A circuit-breaker election?

At any election, what success looks like is simple enough – get enough votes to get into government. The trick of course is how to get there.

For the New Zealand Labour Party, the trick, or the challenge, is threefold. They need to strengthen their position to be the leading party of the left in any centre-left government. They need to energise and mobilise the many disaffected voters who simply didn’t vote in previous elections – and as my previous post showed, this cost Labour dearly in 2014. And they need to take some of the soft support from the governing National Party.

Three weeks ago, none of these looked feasible. They were languishing in the polls, and the Green Party was gaining momentum at Labour’s expense. Undecided voters were showing at 20% in some polls, and the National Party held a 20-point lead over Labour.

And then Jacinda Ardern became the youngest leader in the party’s history and suddenly things got interesting. Ardern has brought a new dynamism to the campaign, and if Labour’s campaign launch today – which took place over three venues to cope with the crowds – is any indicator, the party and its support base has been given a massive shot in the arm.

The two graphs below look at the polling peaks and troughs over the past three years for each political party, based on a rolling average of the three publicly available polls in New Zealand. They show, for each party, their peak in the last three years, their low point, and the latest polling.

National retain a commanding lead, but are well off their peak and are in fact at their lowest point of the election cycle. Labour on the other hand are at their highest point in the cycle to date, well clear of earlier troughs. The Greens, rocked by resignations, are at their lowest point in three years, while New Zealand First are only just off their recent peak.

So, in little more than two weeks, Labour have re-established their position as the leading party of the centre-left. Furthermore, one recent poll showed undecided voters declining from 20% to 13%, and Labour seems to be the biggest beneficiary of this. The new energy seems to be bringing the disaffected back to the voting fold. For Labour, that pretty much just leaves the third objective, winning over swinging National voters. With five weeks to go, that looks very possible.

major peaks 170820.png

As for the minor parties, all need to win an electorate seat to maintain representation, because of the 5% threshold to enter parliament from the party lists. There’s been very little publicly-released polling of the key marginals, apart from Ohariu, where it appears United Future’s sole representative is well behind. The Māori Party, Mana and ACT will be hoping that they will fare better with their electorate campaigns.

minor peaks 170820.png

Looking at the trends over the past three years, Labour's recent surge is very evident in the three weeks since the change of leadership, while National are showing a steady decline dating back to May. They still have a substantial lead, but the recent momentum is with Labour.  

As for the two smaller parties, the Greens have almost halved their support to 7%, while New Zealand First has continued to hover around the 9% to 11% mark.

3-year 170820.png

Ahead of the election, I’ll look at the coalition scenarios that are emerging, and revisit the polling data to see how patterns have shifted.


The data in this blog is taken from a poll of polls of the three publicly available polls in New Zealand: One News-Colmar Brunton, Newshub-Reid Research, and Roy Morgan. The figures are simply an average of the most recent three polls, regardless of which organisation undertook them; it therefore focuses on the most recent polling data, rather than seeking to average out the effects of different polling approaches.