I'm shocked I tell you. Shocked... Shocked that anyone would be surprised by tonight's Newshub-Reid Research poll. The seasons of politics are turning as expected. The complicating factor is Judith Collins.

The headlines cry crisis for National and Simon Bridges. The latest Newshub Reid Research poll has landed a series of blows on Bridges and his party – National is down, Bridges is down and Collins is up. Wham, bam and thank you Ma'am.

It's a blow to Bridges, especially at a time when New Zealand enjoys only two public polls (Newshub and TVNZ). The splash of instability around National since Jami-Lee Ross's destructive scandal combined with the pinch of mediocrity in Bridges' public performances is a recipe for a loss of voter confidence. For a public little focused on politics amidst a long, hot summer it simply starts to colour in the rough outline of an underwhelming leadership.

Some of those headlines talk of knives, fretful meetings and calamity. Yet the poll was as inevitable as it is unsurprising. It's hard to imagine too many in National will be wanting to burn their Bridges quite yet.

This poll speaks to the power of incumbency and stability. And it suggest that for all her little slips and slops, Jacinda Ardern's ability to project positivity here and something tov be proud of on the world stage remains a potent combination. 

The poll has National down 3.5 percent to 41.6. Labour is up 4.4 percent to 47.5, the first time it has been ahead in the Newshub-Reid Research poll in 12 years. That's just the Newshub poll however; the TVNZ-Colmar Brunton has told a different story, which suggests public sentiment has been quite volatile. It's worth remembering Labour leapt ahead of National in that poll even before the last election and was ahead last year too, before dropping behind late in the year.

That National has stayed in touch or even ahead is the much more dramatic polling story of the past 12 months. A dip was inevitable after the loss of John Key, Bill English and then the election. Follow that with Bridges' listening tour and the party's yet-to-be-seen policy work, his hardly inspirational manner and the Ross saga and, well, a poll drop is as surprising as autumn coming after summer.

Politics has its own seasons and this is National's autumn. Or its winter. It's too soon to say which, except if 41.6 percent is winter, heck, National can hardly complain.

The problem for Bridges is his own preferred Prime Minister polling down to five percent flat. And it is flat. Newshub reminds us that the last leader to poll that low was Phil Goff back in 2010.

But it's worth National pondering how Labour responded to that and what happened to it over the next seven years. It was a party divided and lacking both purpose and identity. It went through four leaders before, frankly, lucking out thanks to Andrew Little's resignation and Ardern's late, inspired run.

The odds were always that National and Bridges would slump and need to rebuild. Arguably, National will be in real trouble down the track if it doesn't refresh and rethink at this stage; staying in the 40s offers up a siren song begging it to change little, carry on, merely slap a fresh coat on the house that Key, English and Joyce built. The party must fight hard to ignore that and instead embrace renewal. 

The odds were always that Bridges would play the Goff role and that he will, one day, be rolled. The odds are that Bridges is not the next National Prime Minister. The odds are that Labour wins a second term regardless who leads National.

So, this poll? Inevitable. Unsurprising. And a long way until the next election.

The complicating factor is Judith Collins. She sits there ahead of Bridges, on 6.2 percent. It's hardly a momentous number in itself and not a number from which you'd launch a coup. Not yet anyway. But just ask Andrew Little what it's like to have a colleague more popular than you as leader. It does get people talking. And balls rolling. Of course it can be overcome; Jim Bolger spent chunks of his Prime Ministerial career less popular than some of his MPs and survived. But nothing Bridges has done so far suggests he has Bolger's talents for survival and leadership.

OK, so it's inevitable the Collins question will be posed. My question is whether National will then ask the next, critical question. After tonight's poll we know Bridges' floor; at least, we know he can go so low that it doesn't really matter. But the next question is: What is Collins' ceiling? It's all very well to get six, 12, even 18 percent of New Zealanders excited. But can you imagine her on 41.8 percent, as Ardern is today? Or the 40+ percent Key so consistently achieved? Can she generate the popularity of a John Key or win over a coalition partner? There's the rub.

Or, put another way: Would she be some goddess bringing a new spring or Jack Frost, dragging winter on and on and on?

This is a poll that will put bounce into Ardern's speech as she finally begins the parliamentary year. She is growing the sort of armour plate that got Key the nickname Teflon John. But it leaves Bridges where he always was – needing to lift his game significantly to cause the kind of once in a lifetime upset he needs to be the next Prime Minister.

Comments (12)

by Frank Stark on February 12, 2019
Frank Stark

 ... the first time it has been ahead in the Newshub-Reid Research poll in 12 years. It's worth remembering Labour leapt ahead of National in that poll even before the last election and was ahead last year too, before dropping behind late in the year.

