The latest Newshub Reid-Research poll puts Simon Bridges’ leadership on notice, and National Party itself in an unenviable position, say commentators Matthew Hooton and Neale Jones.
The poll shows Labour leader Jacinda Ardern could comfortably lead alone with Labour on 56.5 percentage points - up 14 - while National slumps down 12.7 percentage points to 30.6.
The Greens sneak in just above the 5 percent threshold while New Zealand First falls to 2.7 percent.
It is expected at a time like this the opposition would see a slump in polling figures, Matthew Hooton says. But the numbers make particularly grim reading for National.
“This is a 25-point gap between National and Labour and that’s simply extraordinary. And the National Party has to take that very seriously, they are taking it seriously, although they do expect another poll to come out on Thursday from TVNZ by Colmar Brunton, and they’ll just see what that has to say.
“If it is as bad as this, I would expect there would be enormous pressure on the current leader and deputy leader to at least offer their resignations to the caucus.
However, a better showing in the Colmar Brunton polling might give Simon Bridges a lifeline, he says.
“There’s a chance that some of the more personally conservative members of the National Party caucus will think well we were 30 in one poll now we’re 35 that’s not too bad.”
A “hunk” of National MPs are reluctant to be responding to polls, Hooton says.
“Their views on this is what’s going to decide Simon Bridges future.”
The numbers are even worse if you put them together with voting blocs, Neale Jones
“The governing parties are on 65 percent and National and ACT are on 32. That’s more than double.
“National has had a pretty solid base of at least 40 percent ever since they consolidated the centre right vote under Don Brash all those years ago. This poll suggests that Ardern is carving deeply into National’s core voter support.”
Neale believes Bridges has damaged his brand too badly to come back from this position.
“The question they’ve [National MPs] got to be asking themselves is ‘is Simon Bridges the leader to take them out of this hole.’
“And as much as the Labour partisan within me would like to say Save Simon, my honest fear is that he has damaged his brand too badly to come back.
“The more revealing poll in some ways was the poll on lockdown support which showed 91.6 percent for the Government’s actions and 6 percent opposition.
“The Vox Pops on the street by TV3 last night were absolutely damning of Bridges. I think he has woefully misjudged the public’s mood over the lockdown and put himself on the wrong side of public opinion during a crisis. And I think that has made his brand toxic and that has got to be a contribution to how terrible this poll is.”
If the next poll is as bad as Newshub’s Reid-Research, National MPs will insist on seeing private polling, Hooton says.
“They’ve absolutely insisted a few times earlier, none has been shared with them as I understand it since February.
“But if Simon Bridges were to show up at that caucus on Tuesday after two bad polls and say well actually I’m going to keep secret our internal private polling that would be the end of him.”
Bridges is a political scrapper, Hooton says, and he will fight to keep the leadership.
“That means National probably has to ready itself for some bloodletting.
“It will be very, very difficult because there is no one with a majority, none of the people who wish to be leader, including Bridges, have a majority.”
National are in a tricky spot compared with Labour in 2017, Jones says – Jones was Chief of staff for both Andrew Little and Jacinda Ardern.
“One of the advantages Labour had in 2017 was Andrew Little stood aside, so there was not a bloody leadership coup, which I think is damaging, before an election.
“The other point was that there was a clear successor, it was obvious that the only person there was Jacinda Ardern, she was a household name, she clearly was a political phenomenon and she was Andrew Little’s deputy.
“So, I think one of the problems National has is there’s no obvious contender, you have someone like Judith Collins who is a very polarising figure and would take National probably into a very dark cul-de-sac.
“Then you have someone like Todd Muller who I think is very capable and a very good, traditional National Party leader with someone like Nikki Kaye at his side could probably do quite well, but again lacks that household name, doesn’t have a lot of presence, so would have quite a hard job getting attention over the coming months.”
New Zealand First MPs will be feeling a “sense of dread,” Hooton says.
“Winston Peters’ age is becoming a factor. I get the impression that some of his MPs have almost thrown in the towel, they’re not working as hard as they might be. I think there is almost a sense of dread in New Zealand First about what is ahead of them. Because I think they are most likely going to miss out on this 5 percent, they haven’t delivered on the infrastructure projects they promised in parts of the country.
“But even worse, in some ways, is what would be required to get to 5 percent again, and if you are one of the New Zealand First MPs who would like to have a respectable career after politics, I’m not sure you want to be associated with what would be required to get back to 5 percent. It would certainly require a break-up of the coalition were Winston Peters to use the type of rhetoric that I think would guarantee him 5 percent.”
Neale believes New Zealand First will back themselves to reach the threshold during a campaign.
“I wouldn’t rule them out. Winston Peters has been talking a lot about the assurance policy, if you’re a National voter and you think National is cooked, then you might look and say well I don’t want Labour and the Greens running the country unopposed, I’ll vote New Zealand first and put a spanner in the works and moderate them.”