The Week in Politics: Polls point to a Labour landslide

7:39 pm on 31 July 2020

By Peter Wilson

Analysis - National's week began badly and didn't get much better. Horrified by last Sunday's Newshub Reid Research poll which gave it 25.1 per cent against Labour's 60.9 per cent, it did the only thing it could - it trashed the poll.

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Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and National Party leader Judith Collins. Photo: Getty Images / RNZ

That came after Newshub's Tova O'Brien had made the most of her story. "The National Party is in full blown destruct mode and Judith Collins has failed to steady the ship," said O'Brien. "In fact, she's sinking it to its lowest, darkest depths."

Collins dismissed it as a rogue poll. "I don't believe it at all, I think it is entirely out of kilter, it's absolutely opposite to what we're hearing in the electorates," she said. "It doesn't go anywhere near where our own polling is."

Her deputy Gerry Brownlee said that statistically one poll in 20 was wrong, and Newshub's was clearly an outlier.

The party's leaders were saying what they could have been expected to say, but they seemed to be confident in their stance. The poll really was surprising. With an election result like that Labour would easily govern alone with 77 seats and National would be cut down to 32.

David Farrar, a pollster who has been in the game for more than 20 years, said he didn't think it came close to reflecting reality. "There is no way there is a 36 point gap between the parties," he said on his Kiwiblog website. "The numerous polls I have seen and done have it way, way closer." Farrar does National's private polling, so he knows what's in them.

Collins didn't reveal the private polling but there were reports that it has Labour on 47 percent and National on 36 per cent. When those figures were put to her on Morning Report, she replied "it's close to that".

National had to wait until Thursday for better news on the poll front, and even then it wasn't anything they could celebrate.

A 1News Colmar Brunton poll gave Labour 53 percent and National 32 percent. Collins didn't challenge it.

"For the last couple of weeks I think you can see we've had to deal with some big issues," she said. "People want those things sorted. They've now seen those sorted and it's only onwards and upwards."

One result that must have pleased her was the 20 per cent she scored as preferred prime minister, way ahead of what her predecessors Simon Bridges and Todd Muller achieved in previous polls.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was still uncatchable, out of sight on 54 percent.

The 1News poll also gave Labour an outright victory with 67 seats against National's 41.

The winner was ACT, which climbed to 4.8 percent and would have six seats. The party has had a steady climb in the polls, picking up support from voters drifting away from National and NZ First.

The Greens were on 5.7 percent in the Newshub poll and 5 percent in the 1News poll, just clinging on, while NZ First rated an apparently terminal 2 percent in both.

Labour does seem to be heading for a substantial victory on 19 September, and Massey University professor of politics Richard Shaw thinks there's a fundamental shift underway.

In an article published by the Herald and Stuff, he said poll averages since May put Labour above 50 per cent and National around 30 per cent.

"The political centre appears to be shifting to the left," he said. "When nearly two out of three voters in a naturally conservative nation support the centre-left, something is going on."

Shaw said that in 2017 National secured nearly 45 percent of the party vote, and nearly half of that had bled away.

"New Zealand has never had a single-party majority government… but Labour could be on the verge of doing that," he concluded.

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Megan Woods, the minister in charge of managed isolation facilities, announcing managed isolation fees. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

The government didn't have a particularly good week either. Its big announcement on a charging regime for returnees going into managed isolation was received with derision.

The prime minister wisely stayed away from this one, leaving Megan Woods, the minister in charge of managed isolation facilities, to do the job at a press conference on Wednesday.

Only people returning temporarily will have to pay $3100 for their two-week stay, and those who leave after the regulations come into force and then return from holidays or business trips.

There will be a range of exemptions including on compassionate grounds for people coming here for a funeral or to visit a dying relative. The exemptions will be decided on a case-by-case basis.

The scheme will recover less than $10 million and cost $600,000 to implement, just a fraction of the cost of managed isolation.

The government initially considered charging all returnees but it ran into trouble. The Greens didn't want to charge anyone and NZ First wanted to charge everyone. Crown Law warned of legal challenges under the Bill of Rights Act which gives Kiwis an absolute right to return.

When she announced the regime Woods emphasised, several times, that she had to stand up a system that would survive in the courts. It was fair and very important because taxpayers shouldn't have to pay for people who went away on holidays or business trips knowing they would have to go into isolation when they returned.

The Herald headlined its report 'Rushed charging regime ticks all the boxes of dreadful public policy'. Stuff's Luke Malpass wrote: "It is rare to get a policy so pointless and so brazenly designed to appeal to people's prejudices as the government's quarantine and managed isolation charging policy."

National had previously announced it would charge everyone $3000 and Collins said the government should be ashamed of itself. "I just think it's the sort of policy you have when you don't actually want to have a policy," she said.

Winston Peters trashed the scheme but his party will vote for it when Woods has the unfortunate task of pushing a bill through Parliament under urgency next week. The Greens claimed they had saved thousands of people from being charged. Peters said Labour and the Greens were looking for overseas votes.

Getting the legislation through won't be the end of it. Wait for the complaints and controversy over exemptions. Already TVNZ has one "heartbroken" Kiwi couple who live in England and want to spend time with the woman's unwell father.

On Thursday the inquiry report on the leaked Covid-19 patient data was released. Michael Heron's investigation proved what was already known, that the Ministry of Health sent the list of patients to Michelle Boag, who sent it to Hamish Walker, who sent it to the media. It was done for political gain, Heron decided.

Walker's explanation was new. He said he had been so distressed by being called a racist that he sent the list to media believing it would justify his claim that thousands of returnees from certain countries were about to descend on South Island cities. It didn't justify his claim.

Boag has resigned from the National Party and Walker's political career is over. He isn't standing for re-election.

The report has been forwarded to the Privacy Commissioner. It isn't known whether the pair will face further action.

It gave the government another opportunity to have a crack at National. "It was a disgraceful and grubby act carried out by two National Party members for political purposes," said Health Minister Chris Hipkins.

*Peter Wilson is a life member of Parliament's press gallery, 22 years as NZPA's political editor and seven as parliamentary bureau chief for NZ Newswire.

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