Coalition trends and possibilities

Two more polls have shown the New Zealand election race is tightening even further. In the poll of polls used here, the National Party is retaining its lead at around 42%, but the Labour Party is only two points behind at 40%. And one poll has Labour narrowly in the lead.

But the gains for Labour appear to have come at the expense of almost every other party, so what does this mean for coalition prospects?

One thing is clear: the current National-led coalition government will have enormous difficulty coming together post-September. United Future’s sole MP resigned in August and there is no prospect of them returning a new parliamentarian. The remaining parties of ACT and the Māori Party can only muster 1.5% of the vote, and with National only have a combined 44%. The opposition parties (Labour, Greens, New Zealand First and the recently formed TOP) have a combined 55%.

As shown below, the gap between government and opposition has never been wider in the past three years than in the past week. So, is a realignment of New Zealand politics underway? And as much as this may signal a mood for change, will those that are elected to parliament coalesce into a new government?

government and oppostion.png

Common wisdom holds that 47% of the vote is usually enough to form a majority government, once the votes of parties that fail to make the 5% threshold are re-allocated. In the graph below, there are three permutations that cross the 47% threshold: Labour, Greens and New Zealand First (53%); National and New Zealand First (51%); and Labour and New Zealand First (48%).

Speculation has centred on which way the centrist New Zealand First party, and its mercurial leader, will go. In the past 20 years, Winston Peters has governed with both National and Labour, and neither have ended happily. Will he prop up a fourth-term National government, or usher in change under Labour? Mathematically, either is possible if the election were held now, but what will really matter is the post-election coalition negotiations.

coalition options 170903.png

But – and a month ago this would have been outlandish to even contemplate – a Labour-Greens government without New Zealand First may just be possible. Already, the two parties are on 45% and the trend in the past month has been nothing but upwards for Ardern-led Labour. A gain of 2-3% points over the next three weeks would make a coalition government between the two parties feasible, as long as the Greens stay above the threshold. Add in the Māori Party, who are likely to retain at least one electorate seat, and a significant change in government is on the cards.

There’s no doubt that in the past month, the political ground has shifted markedly, and the polls reflect this. Continuity under National remains distinctly possible, but a realignment of the political landscape under Labour is now plausible.


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.