The latest poll suggests trust issues are moving some voters, the risk of giving Peters what he wants and debate expectations...

If the 3News-Reid Research poll has captured a snap shot of the voters' mood, then it shows that the campaign at the moment is all about trust. It is of course only one poll, but it shows a flight from the major parties that must worry John Key and David Cunliffe as they head into tonight's first TV debate.

I mentioned in yesterday's post that Key has relied heavily on his scripted lines in the past week or two to get him past questions he doesn't want to answer, and another of his favourites has been variations on "voters will make up their own minds on that". Well, it seems they are making up their minds and Nicky Hager's Dirty Politics is having an impact.

National has dropped to 45 percent, well into danger territory and no longer able to govern alone or even with its preferred trio of coalition partners. It would be disastrous for National if it weren't for the fact that Labour isn't in even more of a funk, at just over 26 percent. Some crucial swing voters seem to be looking at the dominant power brokers and saying they just don't trust them.

As noted it's just one poll, and it's worth pointing out that the minor parties always tend to pick up votes about this time. National has fallen six points in each of the past two campaigns, so you could argue this is following a well-established pattern. But something has to happen to get that ball rolling and Dirty Politics stands out as the obvious cuplrit given the blanket coverage its had since publication.

The trust theme also suggests itself when you look at where the vote has gone. To the Greens: The party that takes the moral high ground in politics and stresses decency. To the Conservatives: The fresh face which isn't tarnished by old dirt and promises a morals-based approach to politics. And signficantly to New Zealand First: Often the party of choice when uncertain voters are looking for someone to "keep the buggers honest".

So once again, as I've suggested often this year, the major parties will have to be looking at this election through their "Peters filter". What will he want? I've written a fair abit about those before, but yesterday Fairfax reported that Labour's remaining big spending commitment could be a fund to buy back shares in state assets when the time is right.

That's something Peters has said is a "bottom line" for New Zealand First. It's also a motivator for the Labour base, so it makes political sense on several fronts.

But one word of warning. While Labour and the Greens might look to New Zealand First's bottom lines and come to the conclusion they line up nicely with their own, they should think on this... No, not just Peters' conservatism, or NZF's tradition of going with the governing party or unwillingness to change a government when it has the power, or its preference for the biggest party and the smallest coalition... No, think on this.

The Gold Card. It has been Peters' catch-cry for year, the tangible policy gain he can claim credit for. What Peters will want from any coalition is something he and his party can claim credit for, something he can say voters wouldn't have got without New Zealand First being there.

As much as he might want Reserve Bank reform, a ban on foreign land and home buyers, lower immigration and state assets bought back, what's in it for him if Labour and the Greens can say 'we were going to do that anyway'? He needs to be able to get a win from them that isn't already in their manifestos?

GST off food perhaps? But if not, perhaps Labour should be wary of promising that fund, instead leaving it as something that NZF can win off them during negotiations.

Finally, with the TV One debate tonight, the pressure is on David Cunliffe. This is his chance to reintroduce himself to New Zealanders, his biggest set piece to be able to put aside their doubts about his likeability and smarminess. But it's a huge opportunity.

Key and his team have minimised the number of debates he has to take part in because debates are all about expectaions. Voters expect the Prime Minister to look Prime Ministerial. They don't expect that of the other guy, so if the other guy can bring that to the fore and exceed low expectations it's easier for the Opposition leader to use the format as a game-changer. The best Key can hope for is to maintain the status quo of his competence and Cunliffe's "trickiness".

Cunliffe used to be very strong on television, but has gone off the boil since becoming leader. He desperately needs to rediscover his mojo tonight.

Comments (7)

by Richard Aston on August 28, 2014
Richard Aston

Yes it will be interesting to see how Cunliffe performs in tonight's debate if he can bring out that side of him revealed in Labour's first election broadcast it may lift Labours prospects as John Amstrong noted 


by Lesley Ford on August 28, 2014
Lesley Ford

Cunliffe is pretty good on the Herald's hot seat, I don't see him off the boil, just lack of opportunity and decent coverage with negatively spun headlines are building a picture not of his making

by Tim Watkin on August 28, 2014
Tim Watkin

Lesley, I don't think you can fairly say "not of his making" (some of the Liu coverage aside). He's done a fair bit to himself and voters aren't stupid. But yes, he can be very good in these forums. Let's see if he brings his A game.

by Megan Pledger on August 28, 2014
Megan Pledger

It seems like people on the unmovable right who are shocked at National's morality are going to the Conservatives.  It's actually great for the left - I don't see the Conservatives getting over the threshold or getting a seat so their votes are going to be burned *but* National are going to start having to get the Conservatives onside just in case.

And any nutcase thing the Conservatives (and Act) say can be spun by Lab/Green etc as coming from "The Right"  to make National look like numpties by association ( just as Hoots, Farrah etc do to "The Left").

by Lesley Ford on August 28, 2014
Lesley Ford

Tim, what I meant by "not of his making" was not so much around specific incidents, but especially early on in the campaign, there was a tendancy of the media to headline even positive items with a twist the gave a negative overtone. Editors, presumably, decide whether to make a story look or sound positive or negative by the slant they impose on a story. The overall effect of this has been to put Cunliffe at a distinct disadvantage, especially when during the same period Key could do no wrong (I know that has changed recently). I did a small informal (my personal interest) survey of headlines over a 6 week period and the headlines were 2:1 positive towards Key and negative towards Cunliffe.

by BeShakey on August 28, 2014

Reid Research seem to be one of the few that don't report undecideds. Some of the other recent polls have undecideds at over 12%. One of the key issues will surely be whether this group has shrunk post-Dirty Politics. Either way, trying to read this poll without knowing undecideds is pretty tough.

by stuart munro on August 31, 2014
stuart munro

It seems Winston will have Key flopping on his carpet after all. It might be time for Colin to invest in a tasteful Kilim too, maybe with a little broken glass to make up for the lack of sympathy, and tea.

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