Election polling data should worry left bloc

Data from polling firm UMR has shed fresh insight into last year’s election, including worrying news for those on the political left, Thomas Coughlan reports. 

Polling from the last election shows National’s share of the vote holding up as the left bloc descended into internecine conflict following former Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei’s confession of benefit fraud. 

The polling is included as part of Victoria University’s 2017 election survey and appears in the book Substance and Stardust, in a chapter by UMR’s chief, Stephen Mills.

Before Turei’s speech, UMR had Labour at 26 percent, the Greens at 13 percent, and New Zealand First at 14 percent (a total of 53 percent for all three parties that make up the current coalition).

UMR’s polling after the speech and Jacinda Ardern’s subsequent elevation to the Labour leadership saw a 13 percent increase in Labour’s vote to 36 percent, while New Zealand First and the Greens both dropped back to 8 percent. 

The final election result saw Labour win 36 percent of the vote, New Zealand First 7.2 percent, and the Greens 6.27, collectively winning just 50.36 percent of the vote. This was 3 percent less than before Turei’s speech. 

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei announces her resignation. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

National’s vote by contrast proved remarkably stable. A theory was mooted that the shifting vote between the three opposition parties may have actually disguised a more complex movement whereby right-leaning New Zealand First voters shifted to National while some National voters moved to Labour. 

But Mills writes that analysis of historic demographic data going back to 2014 did not back up this thesis.

Spotlight on the Greens

There was some concerning information for the Green Party in the report.

UMR’s polling showed their support dropping to just 4 percent. This was lower than other polls — Newshub showed the Greens falling to 4.9 percent in early September, while Colmar Brunton had them at 4.3 percent in early August. 

National Party tracking polls had the Greens fall to between 3 and 4 percent.

This will worry the left bloc, which needs the Green party to poll above 5 percent to stay in Parliament. Anything less would waste a huge number of votes and not just see the Greens fall out of Parliament, but likely cause Labour to lose any chance of forming a government. 

There is a widespread acknowledgement within the Green Party that Jacinda Ardern’s popularity will mean they will poll lower than when they were in Opposition and the party will have to depend on its loyal base to ensure its vote does not crash below 5 percent.

The Greens crashing out of Parliament would have the effect of inflating National's share of seats, making it less likely they would need support partners to govern.

The big issues 

The Greens’ predicament is made no easier by issues poling data, which records voters’ primary reasons for voting for a particular party.

It shows that while the environment was the most important concern for Green voters (registering 93 points) social issues were not far behind. Concerns about child poverty and inequality polled 87 points and concerns about mental health and suicide polled 71 points. 

The Greens are widely thought to have delivered to their environmental wing, with the ban on offshore oil and gas exploration, the plastic bag ban, an increase in DoC funding and the forthcoming Zero Carbon Bill. 

While the Greens have delivered some social gains like supporting Labour’s landmark Families Package, reform of tenancy laws, and the healthy homes guarantee, these tend to have been more strongly associated with the Labour Party. 

"Kingmaker" Winston Peters looks likely to be in the box seat again in 2020. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

New Zealand First’s issues polling is also worth attention. 

The effect of immigration on New Zealand’s infrastructure was by far and away the most salient issue for New Zealand First voters, registering 87 points in the survey. Immigration was far ahead of the next most important issue, National’s track record in Government, which only registered 62 percent. 

This is particularly salient in light of New Zealand First’s opposition to Labour’s plan to raise the refugee quota to 1500, which sparked a significant display of Government disunity in the weeks following Winston Peters’ trip to Nauru, where he spoke on the quota. 

But with National looking unlikely to shift on its pro-immigration stance, while Labour softens its election position on immigration, the issue looks likely to remain live until 2020 — as long as overall migration stays high.

That would portend well for New Zealand First which, as Mills notes looks set to be “in the box seat” in 2020 once again. 

Substance and Stardust (RRP $40) is published by Victoria University Press.

This article was first published on Newsroom Pro on Tuesday, September 12 at 6.30 pm. Subscribe to Newsroom Pro here.

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