The poll results for 1News and Newshub were remarkably similar. But to comprehend their message it’s still best to average them out. Here’s the average party vote results:
• National: 37 (down 2.5)
• Act: 10 (No change)
• Greens: 7.5 (down 1.5)
• Te Pāti Māori: 1.4 (down 0.5)
• NZ First: 2.1 (down 1.5)
And here’s the average preferred PM results:
• Hipkins 21.3
• Luxon 20.4
Labour and Hipkins: Surging back into the game
Labour has surged back ahead of National after being well behind for the last year. It looks like the change of leader was just what Labour needed, even though many assumed that Ardern resigning would be the final nail in the party’s coffin. Instead, it turns out that Ardern had been a liability, holding Labour back.
As Newshub’s political editor Jenna Lynch explained, “Losing a leader can be incredibly destabilising, but Labour has flipped that from fiasco to fortune.” She explains that “It’s a huge turnaround for a party that was previously trending downwards in support – Hipkins has proven to be Labour’s saviour.”
Although Newshub political reporters can be rather hyperbolic about polls, Lynch was right to make the following claim: “This poll is a tectonic shift in the political centre of gravity. Labour is in front, somewhere they’ve not been for a year now. Chippy has changed the landscape. Decision 2023 is going to be dynamite.” Lynch claims that “the country’s caught Chippy Fever”.
Hipkins’ new pitch to the public has obviously resonated – being less woke, more working class oriented, and focusing on the issues that matter – specifically the economy and the cost-of-living crisis.
In terms of Hipkins’ leadership, 1News political editor Jessica Mutch McKay says that the polling shows the public “like the fact that he’s changed the tone for Labour and really tried to narrow that focus.”
Labour will be particularly happy with the high levels of trust expressed for Hipkins. The Newshub poll found that 53 per cent trust Hipkins, with only 27 per cent saying they don’t. In contrast, only 37 per cent trust Christopher Luxon with 44 per cent, saying they don’t. These figures are crucial – it’s very hard for an untrusted politician to win an election.
The 1News poll asked voters whether they approved or disapproved of the leaders. For Hipkins his net approval rating was 36 per cent, made up of a 46 per cent who approved, and 10 ten per cent who disapproved. In contrast, Luxon’s net approval rating was only 9 per cent – made up of 43 per cent approval and 34 per cent disapproval.
Herald political editor Claire Trevett says these results for Labour and Hipkins give him significant momentum to carry him forward: “The strong start in the polls gives him more license to do what he thinks he needs to do when it comes to shedding the parts of Labour’s programme that he thinks are holding them back. It will also give his caucus hope: And hope is crucial for discipline.”
Therefore, if Hipkins wants to carry out a big policy reset – for instance, ditching Three Waters, pushing back further on Co-governance – he now has much greater authority and leeway to do so.
National and Luxon: Falling behind for the first time
National had previously been sleepwalking to victory, confident that the Ardern-led administration was deeply unpopular and were likely to lose the election without National even having to provide a strong alternative. They can no longer be complacent.
Stuff political editor Luke Malpass says the party will have to re-evaluate their electoral strategy: “It also poses a significant challenge for Luxon and National, which has ridden the tide of discontent with the Government over the past year. This suggests National will have to reassess its tactics”.
Claire Trevett also emphasises the trouble that Luxon is now in: “It’s not a good start to the year for National Party leader Christopher Luxon, who also delivered National an initial bump when he took over a bit over a year ago. He has managed to keep the party in the mid-30s – but has not managed to drag it back into the 40s yet, and his own approval ratings have stagnated.”
Those low trust ratings for Luxon will be particularly worrying. As Newsroom’s Jo Moir says today, the poll results show that “Kiwis are yet to connect with the Luxon brand.”
Yet, perhaps Luxon will take heart in the fact that Hipkins’ bounce wasn’t even higher. As the Spinoff’s Toby Manhire says today, Labour’s surge was “Sizeable, but certainly not conclusive”, and Hipkins’ 23 per cent preferred PM rating is “hardly stratospheric”. Manhire concludes that this poll might even come to be seen as just a “Chippy blip”.
Luxon was certainly quite correct when he told Newstalk last night that this boost for the new PM was to be expected: “New leaders always get a bump and we’ve seen that in the past and particularly when you hold the office of the Prime Minister, it’s even more so.”
A hung parliament? A “Chrismaker” Te Pāti Māori? And a dying NZ First?
The two latest poll results emphasise how close the race now is between the left and right blocs. At the moment, the National/Act bloc is only slightly ahead of Labour/Greens. And neither poll result would allow one side to form a government.
In a 120-seat Parliament, one side needs to be able to count on the votes of 61 seats. Both polls had National and Act winning 60 seats – just one seat short, and Labour and the Greens on 58 seats. The other two seats were held, in both polls, by Te Pāti Māori – who hasn’t declared who they would coalesce with. In these poll scenarios, Te Pāti Māori could only give their support to a rightwing government, otherwise, they would cause a hung parliament.
Last night, Te Pāti Māori MPs were keeping their cards close to their chests, suggesting that although they were unfavourable towards National, they wouldn’t rule out supporting a rightwing administration. They are enjoying being, as one pundit put it, the “potential Chrismaker”, and the leaders started talking about what their bottom lines would be for coalition negotiations with Labour and National.
The fortunes of the minor parties, therefore, continue to be crucial to this year’s election race. And this poll wasn’t just bad for National, which obviously leaked support back to Labour. Support has also shifted to Labour from the Greens and New Zealand First. While this might not have a big impact on the Greens, the loss of support from New Zealand First might prove to be crucial in thwarting their supposed 2023 comeback, which had previously looked likely.
Therefore, the rise of Chris Hipkins is not only a real threat to Chris Luxon, but also to the plans of Winston Peters. We might look back on the arrival of PM Hipkins, and perhaps these polls, as being the crucial point in which the survival and revival of New Zealand First were killed off.
All the parties and politicians who fared poorly in last night’s poll will know that a poll bump and honeymoon were always likely to occur for Hipkins and Labour. Everyone will now be wondering just how long it can last – or whether it’s the start of a new momentum for a revived incumbent.
Dr Bryce Edwards is a politics lecturer at Victoria University and director of Critical Politics, a project focused on researching New Zealand politics and society. This article was first published HERE