30 Apr 2024

Analysis: What the shock poll tells us about the coalition government

9:53 am on 30 April 2024
Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters, Prime Minister Christopher Luxon and ACT leader David Seymour on 24 November, 2023.

David Seymour, Christopher Luxon and Winston Peters in November 2023. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Analysis - It's much too early in the term for the Coalition to be truly worried about the latest poll, but it should also be much too early for the public to be considering turfing it out of power.

Christopher Luxon will be alert to the factors driving the dire polling but won't be waving the white flag just yet.

The 1News-Verian poll on Monday night had National down two points to 36, Act down 1 point to seven and New Zealand First out of Parliament altogether falling under the five percent threshold on just 4.2.

That gives National and Act just 57 seats between them, not enough to hold the government benches.

On the other side of the House Labour was up two points to 30. The Greens went up two as well hitting 14, and Te Pāti Māori was steady on 4.

Assuming Te Pāti Māori gave its support to Labour and the Greens, the left-bloc would have the numbers to govern.

In reality it is only four or five points of movement, with a margin of error +/- 3.1 percentage points, but it is all going in the Opposition's direction.

Just five months into the Coalition's programme of change that will have Luxon and his kitchen Cabinet pondering which bits are resonating and which programmes might be putting people off.

Part of the problem is that so much of the Coalition's work so far has been cuts and repeals.

It creates a negative framing of the work they're doing and makes it hard to sell a positive story.

Much of the cuts and repeals had been signalled along with more controversial work such as the fast-tracking of big infrastructure projects, but other changes are burning up some of Luxon's political capital, for example, the repealing of smokefree legislation and cuts to lunch in schools.

While Luxon told Morning Report he had no plans to shy away from the tough decisions needed to turn the economy around, ACT leader David Seymour appeared slightly more concerned by the poll given he penned a letter to supporters last night titled, 'Labour could be back in 2026'.

He's blaming the inflation hangover and debt from the previous government for the Coalition's bad polling and certainly the economic outlook figures in the 1News Verian poll go some way to supporting that.

While optimism was down three points to 36, pessimism was up seven points to 26.

All eyes are now on the Budget in just a month's time and what is or more importantly isn't in it.

The Coalition is pinning a lot on its vaunted tax cuts, but it's not clear voters are as bothered about the tax cuts as much as some in the government are suggesting.

Certainly in conversations with industry and business leaders, and everyday Kiwis in regional New Zealand, tax cuts very rarely come up in conversation.

What will be more telling in the Budget are the programmes that are cut to create more fiscal headroom for that tax relief.

Luxon has already had to walk back his categorical assurance to RNZ on Monday night that all programmes in the Budget will be fully funded over four years.

The Prime Minister has been highly critical of Labour's "fiscal cliffs" and time-limited funding it left for the Coalition, but Luxon conceded on Morning Report on Tuesday that there will be some time-limited funding.

It's an early walkback and while it's better to clear that up now, Luxon shouldn't have put himself in that position in the first place.

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