two other candidates in the byelection - Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party's Maki Herbert and OurNZ's Kelvyn Alps - secured 1 per cent support. The poll of 508 voters had a margin of error of 4.5 points.

- additional reporting: Yvonne Tahana