Well, it’s a little too early to tell yet, but there’s an interesting development in this month’s Colmar Brunton poll, that if the next poll bears it out, could be a bit of an own-goal for Labour. Please excuse (or skip, at your leisure) the following horse-race analysis, I know we get a bit much of that style of discussing the election in general, but this is an angle I haven’t seen much from coverage. (as usual, I’m more cautious than average on drawing conclusions from single polls, but this one is such a sharp uptick that I’d be surprised if it didn’t mean anything)
This is the first poll after Labour’s Māori caucus announced they’re not going to give themselves a Party List parachute.
Māori are very accustomed to being able to split their list and electorate votes in many electorates, from that time that NZ First swept the Māori electorates, to the birth of the Māori Party, to the endorsement of Hone’s split into the Mana Party, it’s basically a tradition now that many, if not most, Māori electorates will have a likely option for vote-splitting. It was looking like Labour was strategically thinking about trying to lock the Māori Party out of parliament using a high-risk strategy that called the bluff of vote-splitters, because their public protestations that they’ll work out a deal with whoever’s in government doesn’t tell people what they’ll actually do if they’re the party that gets to decide between National and a Labour-Green coalition. (you can see her stick to the line that she’ll work with either type of government at the end of this interview, which you should listen to anyway as she has a fair point about unconscious bias in policing) That refusal has lead to Labour’s point of view that they need to be treated as a potential National Party support party and fought against hard, which makes a certain amount of sense, especially when Labour sell themselves as hard electorate-based campaigners who respect local politics.
But it looks like, maybe, if the next poll or two bears it out, that Labour’s strategists underestimated how much people want to vote-split, as the Māori party got a big boost in their Party Vote standing after the announcement, almost to the threshold in fact, with the Māori electorates wanting a local Labour MP deciding that maybe they’ll think about giving their Party Vote to the Māori Party given that way they’ll actually get some more Māori voices in Parliament from their list vote. Yet another example that we do understand tactical voting under MMP reasonably well as a country, if not perfectly. If this poll were to reflect the election result, the Māori Party would in fact be in that position to decide which type of government they wanted, at least assuming New Zealand First rules out working with National after the election. (that assumption is the only scenario that the Māori Party would ever get to decide)
So, if this bump is real, and they can grab a quarter again as much support by the election, the Māori Party might become a genuine fifth party in New Zealand politics, and have secured a future above the threshold that no longer relies entirely on the Māori seats, assuming they can keep it. They’ll probably want to get their hands on an electorate again too in this election, just in case, but Labour have now handed them an argument for the Party Vote of voters on the Māori roll: “give Labour your electorate vote if you have to, but there aren’t enough of our people on their list, so vote for us with your Party Vote and you get two for one.”
Interestingly, this growth in the centre didn’t really hurt Labour too much, (less than a percent, and this is the first time since 2016 started that Labour is over 30% in two consecutive polls, so they’re definitely climbing) if it did come from their vote, they’ve made up most of the change in reductions to National, the Conservatives, and TOP.
It also complicates figuring out who’s government if Labour and the Greens can close the gap with the government by growing another 2-3% or so, as a Māori Party that’s threatening to cross the threshold might be able to act as a real alternative in coalition talks to New Zealand First, which would potentially create the space for the first all-progressive coalition since the Alliance imploded, or it might be a requirement that there be a four-way arrangement between Labour, the Greens, New Zealand First, and the Māori Party in order to change the government. This would lead to a very different dynamic in the elections and the politics than might be expected.
It also appears that regular pre-election polling has now arrived given that we’ve gotten three whole polls in March, so this will be really good in terms of telling what’s going on politically and whether policies and rhetoric are having an effect or not. We’ll likely be getting at least two polls a month every month from here on given that Colmar Brunton also published a One News poll in February, too. While I think assuming current polling is going to lead to a certain type of election result is the bad type of horse-race analysis, analysing polls can be useful if you keep track of what political events happen between polls where interesting changes in trend happened. We’ll see if this turns out to be one of them, I’m inclined to think it will be, but again, two or three polls establish a trend.
As usual, I refuse to entertain preferred Prime Minister as a metric, so I won’t be discussing developments in that polling, as it’s so unscientific as to be wholly divorced from predictive power, it’s mainly just there as red meat for journalists. (a job that could be achieved while still providing a useful political metric either by doing approval rating on the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition, or simply by closing up the question so that people can only answer with actual Party Leaders, as nobody has ever made it to PM without being a Leader too)