At the outset, let me say this is not a post that says the polls are wrong, nor that the left are where they want to be.
But the analysis of the polls this week has been poor.
Primarily, there’s been the claim that National’s high 40s ratings show the TPP protests and/or Labour’s tertiary policy launch have had no impact. That claim is wrong, both because an overall poll rating doesn’t say anything in particular about single events, and more importantly because the government has actually lost almost 2% support over the summer break. Here's the evidence:
There were four public polls in November / December 2015 – two from Roy Morgan, and one each from TV3 and the New Zealand Herald. Across those four polls, National’s average was 49%.
There have been three polls so far this year – two from Roy Morgan and one from TVNZ. Across those three polls, National’s average was 47.5%, 1.5% below its average from November-December.
Over the same period, the government as a whole (National + Maori Party + ACT + UF) is down an average of 1.8%.
So the claim of “no movement” is a stretch.
TNZV made that claim by comparing their poll in February with one in October, some four months ago. There’s been a lot of events over those four months, not just the TPP and Labour's policy launch, including a bunch of more recent polls to compare against. Corin Dann generally does a good job reporting his polls, but I think he slipped up there.
For completeness, the latest Roy Morgan poll does in fact show National up slightly from January to now. But I’d hardly be the first to note the jumpiness of that particular poll from one polling window to the next. I always prefer more evidence than that.
Despite any marginal shifts in the polls, of course, National remains stronger that the alternative coalition. No doubt about it.
Comparing the November-December polls against January-February, there’s been only a 0.1% shift the combined left’s support. They’re hovering around 41%, both before and after the break. And both polls this week, despite their quite different results for the individual left-leaning parties, have the left overall at 40-41%.
Instead, the winner has been New Zealand First, up almost a point over summer and massively outperforming its normally low mid-term levels of support.
So, nit-pickery about poll interpretation aside, where do we stand?
National, of course, remains in the box seat. Along with its solid hangers-on (ACT, UF), it sits in the high 40s. Solid supporters of an alternative government (Labour + Greens) sit a little above 40%, and the swinging centre is climbing towards 10%.
If the election were held today, I’ve little doubt National would be returned even though – as noted on One News - Labour + Greens + NZF would be very nearly able to form a government if they wished. On today’s numbers, I think Winston would choose Key if offered the choice.
To be seriously in the game, the putative left coalition needs to at least tie National at election time. Obviously, having the combined left beat National is better again, and the higher the margin the better. But at a minimum, a tie’s required.
That means the left needs to shift around 4% of the population from supporting the status quo to supporting change. That’s about one in every twelve National voters.
Yes, that’s a hill to climb. No, that’s not a towering cliff-face. I think any prognostications of doom are pretty premature at this stage.
If the left wins over 1/12th of current National supporters over the next eighteen months, we’d have an election result of something like National 44%, Labour 33%, Greens 11%, and the rest going to parties in the middle or being wasted on the fringes. Given those numbers, I think Winston would choose change.