National’s rise has continued in yet another poll that will have Labour edging closer to crisis mode – and send a shiver down the spine of Act.
Last night’s 1News Verian poll showed National has continued to rise - clearly now benefiting from its tax cuts offering, its challenging of Labour’s management of the books and a buoyant first couple of weeks on the campaign trail for leader Christopher Luxon.
It bumped up two points to 39 per cent, just short of 40 per cent and widened its lead over Labour, which had dropped by another point to 28 per cent.
However, the news for Labour is yet again almost all bad. The sliver of hope was that leader Chris Hipkins rating as preferred prime minister had bumped up by three points to 23 per cent and Labour’s slide down the polls had slowed.
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It would have been hoping for better after its campaign launch and announcing new policies such as free dental care for under-30s.
The bad news for Labour was that, as in other recent polls, Luxon’s popularity had risen to keep him level with Hipkins and National had widened the gap between them.
And while Hipkins has previously pointed to the number of undecided voters as up for grabs, on the 1News Verian poll that number had shrunk from 12 to 10 per cent, and those votes had not gone Labour’s way.
It is not only the polling numbers that are against Labour: National has already started to hammer home the worst of the numbers revealed in Treasury’s opening of the books, the Pre-election Economic and Fiscal Update (Prefu), on Tuesday.
And the numbers after the dollar signs at the petrol pumps and on people’s supermarket receipts are also not falling Labour’s way: the cost of living remains by far the biggest issue of the election.
However, National’s gain has been the Act Party’s loss – Act dropped three points to 10 per cent and also dropped in an earlier Newshub Reid-Research poll.
Illustration / Rod Emmerson
While that is still a healthy total, Act leader David Seymour will be wary that it will continue. That is possibly a combination of publicity around a string of Act’s candidates dropping out, as well as the increased spotlight on Luxon in the first weeks of the campaign as the focus goes on the contenders for prime minister.
To rub salt into the wound for Seymour, NZ First has hit the 5 per cent mark for the first time in years in the 1News poll series.
That would mean even a tiny shift in support could take away the chance of a clean National-Act government – and bring NZ First leader Winston Peters into the game.
That has been a topic over the past week as Luxon has repeatedly refused to discuss NZ First, saying it was a hypothetical question because NZ First was not polling above 5 per cent.
That same trends of National rising and Labour dropping are now apparent in at least three other recent polls: the Curia Taxpayers’ Union poll, Labour’s own pollsters Talbot Mills, and the Newshub Research Poll which had National at just over 40 per cent earlier this week.
Hipkins was yesterday showing no sign he was giving up. He cannot afford to, because if the polling continues to slump and starts to look like a foregone conclusion, there is a risk that Labour’s core voters won’t bother turning out to vote.
He appears to be enjoying the campaign trail more this week than the week before and will today make his first campaign visit to Labour’s heartland and birthplace: the West Coast.
He will be trying to make small signs of hope grow: it is the first 1News Verian poll since National announced its tax cuts plan and its reward for that has been a small jump rather than a large leap.
Hipkins will be hoping that is because of scepticism in voters about National’s costings – and whether it is the right time to deliver tax cuts while inflation is still high.
The first leaders’ debate on 1News will kick off next Tuesday night, pitting the rookie Luxon against the experienced Hipkins.
However, that may not be an easy win for Hipkins. Luxon will be seen as the underdog, but has so far had a strong campaign and has the wind in his sails, other than sometimes faltering under questioning about National’s costings.
Labour has played every trick it can think of to try to stymie National’s increasing popularity, from attacking National’s tax cuts to announcing policies it expected to be vote winners and its polling has not benefited at all. Attack ads on Luxon taken out by the Council of Trade Unions appear to have done nothing to help the left and may have even helped National voters decide to back Luxon.
If it cannot come up with a new trick then the main intrigue around the election could well be whether Act and National will get there without having to draw on NZ First.
Claire Trevett is the NZ Herald’s political editor, based at Parliament in Wellington. She started at the NZ Herald in 2003 and joined the Press Gallery team in 2007. She is a life member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery.
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