Thursday, October 23, 2008

TV3 Poll Shows New Zealand Election Tightening Up

The latest TV3 opinion poll of voter preferences in the New Zealand General Election shows the race tightening up, thanks to the MMP voting system, on who will be able to govern after 8 November.

While Labour's support falls to 37.4 percent with National's remaining unchanged at 45.1 percent, the Greens have surged to 8.8 percent in the poll likely reflecting disaffected center-left voters transferring their party vote from Labour to the Greens.

This transfer of support has not been lost on Labour leader Helen Clark who is exhorting: "My message to Labour supporters is if you want a Labour-led government please vote Labour and give us the strength to negotiate later."

The poll results suggest that the new parliament will have an overhang of 123 seats: 57 for National and 47 for Labour, insufficient for either party to command a majority to govern alone.

National could likely cobble together a coalition of support with ACT (2) and United Future (1), giving a total of 60, but still not enough to govern.

National has ruled out an alliance with Winston Peters' NZ First party, which might only provide 1 additional seat. NZ First support grew to 3.5 percent in the latest poll but not enough to cross the 5 percent threshold for the party vote to ensure list representation in parliament.

Labour, on the other hand, has more "friends", having been careful at least to keep the flap open on the big tent. The Greens have announced this week (see earlier post) that their objectives are more closely aligned to Labour's policies.

The Maori Party co-leader Dr Pita Sharples, responding to Maori voter preferences for a coalition agreement with Labour rather than National, is also leaning in Labour's direction while his co-leader Turiana Turia is keeping the door open to National.

Turia has even been ready to forgive and forget within a day or so the racist comments of National's Immigration spokesman, Lockwood Smith, about Asian and Pasifika workers. Quite what she expects to achieve in terms of significant policy advances for Maori with a National-led government is at this stage largely left unexplained by Ms Turia.

Labour, then, could cobble together a coalition: Labour (47), Progressives (1), Greens (11), totalling 59 seats. Again, insufficient to command a majority in parliament and therefore the power to govern.

Thus, the Maori Party with a likely 6 to 7 seats will hold the balance of power, being the king - or queen - maker in the new parliament, determining who sits on the Treasury benches.

For National, leader John Key is going to have to work hard on damage-control as some of his dinosaur shadow cabinet members make racist comments or insist on drawing attention to road toll schemes that would cost the average citizen as much per week as the National tax cut they would receive.

In the remaining time before the election, Key will also have to start showing a more conciliatory and bridge-building stance towards Maori, something that will be a high wire act - perhaps beyond his abilities or inclination - as steps in this direction will likely alienate many of his core National voters.

For the Maori Party leadership the stakes are high. If they follow their voter support, they will gather under Labour's big tent where they could count on the Greens as allies to exert significant pressure on Labour to improve their performance on Maori issues.

Or Maori Party leadership can get out in front of their base support and align with National. This bears grave risks: National is likely to disappoint on Maori issues and the Maori Party faces a rout in three years time when disaffected voters in the Maori electorates could very well toss out Maori Party MPs in favour of Labour ones, returning to a longer term alliance of Maori electoral support for Labour and setting back the Maori Party cause.

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