Both polls out this week have hinted that Labour might be able to govern alone after the election. It's a long shot. No party has managed it in the 24 years of MMP. But, don't dispel the idea altogether for two reasons. The first is the Greens. The second is New Zealand First.
One poll this week ranks Labour's chances of going it alone better than the other. Newshub-Reid Research has the party on 61 per cent. 1News Colmar Brunton puts Labour on 53 per cent. Unfortunately for Labour, it will know the latter poll is likely closer to the truth, given it is closer to both parties' internal polling. The Reid Research poll looks like an outlier. So Labour is there, but only just.
This brings us to the Greens. In both the polls, they're right on the cusp of missing out on Parliament - especially if they lose their traditional overseas vote to Jacinda Ardern's international celebrity profile. But, I'd wager they will be fine on the night. They have educated and connected voters who are likely to spot danger and come to the party's rescue. Assuming the gap narrows between National and Labour - which it probably will - the most likely scenario for government right now looks like Labour plus the Greens.
A Labour-Green government will scare a lot of centre-right voters. As mainstream as the Greens have become to some, to others they're still the party of fruity ideas. They're the party pushing marijuana legalisation, killing off Taranaki's oil and gas industry, and promoting a wealth tax. They will likely repel some farmers who feel attacked by the party over decades and also wealthier Kiwis who don't like the look of that tax.
So what might those voters do when faced with the likelihood of a Labour-Greens coalition?
They might vote for Labour. It may sound strange to give votes to one half of the combination you want to avoid, but the thinking here will be to give Labour enough numbers to ensure they don't need the Greens.
This isn't a strategy dreamt up by a columnist looking for an amusing mental exercise. I've had this pitched to me from within the farming and business community more than once. It's a plausible scenario. After a couple of decades of MMP and its "cups of tea", New Zealand voters are accustomed to the idea of tactical voting. We are also mobile voters now: gone are the days of being firmly and forever Blue or Red. And all it would require for the idea to gain traction is a "cut out the middleman" message from Ardern.
The second reason Labour could govern alone is NZ First. Or more accurately, NZ First's wasted vote. Poll watchers estimate the party might reach 3 per cent. Add that to the rest of the wasted vote and Labour only needs 47 or 48 per cent go it alone. The higher Winston Peters climbs without getting in, the lower Labour's threshold. Getting to 47 per cent isn't impossible for Labour with a leader as popular as Ardern. National reached this number in 2014, helped by the popularity of John Key. It was one seat away from governing alone.
Having said all that - read this as a huge disclaimer - a lot will change between now and the election. Never write off Peters, especially when he's hired the "bad boys" of Brexit and all their campaign tricks. Don't underestimate Judith Collins. Don't overestimate the Greens' support base. Don't ignore Labour's ability to score own goals or the public's willingness to forgive the Prime Minister for her team's failures.
Don't assume Labour will govern alone. Don't assume they won't.