There is more bad news for National in the latest public poll, and little sense that the party can turn things around with less than a week until voting starts, Sam Sachdeva writes

Momentum can be fickle in politics: so hard to gain, but so easily lost.

Heading into a new week, National leader Judith Collins may have hoped to make the most of a decent showing in the first leaders’ debate and press the case that the October 17 election is not yet a fait accompli for Labour.

Instead, she has found herself looking at another set of poll numbers that, while hardly shocking, make it clear just how unlikely a surge to success really is.

The latest Newshub-Reid Research poll has National on 29.6 percent – on the wrong side of 30 percent, let alone the 35 percent threshold Collins set for herself during her unsuccessful 2018 leadership bid.

Meanwhile, Labour is looking down on its rival from the dizzying heights of 50.1 percent, with an absolute majority in sight even if it drops a couple of points between now and election day.

Looking purely at the change since Newshub’s last poll, National could argue the numbers were actually in its favour – up 4.5 points, with Labour down almost 11.

But that would require a rose-tinted view of the figures beyond even Collins at her most campaign-trail chipper.

After all, the prior poll dated back to arguably National’s lowest point in over a decade: the immediate aftermath of Todd Muller’s ill-fated and short-lived stint as leader, with Collins just having taken the reins of a party in disarray.

Those mid-July numbers – Labour over 60 percent, and National barely past 25 percent – were seen as a possible outlier at the time, and while the latest figures provide some further evidence to support that, they offer scant solace for Collins.

Closing a gap of between 17 points (1 News’ most recent poll) and 20 points (Newshub’s numbers) in less than three weeks is improbable in the extreme.

National is stuck playing defence rather than taking the attack to Labour.

Even that would probably not be enough: advance voting starts on Saturday, with the number of votes cast before “polling day” itself expected to be higher than ever before.

Some of the other cards that would need to fall in National’s favour are also looking increasingly unlikely to be drawn.

The Greens seem to have stabilised on the right side of the five percent threshold after James Shaw’s Green School saga (at 6.5 percent in Newshub’s poll), while Labour’s other coalition partner New Zealand First shows little sign of lifting from its slump (on just 1.9 percent).

Were both parties to fall – just – below the five percent threshold, the relatively high wasted vote could offer a route for National and ACT to win a parliamentary majority while staying some way south of 50 percent.

But even though the Greens and New Zealand First have tended to slightly under-perform and over-perform their pre-election polls respectively, it’s hard to see such a scenario coming to pass in the current environment.

More importantly, National is stuck playing defence rather than taking the attack to Labour.

The party is still facing questions over the arithmetic in its fiscal plan, a particularly damaging state of affairs given Collins has sought to make the economy a primary focus for the election, while ACT leader David Seymour is seeking to peel away yet more right-wing voters disillusioned with National’s direction.

It’s hard to see any circuit-breaker checking Labour’s ascendancy and giving National a chance to dictate the public debate – and without that, this election is as good as done.

Sam Sachdeva is Newsroom's national affairs editor, covering foreign affairs and trade, housing, and other issues of national significance.

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