Comment: The National Party has dipped slightly in a new poll, but it’s Act, not Labour, that’s making up the gap.

The latest 1News-Verian poll, which covers the period from Saturday through Tuesday evening, has National and Act steady on 49 percent, while the left block picks up just a single point.

On a party level, compared to last week’s 1News-Verian poll, National is down two points and Labour is down one. The minor parties are the winners, with the Greens and Act each rising two points to 12 percent, while New Zealand First and Te Pāti Māori are flat on 5 and 3 percent, respectively.

Those subtle shifts are reflected in Parliament projections as well, with the centre-right majority dropping from 62 seats in last week’s poll to 61 in the new results. NZ First sees no change to its six seats and the left picks up just one, putting it at 53.

All of these changes are within the margin of error and, if they represent real movements, are unlikely to be a reflection of Tuesday night’s leader’s debate. That’s because the vast majority of the poll was taken before the debate.

It does encompass the release of modelling by independent economists identifying a half-billion-dollar hole in National’s foreign buyers tax and the opening of the Government’s books, which showed them to be in grim shape while the economic outlook was roughly positive.

If Tuesday night’s debate is to spur a major change in the fortunes of Chris Hipkins or Christopher Luxon, that will show up next Wednesday.

Hipkins was bullish after seeing the results, telling 1News they showed National had peaked and it was now his job to pick up those votes.

Luxon said the poll showed the race is still close but it didn’t reflect public doubt about his tax plan.

For Labour, any result that shows them still dropping is far from ideal. There’s one possible silver lining though – the number of Kiwis who believe economic conditions will improve over the next year has risen to 40 percent, while the proportion who think they’ll worsen is down to 27 percent.

A strong economy favours the incumbent and while we’re still far from roaring growth, the results suggest people agree with Grant Robertson’s line from last week that there is light at the end of the tunnel. GDP figures due out on Thursday could reinforce that message, as they’re likely to confirm that New Zealand’s brief, technical recession is now over.

National’s pain point here is not its own slight drop, but the precarious position it finds itself in without New Zealand First. National and Act together have just a single seat majority by this poll. Drop any further and they’ll need Winston Peters’ support.

That’s why, as Jo Moir writes, Luxon continues to refuse to rule out working with Peters. It’s a very real possibility that they’ll have to work together to form a government after October 14.

However, that refusal may be dinging Luxon, with the 1News-Verian poll showing nearly nine in 10 respondents want political parties to be crystal clear about their potential coalition partners. If the polls shift a little more and show Peters with the balance of power once more, the pressure of questioning about Luxon’s plans will only mount.

If he keeps declining to answer, faith and trust in him may take a hit. It’s taken a lot of work for Luxon to rise to a tied position with Hipkins in the preferred prime minister stakes – which he held onto this week – even if that position is just a paltry 23 percent for each Chris. Any questions about Luxon’s personal integrity could drag him back down and potentially open up an avenue of attack for Labour.

For the remainder of the campaign, Luxon’s biggest job is not to rock the boat. What National’s been doing so far has clearly worked, despite the questions about the tax plan and New Zealand First. Staying the course is their key to success.

Wednesday’s poll doesn’t change Labour’s path to victory either – what Hipkins is doing is clearly not working. The party will need to shake things up, either on the policy front or the politics. The lack of any serious vigour in Tuesday’s debate is unlikely to be the solution and Hipkins will be considering taking a more strident approach in the debate in a week’s time.

If something doesn’t change soon, Hipkins will simply sleepwalk into defeat.

Marc Daalder is a senior political reporter based in Wellington who covers climate change, health, energy and violent extremism. Twitter/Bluesky: @marcdaalder

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