Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Bryce Edwards: The Gamechanger PM and polls

Last night’s opinion polls answered the big question of whether a switch of prime minister would really be a gamechanger for election year. The 1News and Newshub polls released at 6pm gave the same response: the shift from Jacinda Ardern to Chris Hipkins has changed everything, and Labour is back in the game, surging ahead of National.

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:

• Labour: 38 (up 5.5)
• 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


Terry Morrissey said...

I wouldn't get too excited Bryce. That poll was taken before the announcement of the reshuffle which showed no cause for optimism that Hipkins actually could come up with something positive. Maybe have what it takes to rein in the maori caucus. No chance. Same old incompetents in different places.
The best thing he can do is go for an early election and lut himself out of his misery.

DeeM said...

It's a couple of polls taken after the new guy, who is really just one of the old guys, has been in office for about a week and has done absolutely nothing yet. Other than turn up in Auckland with a couple of bozos (McAnulty and Wood) and say nothing of substance.

Let's see what happens over the next few months shall we. The economy will be key for most people who will swing their vote.
If Chippy can turn that around sufficiently he'll probably get back in. Especially with Luxon as his opposition.

Anonymous said...

Nothing new here. Just like Liz Truss in the UK, short term excitement, followed by the reality. The new PM (the reputed "Mr Fix-it") has achieved sod all during his previous tenure and come election time I suspect that won't have changed and he'll be toast. The real news will be if Luxon, in the interim, has learned to grow a pair.

Unknown said...

If anyone in New Zealand believes TVNZ Political Polls, they need to "see a shrink". We are told that the Poll canvased "a segment of the population", to wit - [1] -we have % in favour [2] -a %% negative [3] - the do not knows.

Which 'segment" of the population was canvassed? Do the reside in one area, or are they wide spread across the Country? - Has never been explained.

My approach is-
- [1] the in favour/ always will be when it comes to their Political Party, especially when the researcher mentions that Party first;
- [2] the negatives, I would like to use a specific term/definitions plus, BUt the "speech police" would have a field day;
- [3] - the 'do not know' - for me they do not follow political drama, turn off any political news & politicians.

So my conclusive opinion is - Political Polls - waste of time and if the Pollies (in Wgtn) believe them, oh dear.

Barend Vlaardingerbroek said...

Unknown immediately above makes a good point about the polling methodology.
50% pro - 50% anti comes down to a zero net approval rating as does zero/zero. This doesn't make sense and is certainly not a reflection of what happens on election day. They should drop the disapproval rating measure altogether and focus on who people regard as the best choice as that will be what happens come polling day.

Anonymous said...

Of course the media will give a positive spin to Hipkins' arrival.

It is paid to do precisely this.