Election 2017 on a knife edge

8:40 am on 16 September 2017

Power Play - With just a week to go in the campaign, this general election is closer than any political contest New Zealand has seen for more than a decade.

Bill English & Jacinda Adern don't think voting should be compulsory.

Bill English and Jacinda Ardern will meet for the final televised leaders debate on Wednesday night. Photo: RNZ

The 2005 campaign was the last to be this hard to call, as National's Don Brash came within a whisker of ousting the incumbent Prime Minister, Helen Clark.

Political reporters on the campaign trail are constantly exclaiming through their tired fog that no one could have predicted it would be this way just six weeks ago.

Back then Labour was languishing in the mid to low 20s in polling and National was on a cake-walk back into office.

But with the election of Jacinda Ardern as Labour's leader, the opposition's fortunes changed overnight.

Labour has steadily climbed in the RNZ Poll of Polls to the point that it and National are neck and neck with National on 41.9 percent and Labour on 41.6 percent.

Just a week before that Labour was ahead on 41.8 percent with National on 41.1 percent.

In the final week both parties will be looking to take any opportunity to sway wavering voters.

To that end, Jacinda Ardern is working hard to make sure the young and 'youth adjacent' get out to vote, reminding them that with advance voting underway, they can vote anytime between now and the election.

Bill English is taking a more traditional approach, still talking about polling day on 23 September, and appearing surprised when voters told him on Friday that they had already cast their ballot.

As the campaign has intensified, the past weeks have seen National attack Labour's credibility on economic and fiscal matters with a ham-fisted claim that Labour had a $11.7 billion hole in its fiscal plan, which has since been widely debunked by economists.

But Jacinda Ardern's proposal to enact tax changes recommended by a working group in the first term of a Labour government was a weak spot that left her and her party open to accusations of not being upfront with voters.

Labour will be hoping that vulnerability has been removed with its reversion to the former leader Andrew Little's position it would take any planned changes to the electorate in 2020.

Has that change in position deprived National of a rich source of ammunition?

It has not changed its attack advertisements which continue to claim Labour will introduce a capital gains and land tax, as well as its misleading claim Labour would raise income tax.

Expect to hear more from National in the coming week about economic and fiscal credibility.

Bill English will be talking about the choice between what he characterises as National's strong and stable management, and the great unknown that voters could face under Labour.

He says the economy is tracking well under National and there is no need for change.

Jacinda Ardern will be highlighting what she sees as the risk in sticking with the status quo.

She says Labour will be focused on health and housing, arguing there has been so much neglect under National both areas are under significant pressure.

Both leaders will be travelling all over the country in the final week, trying to nail home those messages.

Bill English and Jacinda Ardern will meet for the final televised leaders debate on Wednesday night, but neither will be placing too much stock in that clash as by then they expect many people will have made up their minds.

However based on the tumultuous nature of the campaign, neither leader will have any more clarity about where those votes are going than anyone else does.

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