Analysis: Every election there’s a debate over the accuracy of political polling, but they’re the best gauge of voter sentiment we’ve got. That caveat aside, Laura Walters takes a look at what the polls are projecting for the next Parliament
The polls are dishing up what could be quite a change in the Parliamentary landscape – more Labourites, fewer Nats, lots of friends for David Seymour, and quite probably no Winston Peters in sight.
Of course, the polls are just a snapshot in time, and New Zealand First and ACT have long-argued they aren’t a good reflection of what elections deliver for minor parties. (Though this election, Seymour has been less out-spoken about his dislike of polls – likely for obvious reasons.)
There are also variables around contested electorates, which could be further affected depending on the party vote on the night.
Putting the many unknowns and variables aside, a recent spate of public polling from the two main television networks (1 News-Colmar Brunton and Newshub-Reid Research) have painted a clear picture of Labour ahead, National behind, Greens back for another term, ACT gaining, and New Zealand First unlikely to return.
We’ll dig into the numbers a little more, but overall, the polls have settled about 50 percent for Labour, 30 percent for National, and the Greens and ACT a bit above 5 percent.
New Zealand First, the Māori Party and TOP are all looking unlikely to make it into Parliament on current polling (consistently well-below 5 percent).
And while there could be an electorate upset, such as Shane Jones taking Northland, or the Māori Party taking one of the Māori electorates (perhaps co-leader Debbi Ngarewa-Packer in Te Tai Hauāuru), this is not the scenario the polls are forecasting.
This will be a blow for New Zealand First – but not unexpected. Similarly, it’ll be devastating for a Māori Party that had revamped and re-energised after being ejected from Parliament in 2017.
“National will be decimated, and lose 12 to 15 MPs.”
In terms of the major parties, the latest 1 News Colmar-Brunton poll has Labour at 47 percent, giving them 59 seats – not quite enough to govern alone.
National was on 33 percent, giving them 43 MPs.
The Greens were returning a similar caucus, with 7 percent, or eight seats. And ACT was continuing with its notable rise to 8 percent, giving David Seymour a caucus of 10.
Some polls, including the latest Newshub-Reid Research poll, have Labour slightly higher, and still in a position where the party could govern alone.
MMP is yet to deliver a result that has seen a single party with the numbers to govern alone, and it’s unlikely to happen, but not out of the question.
Newsroom spoke to people with intimate knowledge of party polling for this piece, and while political commentator and former National Party staffer Ben Thomas thinks the most likely outcome is that Labour will be in a position to govern alone (by a slim margin), managing director of public affairs agency Capital Government Relations and former Labour Party chief of staff Neale Jones thinks Labour will need the Greens to form a coalition government.
Based on current polling, Labour would bring in up to 20 new MPs and National looks set to lose up to 15.
“That’s pretty devastating any way you look at it,” Jones said.
Thomas said National was looking down the barrel of a “decimated” caucus, and the new composition would tilt further towards the conservative end.
But some more liberal, high-performing MPs like Chris Bishop and Nicola Willis will survive.
While things weren’t looking great for the Nats, the smaller caucus and swing to the right would give ACT an opportunity to establish itself as a true liberal centre-right party, Thomas said.
The split between Labour and National remains large as the election edges closer, but Jones noted MMP elections were always close on the night, and in the end the gap between the centre-left and centre-right blocs would likely close as they had done before.
If the gap did close, that could present the scenario of a Labour-Greens coalition – as the latest 1 News poll predicted.
Regardless of the exact numbers, National will lose a chunk of MPs.
And while having a significantly smaller caucus will be a blow to National, very few sitting MPs would be likely to lose their seats. This is due to the recent spate of retirements and resignations.
But if National doesn’t perform well on the night, it will have very few list places available for new talent.
This was how parties usually brought in new talent, Jones said.
To add to the blow, if National did poll as low as 30 percent in the party vote on election day, it was also likely to lose some electorate seats.