First time in 12 years, or since 2018?

by Frank Stark on February 12, 2019
Frank Stark

 ... the first time it has been ahead in the Newshub-Reid Research poll in 12 years. It's worth remembering Labour leapt ahead of National in that poll even before the last election and was ahead last year too, before dropping behind late in the year.

First time in 12 years, or since 2018?

by James Green on February 12, 2019
James Green

National's got nothing. They are totally reliant on having a charasmatic leader.

But then it's the same story for Labour and New Zealand First, and even the Greens are most of the way to that status as well.

by Tim Watkin on February 12, 2019
Tim Watkin

Thanks for that Frank. It seems a sentence dropped out somehow... I've added something back in. Cheers.

by Tim Watkin on February 12, 2019
Tim Watkin

James, leadership and charisma has always been part of success or failure in politics. But I confess both of the main parties seem less than super-powered at the moment. I wrote a couple of times last year about them having training wheels on. 

Do you think that's fair? If so, what's going on?

by James Green on February 12, 2019
James Green

Yes Tim, I'd say that's fair. I don't think Jacinda is very charsmatic, but she has some small flair. I don't see any coming from National's side.

I think the huge swings in voter share between Labour and National over the last 15 years are indicative of a big chunk of the electorate not being motivated by party ideology or policy. The very low party membership numbers are also telling.

This and the a review of party leaders over the last 10 years and how the polls have changed under them points me towards charasma as the defining motivator.

There are differences between National and Labour, but I suspect a good number of the electorate would be hard pressed to specify them.

by Simon Connell on February 13, 2019
Simon Connell

This is the most sensible thing I've read about this poll. It's a disaster for National only if not forming a government in the next election is a disaster, in which case they were in disaster territory anway. But the idea that not forming a government in the next election is a disaster seems pretty silly, since that's not what happens in the usual course of things when a party goes into opposition.

by Frank Stark on February 13, 2019
Frank Stark

The more embedded that expectations of two-term minimum tenures becomes, the more likely that opposition parties will game the six-year cycle, with everyone looking for the messiah to announce themselves at the four-to-five year mark. Will we ever again see an opposition leader, elevated soon after a loss of government, become Prime Minister? Have we ever? 

by Tim Watkin on February 14, 2019
Tim Watkin

Thanks Simon, you sum it up nicely. The NZ political pattern is that it takes a pretty big SNAFU (or death) for a government to fall after just one term. So in many ways the first term is almost always defined by the government and if they can be bad enough to warrant a rare ejection.

And I imagine Judith Collins knows that and so is in no rush. Same for Nikki Kaye.

by Tim Watkin on February 14, 2019
Tim Watkin

@ Frank. I agree. 

I started to write a reply to your question about whether we have ever seen one... and it got so interesting I might write a separate post later...

 

 

by Charlie on February 16, 2019
Charlie

We don't vote new governments in; we vote old ones out. The clock is ticking on the current government because they made a number of extremely rash election promises that are pretty much doomed to blow up their face.

It's just a matter of when.

Will they survive 2020? Nobody knows. A lot depends on how fast and how far the economy goes down and how well National manage to pin the blame on Labour for the fall.

As someone pointed out, what matters is viable coalition partners and I see a couple problems for Labour in 2020.

1/ A new teal coloured environmental party could pinch a couple of percent off the Greens and put them below the 5% threshold. The Greens deserve this because they seem to have forgotten sane environmentalism in favour of woke-left craziness.

2/ I see a lot of rabidly anti-NZF sentiment on facebook by people who voted NZF in 2016. They voted for Winston in order to add some spine to National's fairly wet John Key approach, but instead Winston enabled a socialist. I think that unless Jones can buy an electorate with his slush fund, NZF might also disappear.

 

by Megan Pledger on February 17, 2019
Megan Pledger

@Charlie

National aiming to destroy Labours coalitions partners is only a good strategy when National are ahead on the polls.  Now that Labour is ahead Labour don't need those partners alive - it actually makes it worse for National - National are behind and  yet still aim is to wreck all relationships with parties that may have seen them beat Labour together.  If those parties die with Labour ahead of National then Labour wins alone.

Plus,  thinking the plan to destroy Labour's coalition partners is working because the colalitions' parties' numbers are low mid-cycle is stupid.  Coalition parties always have low numbers mid-cycle as people are thinking at this time in terms of left/right  i.e. Labour/National.  It's only when the election comes around that people think about "who on the left" or think about strategic voting i.e. voting Act in Epsom.

 

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