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September 18, 2017 | by  | in Politics |
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Political Round Up

Election Summary

If the 2014 general election was seen as the strangest in living memory, the 2017 election can certainly be described as one of the most exciting. In this final round-up before polling day on Saturday, September 23, we summarise a tumultuous and unpredictable campaign.

Despite the popular Prime Minister John Key resigning in December 2016, for most of 2017 National still seemed to be in a strong position to maintain its centre-right government. By late July, National was polling at around 45% support according to Reid Research polls. Labour was trapped at just 24% and Labour’s leader at the time, Andrew Little, was firmly below Bill English in the “preferred Prime Minister” ratings.

Meanwhile, Labour’s likely coalition partners were fighting among themselves. Greens Co-Leader Metiria Turei said in a speech on July 8 that NZ First Leader Winston Peters has a “very racist approach to immigration,” leading Peters to fire a “warning to the Greens” that they should not “think there won’t be consequences.” The bickering was chipping away at public confidence about a potential Labour/Greens/NZ First coalition.

Despite high polling, National was not immune from controversy. In June, media revealed that Bill English had known of MP Todd Barclay’s alleged illegal recording of his employee since February 2016, despite previously saying that he had little knowledge of Barclay’s actions. Winston Peters regularly hounded English over the Barclay affair during Parliament’s question time. The Barclay affair did not damage National too much, though, as most opinion polls kept them steady at around 45% following the media frenzy.

The left fell further into disarray after Metiria Turei, during the policy launch of the Greens’ families package on July 16, said she had lied to Work and Income to increase her allowance while on the Domestic Purposes Benefit. Turei was criticised by most party leaders in Parliament, and many media commentators, over her historic benefit fraud.

Turei made her admission to bolster efforts to reduce child poverty in New Zealand, and was supported by former Green Party activists who thought the party had become too centrist in recent years. But it eventually backfired on the Greens when Andrew Little said “it’s not right for MPs to condone breaking the rules” — further damaging the credibility of a Labour/Greens government in the eyes of voters. Turei resigned on August 9 — the second of three party leaders to resign during this election — and the Greens have been struggling to regain support in the polls since. A Reid Research poll released on September 12 had the Greens at 4.9% support — not enough to get into Parliament after the election.

Labour had been unable to improve its position, and when a Colmar Brunton poll was published on July 30 showing that Andrew Little had lower “preferred Prime Minister” ratings than his deputy, Jacinda Ardern, Little’s fate was sealed. He resigned on August 1 and nominated Ardern to be the new leader.  

No policy announcement from Labour would have had the same effect on public support as did the rise of Jacinda Ardern to party leader. Just eight days after Little’s resignation, Labour rose nine points to 33.1% support in a Reid Research poll, after Ardern promised to run a “relentlessly positive” campaign. By early September, a Colmar Brunton poll put Labour at 43%, ahead of National at 39%. Labour was suddenly back in with a real chance of winning the election.

United Future Leader Peter Dunne resigned on August 22, after polling showed that he would likely lose his long-held Ōhāriu electorate seat to Labour’s Greg O’Connor. Without the Ōhāriu seat, United Future is incredibly unlikely to get into parliament, a coalition loss for National.

While Winston Peters has been repeatedly labelled by media as the “Kingmaker” of post-election negotiations, Labour’s resurgence and National’s strong support base has muscled out public support for minor parties. Further, any initial support for Gareth Morgan’s recently-formed Opportunities Party seems to have fizzled out.

In response to Labour’s rise, National began to attack Labour’s vague taxation plans. Instead of explicitly saying whether a capital gains tax will be implemented, Ardern said that a Labour government would set up a “tax working group” to decide this in its first term. Bill English repeatedly criticised Labour’s vagueness on tax throughout the televised leaders’ debates.

As of mid-September, National’s tax attacks on Labour appear to have been working: the Reid Research poll released on September 12 showed Labour had dropped to 37.8%, while National had risen to 47.3%, meaning they could govern alone. This comes after a gaff by Finance Minister Steven Joyce where he claimed that there was a $11.7 billion “fiscal hole” in Labour’s budget, only to be slammed by economists and commentators.

At the time of print, nine days out from the election, it’s still up in the air. It has been an extremely unpredictable election, and the post-election negotiations will be just as exciting.

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