Auckland Central, Nelson, Wairarapa, Whanganui and Hutt South are all ones to watch. Jones said even Northcote, Tukituki and the East Coast electorate could turn red.
And Labour would be looking to pick up provincial seats to send a signal that they were a party for all of New Zealand, not just the urban centres, he said.
Most of the MPs who held these seats which could flip from blue to red have either retired (Nikki Kaye and Alastair Scott) or are high enough on the list they will likely return to Parliament, such as Chris Bishop at number seven (Hutt South), and Nick Smith at number 18 (Nelson), and Harete Hipango at 21 (Whanganui). So not such a bad situation for sitting MPs – so far.
The position of National’s Dan Bidois (list number 43), could be in doubt if he were to lose Northcote to Labour’s Shanan Halbert.
Others lower down the list, or who were unlikely to win their electorates, Paulo Garcia (25), Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi (24), Parmjeet Parmar (27), Agnes Loheni (28), and Alfred Ngaro (30), and even Maureen Pugh (19), may also be in a precarious position.
For New Zealand First, most likely all nine MPs will go. That means: Winston Peters, Fletcher Tabuteau, Tracey Martin, Shane Jones, Ron Mark, Darroch Ball, Mark Patterson and Jenny Marcroft gone, plus the retiring Clayton Mitchell.
It’s not all bad for National. Retirements and resignations in party strongholds have left open the door for some new talent.
Paula Bennett’s Upper Harbour seat will go to Jake Bezzant, Amy Adams electorate of Selwyn will go to National candidate Nicola Grigg, and Nathan Guy’s retirement will most likely see Ōtaki go to Tim Costley.
Meanwhile, the resignations of Hamish Walker for leaking personal information of Covid-19 patients, and Andrew Falloon for inappropriate sexting will mean the vacated blue electorate seats of Southland and Rangitata will go to Joseph Mooney and Megan Hands, respectively.
Jones picked out former National Party press secretary Nicola Grigg and Environment Canterbury councillor Megan Hands as promising talent for the National Party.
For Labour, the current polls predict lots of new names, with most of the newbies coming from Labour’s list.
“Suddenly larger caucuses can lead to trouble, as a matter of logic.”
Jones said this election would give the party a chance to broaden its caucus, and include people like epidemiologist Ayesha Verrall, tax specialist Barbara Edmonds and former refugee and living wage campaigner Ibrahim Omer.
Regarding the smaller parties, the Greens will return a similar caucus, but could also bring in Palmerston North veteran activist and education consultant Teanau Tuiono, who is sitting at number eight on the list – a big boost from the unwinnable spot of 16, in the 2017 election.
One of the most interesting changes to a caucus will be that of ACT, with Seymour looking to gain as many as nine MPs, based on recent polling.
While the top of the party’s list is relatively well-known, with former ACT staffer Brooke van Velden and firearms campaigner Nicole McKee, there are many unknowns in the line-up.
Seymour said they were all competent people with relevant, real-world experience. In recent interviews Seymour has said he was equipped to managed a larger caucus, and insisted no one has any harmful skeletons in their closets.
Friends aren’t always a blessing
But both Jones and Thomas warned about the dangers of a rapidly expanding caucus.
Jones used United Future’s past experience as an example.
Following Peter Dunne’s effective ‘turn the worm’ performances in the 2002 debates, United Future brought a slew of new MPs into Parliament. Many of the new caucus members turned out to be Christian fundamentalists, and one wasn’t even eligible to sit in the New Zealand Parliament.
“Suddenly larger caucuses can lead to trouble, as a matter of logic,” Thomas said.
This is a warning for both Labour and ACT.
The people in places 50-60 on a list would be less ready for Parliament than numbers 30-40.
“So, we can expect some trouble and embarrassment from new backbenchers in Labour and ACT.”
Seymour would have a bigger job than Jacinda Ardern managing new MPs, and the greatest potential downside, Thomas said.