Many polls. Much excitement. Little change.

We have updated the Pundit Poll of Polls, and it shows that the last few months of political manoeuvring, scandals, by-elections, and so on has not had any marked impact on the overall state of play. National remains in the driver's seat and on cruise control.

We estimate that National holds around 52% support, a figure it has hovered closely around since March. Labour has around 33% support, little changed since the last election, and very static since August. The consistent difference between the two larger parties hovers around nineteen points, right in the middle of its 17-22 point range during 2010. And the difference between the right-leaning and left-leaning parties as blocs, currently around 13%, has only varied within a narrow range (10-13 points) since May.

It isn’t like there has been nothing going on in politics during the year. There have been plenty of scandals and other items of prurient interest for political junkies. The 2010 Budget contained one of the biggest overhauls to our tax system in living memory. And the politicians’ responses to the tragedies in the South Island drew sustained headlines as well.

The parties seem to be stalemated because no consistent pattern has emerged in these events. For every Pansy Wong there was a Chris Carter. For every Key speech at Pike River there was a Brownlee debacle in parliament. And for all the people excited at the prospect of the Budget’s tax reform package, there appear to be just as many feeling ambivalent about its ultimate impact on their wallets. Without a consistent pattern in the events, there has been no catalyst for a media narrative about one team in the ascendancy and another on the decline. Without a narrative such as that, it is very hard to change the minds of citizens focused on things other than politics.

Among the smaller parties, the Greens have recorded a decline in recent weeks, which (while only 1%) accounts for about a seventh of their support base. Nonetheless they remain very comfortably above the 5% MMP threshold, despite what a solitary Colmar Brunton poll has recently suggested.

ACT’s slow steady slide from around 1.8% in July to around 1-1.2% in December represents over a third of their earlier supporters. Should this trend solidify, the value to National of giving Rodney Hide a good run in Epsom may only be one right-leaning MP – one National MP or two ACT MPs. Is that marginal gain, in an election where National will feel relatively comfortable about remaining in government, worth the price of having to put up with Rodney for three more years?

Also notable is one story that wasn’t – it turns out rumours of New Zealand First’s rise from the dead have been greatly exaggerated. Two reputable polls put New Zealand First at 4.5% in the second half of 2010, leading to a rash of coverage predicting Winston Peters’ Phoenix-like ascent from the ashes. The other thirteen polls – which attracted much less coverage of New Zealand First – showed this conclusion to be entirely premature. New Zealand First moved very little in our Poll of Polls in the second half of 2010. In July, their estimated support was 2.3-2.7%, in December it ranged from 2.5-2.7%. This is why we do polls of polls – reading polls one at a time can lead people to make all kinds of dramatic, exciting, and utterly wrong conclusions.

(We did also make one change to our Poll of Polls methodology. We no longer assume Jim Anderton will win Wigram, due to his impending retirement. This change means that the Progressives’ 0.4% support now translates into no seats rather than one overhang seat.)

All this stagnation has made Labour’s job even harder in the upcoming election year. For the left to have a legitimate shot at the Treasury benches, they need to cut the right-leaning bloc’s lead from thirteen points currently to three points on election day. Any less change than that makes a left-leaning coalition nigh-impossible to construct, and even with this level of change a right-leaning coalition would be much more likely to form. To bring about a ten-point swing like this would require Labour and the Greens to win over about 100,000 current National supporters while losing none of their own the other way. They have around 300 days to do it.

There is international precedent for large election year swings like this, for example in the recent Australian election. But such swings are very rare. Given the Poll of Polls’ history over the past year, there is little to indicate lighting on the horizon here.

Comments (8)

by Chris Webster on December 21, 2010
Chris Webster

Poll of Polls eh?

Every political party in the House mentioned or given some air

Except  the Maori Party.

Now why is that?

Given this 'poll of polls' includes a political party which has no membership in the HOR

This declaration therefore is pretty  ... meaningless .. unlike the graphs analysis that accompanies the 'poll'

by Andrew R on December 21, 2010
Andrew R

Where is the rest of the information needed to make sense of these polls:

-- how many undecideds?

-- how many refused to answer

-- was polling based on contacting people with landlines, or stopping peope in the street, or what way was this polling conducted in a representative way


by Eleanor Black on December 21, 2010
Eleanor Black

Chris, the man isn't going to cover every single wrinkle, or party, in the a few hundred words. The answer to your curious 'why' question I'm sure is 'time and space'.

What do you make of the Maori Party's polling?

As for the 'trend that doesn't show any trending', that about sums it up nicely, really.

by Rob Salmond on December 21, 2010
Rob Salmond

Chris - I think the deal with the Maori party is vaguely interesting, but only vaguely. The short version is thay they also went nowhere, forwards or backwards, for six months. The slightly longer version is that they have an internal rift, they support legislation that can easily be read as contradicting their very reson for being, and they shed absolutely no support as a result. That seems odd. Did they have counterveiling high-profile achievments during the same period? I can't really think of any. Perhaps their voters, apparently like everybody else's voters, just aren't listening to pundits and parliament this year.

Andrew - Our methodology is laid out under the graphs at the Poll of Polls page, below the graphs. In short, the raw polling is not done by us, but by Colmar Brunton, Roy Morgan, et al. So we have to take what they give us in terms of sampling frames, contact methods, etc.

One part we can control, however, is how we treat undecideds. We exclude undecideds from both the support level calculations and also from the weighting algorithm, so they are truly outside of all our analyses. This is different from most of the polling firms, who exclude undecideds from their support level calculations (that is how all the figures always add to 99 or 100), but **include** them in their claimed sample sizes (usually a round 1,000) and margin of error calculations. We think the polling firms overstate their degree of confidence as a result, a mistake we do not replicate in our poll aggregation method.

by DeepRed on December 22, 2010

One obvious precedent was President Bush Sr, who garnered much goodwill for handling the end of the Cold War and the 1st Gulf War. A little over a year later, he was political toast. One major reason? "It's the economy, stupid!"

by Chris Webster on December 22, 2010
Chris Webster


Eleanor:  The Maori Party is a party in coalition with National and Act and therefore warranted inclusion by the 'man'.


Rob: "The short version is thay they also went nowhere, forwards or backwards, for six months" -

well - that's the minimum  that should have been discussed - not after the fact as you are doing now.

No sense or credibility exists in your "poll of polls' promotion when it omits / fails to discuss a political party which is part of the current government.



by Claire Browning on December 22, 2010
Claire Browning

Tsk tsk. Somebody needs a stiff drink, and a long lie down. Plenty of time for that next year.

Somebody's also slightly missed the point: right now, only the flacks and the junkies care.

No sense or credibility exists in your "poll of polls' promotion ...

That's a wee bit offensive.

Would allowing oneself to be leant on help credibility much, I wonder?

by Matthew Percival on December 22, 2010
Matthew Percival

The Maori Party is an interesting proposition as they can totally outstrip representation based on their party support by winning a large number of electorate seats.

So while the "right" may outstrip the "left" by 10-13 points when converted to seats in parliament it may work out to be slightly more than that.

The interesting thing for me in the leadup to the election is the traditional loss of votes for the major parties and the gains for the minor parties. As popular as this National Party is I don't see them getting over 50% of the party vote which begs the question where they will shed their votes to.

Act seems to have more issues than policies. United Future has become a dead duck. Maori Party? - probably not.

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