The story's not done yet - a final post

"At the end of the day", it's so close, this story won't be done until Saturday night


I think I'm going to skip the office sweepstake. I just don't know and I don't think anyone knows because undecideds, turnout and late movement could make a huge difference. This election campaign has simply been so volatile I think it's harder than ever to read the public mood; and hey, there are hours still to go.

It sounds odd to talk about volatility when the polls have been pretty stable. While there are some distinct differences in the numbers the polls are offering up, the trends and ballparks are pretty clear. National will be comfortably the largest party and has settled in the mid to late 40s. Labour is in the mid to late 20s.

But Pundit's Poll of Polls has been updated for the final polls now. It has National at 47.9, Labour on 25.4, the Greens on 12.4, New Zealand First on 6.7, the Conservatives 3.9, Internet-Mana 1.5, the Maori Party on 1.0, ACT 0.5 and United Future nadda.

What that says to me is that after a remarkable, chaotic, yet vital campaign it's too close to call. One or two percent either way makes a huge difference in that picture.

As Rob Salmond, who designed our Poll of Polls, has pointed out on his own website, the tendency in recent elections is that National and the Greens will slide on that, Labour will pick up a little and New Zealand First a little more.

What's notable this campaign is that with the negatives around National throughout this campaign, its soft support would have been looking for somewhere to go. Hence my earlier post that some swing voters will be wanting the government to change, but not a change of government.

Perhaps in a different campaign – one based around education and wages – it may have gone to Labour. But swing voters seemed to have switched off David Cunliffe by the time the leaves started falling this year, so that may never have happened.

We'll never know, however, because Dirty Politics changed everything. Nicky Hager published his book, public debate focused on National's denials and Labour was shut out of the campaign.

That was beginning to hurt National – if not the substantive issues, then at least Key's handling of them. So Judith Collins was shown the door and the hint of a downward slide for National was halted. It's hard to know how much impact the Glenn Greenwald spying stories have had, but they haven't been massive. 

So those voters who did go looking for a new home – some who would have slipped away regardless – went looking for someone to keep the powerful honest. They found New Zealand First, the Greens and this time the new kid in town, the Conservatives.

The great unintended consequence of this campaign is that Hager's work may have contributed, in practical terms, to a swing to the right. Or not.

There's still a very real chance of a change of government, which creates a very different narrative about what motivated those swing voters.

The point is, small margins could have huge impacts. If the Conservatives squeak five percent the picture changes entirely. What if there's more momentum than it seems towards New Zealand First? What is ACT nicks a second MP or if the Maori Party is a one seat party? What if National's slide is bigger than it looks? Or Labour's?

Those margins matter immensely.

National's taken a few big risks this campaign, especially denying everything when Dirty Politics broke and not backing the Conservatives. Given how its polls have held up it looks as if they've paid off, but that's far from certain. Labour has struggled for a connection and to be heard.

To let's cut to the chase. I can see three possible outcomes. John Key's dream is to continue with the same partners and that's still possible. If National's vote is at the high end of the polls and enough people plump for the "strong and stable" line amongst this crazy campaign, it's do-able. However as Paddy Gower always reminds me, the same would also be different. As it stands Key can choose between ACT on one side and the Maori Party on the other. That seems very unlikely to continue. If he gets his existing three partners he may need all of them to vote with him, which will be very difficult.

The most likely option is option two: National with either New Zealand First or the Conservatives. Has Colin Craig's momentum stalled a little too early and too low or will he carry on over the top? If he makes it, National is home and hosed, yet with a partner it has repeatedly spurned and which wants binding referenda at least. That will be a difficult conversation to have. 

The third option is a change of government. Labour and Greens get close to 40 percent and a resurgent New Zealand First does the rest. Perhaps the turnout somehow helps the left or the polls are hiding a couple of percent on that side of the House. But any way you slice it, it looks like any potential change of government rests entirely on the shoulders of Peters. See my previous post this morning as to how that may play out.

Of course, the ins and outs of those minor parties especially could change all of that. So I'll save my money from the sweepstake.

But I'll end today on the point I made on National Radio earlier this week. It seems the trendy thing to say is that you're over this election and that the "distractions" of Dirty Politics and spying have taken attention away from the issues that matter, such as health, the economy and education.

Tosh. Sure we could have had more debate about other issues, but having produced The Nation I can point to debates we've run on education, the environment, housing and more. Newspapers have done comprehensive policy comparisons. But more to the point, the Hager and spying issues are not distractions.

They go to the heart of good government, the honest of our leaders and the integrity of our political system. Arguably, this has been one of the most important campaigns ever.

So I'm over people who say they're over those stories. Whichever side you take, if you're not engaged on those, you haven't been paying attention. So switch on.

And as always, go vote.