For all the volatility in the latest round of polls, not much has changed. Indeed, change seems to be the last thing voters want right now

Just a note about the Poll of Polls, which Rob has kindly updated. It includes the two television polls from the weekend, but not yet the newspaper efforts from the past two days.

Our average of all the polls offers a voice of caution on what has seemed like a volatile week. National still has a majority all its own, while Labour looks stuck on 30%, at least five points behind where it would have wanted to be.

That has been the central poll story this entire term, give or take a few points. Waiting for National to come down to a normal governing level has been like waiting for Godot, while Labour's attempt to gain traction has been just as forlorn.

The trend is that there remains no new trend.

Is there an early sign that Labour might be sliding into the 20s? Perhaps. But nothing conclusive yet. The flip side of that is whether the Green Party is set to benefit, gaining some of the disillusioned centre-left vote. Again, perhaps. But given the Greens habit of peaking shortly before an election, only to sink back down on election, it's hard to be firm on that.

If anything, this consistent trend re-inforces my feeling that the over-riding mood in the electorate is one of conservatism. At the last election, New Zealanders tired of Labour and went for the likeability and business smarts of John Key. They wanted a return to a non-reforming, economically-focused National government.

That instinct hasn't budged.

To the contrary, the ongoing global economic woes and the earthquakes in Canterbury have convinced many that they made the right choice.

If you'll excuse the surfeit of adages, the feeling has been: It's time to hunker down, to cut the cloth to fit and to trim the sails. This is no time for flashy reforms, or much change of any kind, frankly. Let's keep our heads down, lean heavily on Australia and China and muddle through. We'll look at Labour again when we're feeling a bit more safe and sound.

The curious thing is that bad news is usually just that for governments - they cop the blame, whether they deserve it or not. They're in power, so folk assume they should be able to do something.

But the punters have been forgiving. So far. The global crisis and the earthquakes have not been pinned on National at all.

Of course that will change at some point, just as John Key's easy-going manner will one day start to grate. But the polls are saying nothing of that at the moment. Instead, they suggest that Key might be able to do a Holland and become the first PM to win an outright majority since 1951.

One footnote. The Poll of Polls has ACT bringing in three MPs, making the debate over Hillary Calvert's removal from the list this week a theoretical concern at best. Even if she made it to six on the list, she was never comin' back.

But the two newspaper polls this week have the party at just over one percent, meaning John Banks would be the only ACT MP left after the election. While not a trend yet either, it must be horrifying to those involved, perhaps John Banks most of all.

It's one thing to spend your later professional years with the trappings of the political life, hanging round the water cooler with a small group of like-minded souls. It's quite another to be suddenly forced to lead a small, activist party on your own.

If Banks alone gets back in, Brash will have to go and the former mayor would become the leader - by accident. You'd imagine Banks will be looking longingly at John Boscawen and Don Brash as they toddle off to easier private lives, while he has to live with three years of political irrelevance and the hard sweat of re-building a party.

You've got to laugh. I'll bet Rodney Hide is.

But quite seriously, could Banks opt out before the election? Or, more likely, could the right-wing voters of Epsom decide that a single ACT MP is of no use to mice nor men nor National, and throw their lot back in behind the party they really want in charge?

Comments (5)

by Graeme Edgeler on August 31, 2011
Graeme Edgeler

I'm still banking on a late-stage cancer patient to contest Epsom as an independent for the purpose of raising concerns they have with the health system, who will die some time between the close of nominations and the close of polling, thereby cancelling the Epsom electorate election, with it, ACT's lifeline.

by Tim Watkin on August 31, 2011
Tim Watkin

I'll take that bet, Graeme.

by alexb on September 01, 2011

This is much more thoughtful than the coverage of the polls, perhaps you should take over from their resident troll David Farrar. I disagree that National isn't trying to reform anything though, they're trying to do it quietly, but there is no doubt if they win asset sales are coming, which is a pretty major upheaval of the government balance sheet.

by Richard Aston on September 01, 2011
Richard Aston

Outside of the left/right debate I'm wondering if NZs electoral cycle is just too short. Maybe there is an innate rhythm to all this and its longer than 3 years.

I reckon most people are up for change but it’s the rate of change that disturbs them. John Key’s team is pretty smart not rocking the boat too much, keeping the leader smiling, waving and saying everything’s ok. Perhaps they know the natural cycle of change is not peaking yet and all they have to do is stay calm and carry on.

So what would be a “natural” electoral cycle ?

by Tim Watkin on September 02, 2011
Tim Watkin

Alright, I'll tackle that question... Yes, I think three years is too short. But a natural cycle? Does that depend in part on culture? On the size of the population being governed? On the type of democracy?

Our three years – short – cycle was always a check on our incredibly powerful governments. MMP and the broader range of parties has moderated them, so perhaps that makes a four year cycle more plausible now. Perhaps it's just better anyway – even if it means you have to get a mandate more often, three years just doesn't allow enough time to govern.

And thanks Alex. Sure, the Nats have done some reform – and they're proposing more, the welfare changes being the most radical. But it's hardly 1991, is it? Not yet, anyway. And I don't think that's the Key-English style. They seem to have been won over by the Clark model of incrementalism.

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