18 Sep 2020

Election 2020: How is campaigning going four weeks out from polling day?

From Morning Report, 8:16 am on 18 September 2020

Some party leaders seem to be adjusting better than others on a campaign trail troubled by Covid-19 restrictions. 

Journalists making media interview with businessperson or politician

Photo: 123RF

While Labour's Jacinda Ardern was offering elbow bumps on the campaign trail, New Zealand First's Winston Peters was complaining restrictions have made this the worst election campaign he's ever been involved in. 

"Because not only is it in the cold months of the year, but it's in circumstances where people cannot be meeting," he said this week. 

Those frustrations were echoed by other parties. National's Judith Collins has repeatedly said Auckland's Covid-19 restrictions are looking increasingly based on political decisions. 

"Obviously we can't do public meetings in Auckland, we have you know, what, 10 people or something we can have there. That's Paul and me and a few other people." 

Here, RNZ's political reporters who have been following leaders around the country give the perspective from the campaign trail. 

Jacinda Ardern: Labour 

Political reporter Yvette McCullough says high-vis vests and selfies seem to be the trademark of the campaign. 

"More so than usual because we aren't seeing those big rallies so there is a lot more set piece sort of factory visits. Yesterday she was in hair nets and glasses that kept fogging up which was a bit of a moment of humour for everyone there. 

Labour Party leader Jacinda Ardern dons an 'I love Taupō' helmet during her visit to various sites in the town while on her election campaign, on 10 September, 2020.

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern donned an 'I love Taupō' helmet during her visit to various sites in the town. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

"A few walkarounds in main town centres and things, but not the usual kind of horde of people being allowed to come up to her. 

"It is a bit of a strange one and you're not really seeing that same kind of chemistry to the same level with members of the public." 

She says Labour's policy releases have slowed this week with the Prefu and GDP numbers expected to be dominating the headlines. 

"I think also with that false start of the campaign they wanted to kick-start things again and get lots of policy out there because there had been a bit of criticism that they'd been pretty lacking in that department in the early stages of the first round of the campaign, so it has been a bit more muted this week. 

"I think they're still quietly confident .. I don't think that they feel there's been anything to dramatically damage that lead that they have had in the polls. Perhaps the figures out this week may change some of that but I still think they don't see that as something that's really going to dent their popularity."

Judith Collins: National 

Deputy Political Editor Craig McCulloch says National's usual reputation as a safe pair of hands for the economy is under threat, and the party's policy announcements this week have been bizarrely timed. 

"A lot of talk about finance this week. It would usually be National's strong point, particularly given the economy has taken quite a battering but I think National's found itself in a bit of a tough spot actually. 

"I think everyone by and large accepts that this recession is not Labour's fault, it is Covid-19's fault, and so National is forced to argue that Labour has made it worse than it needed to be with a lockdown that is too harsh ... that argument was had a while ago with the public and I mean Simon Bridges tried it. The public basically backed the government's decision to go into level four and they knew there would be economic consequences." 

National's leader Judith Collins at the announcement of the party's economic and tax policy.

National's leader Judith Collins at the announcement of the party's economic and tax policy. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

He says the party's fiscal plan being unveiled today is a key test for the party. 

"For a long time ... National has been viewed as the safe pair of hands with the economy. John Key, Bill English - the business community trusted them, they trusted National, and recent polling suggests that may no longer be the case ... if National loses on the economy they're gonna lose at the election. 

"It's essential that today they put up a credible set of numbers. And everyone remembers last election - 2017, the 11.7 billion dollar hole - National and Steven Joyce, very successful with that attack line despite the fact nearly every economist disagreed with it. This election the roles are reversed, it's Labour suggesting it's National that's chaotic." 

McCulloch says there were some very bizarre decisions this week in terms of timings. 

"It's almost like everyone is just going through the motions and their heart's not really in it ... Labour very light on policy this week, National could have taken hold of the narrative, oculd have put out some big bold exciting ideas.

"Its education plan, I mean they put it out on Monday, the same day as the Covid-19 alert level decision, it was always going to be drowned out by that. And then on Wednesday its health manifesto - this is health we're talking about in the middle of a health crisis ... but they announced it ahead of Prefu and Judith Collins wasn't even at the announcement, it was left to Shane Reti to front."

"I do think that it's probably not a good sign when the week's highlight is that Judith Collins told us she might get a tattoo if she wins the election ... she does keep telling us how much fun she's having, so much so that sometimes you start to wonder if she's trying to convince herself." 

New Zealand First: Winston Peters

Political Reporter Jo Moir says New Zealand First's leader Winston Peters' campaign - which is staying out of Auckland until the restrictions drop - seems to be a bit slow and sluggish with smaller crowd sizes. 

"He sounds like he's having a terrible time, you know, he hates winter elections, he had to bring his big coat out in Taupō and Tūrangi yesterday, and he's just not really loving it."

Winston Peters on the campaign trail in Taupō, 17 Sept 2020 with Talani Meikle, at number eight on the party's list.

Winston Peters has been braving the cold and doing walkabouts in various town centres, and is not happy about the effect on his campaign of Covid-19 restrictions.  Photo: RNZ / Simon Rogers

She says he found his mojo a bit again in Tauranga with a meeting with about 100 people.

"He got a couple of hecklers there, loves that, didn't stick to his script at all, all he did was start responding to the hecklers."

On policy he quite often tries to stick to the tried and true, she says. 

"He'll often reannounce things that they've done before like the extra frontline police ...  we saw a smoking announcement yesterday ... wants a packet of cigarettes to be capped at $20. 

"He's really making the most of every sort of media standup that he can because he's not seeing people so therefore he's got to speak to media to get the message out." 

She says he does not seem bothered by the looming serious fraud office investigation into his party's finances. 

"He's just kind of kicking on and says they will be in a good position, they put their list out yesterday as well 

James Shaw and Marama Davidson: Green Party 

Political reporter Charlie Dreaver says the Green Party took alert level restrictions to the extreme with an announcement in the middle of a paddock in rural Canterbury. 

"It was the most socially distanced announcement I think you could possibly go to. it was very green, we were surrounded by kale on an organic farm. 

That was for the Greens agricultural announcement - obviously not their key demographic, farmers, they weren't particularly happy about their nitrogen level cap. 

James Shaw also went to Taranaki to curb the effects of the Green School decision. 

"That seems to be following him at the moment through the election."

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James Shaw and Marama Davidson Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone