A survey commissioned for the Spinoff’s War for Auckland pop-up site puts the Labour MP well in front of his nearest rival, Vic Crone, just weeks out from voting. But many remain undecided.
Phil Goff has established a commanding lead in the Auckland mayoral race with less than four weeks until voting begins. The former Labour leader and Mt Roskill MP recorded 60.3% of decided voters in a new poll conducted by Survey Sampling International and commissioned by The Spinoff in association with Jennings Murphy. His closest challenger at this stage is former Xero executive Victoria Crone, on 15.5%.
Crone has almost double the current support of John Palino, who finished second to current mayor Len Brown in the last election. The news is dismal for the other candidate from the right, Mark Thomas, who has the support of only 3.3% of decided voters, trailing even leftwing firebrand Penny Bright, on 4.6%.
Even the combined backing for the three leading centre-right candidates – Crone, Palino and Thomas – at 26.7%, remains less than half that of Goff.
While the result gives the impression of a coronation, there is a glimmer of hope for Goff’s opponents, with just under 44% of respondents saying they did not know who they would vote for. When accounting for undecideds, Goff’s figure is 31.2%, Crone 8%, Palino 4.1%, Bright 2.4%, Thomas 1.7%, David Hay 1.4% and other candidates 2.9%, while 4.6% answered “no intention of voting”.
Goff has faced criticism, including from the deputy mayor Penny Hulse, for a largely vanilla campaign.“You know, Phil’s a good guy,” she told The Spinoff’s Warcast, “I’d just like to see him strap them on and get a bit braver.” With such a comfortable lead over his rivals it is perhaps little wonder that he has adopted a low-risk strategy.
Given Goff’s relatively high profile the numbers were “not altogether surprising”, said Simon Wilson, editor-at-large of Metro magazine and a commentator on Auckland local body politics.
The frontrunner’s rivals are likely to argue that it is still early days, said Wilson. “Billboards have only been up a week, the campaigns haven’t formally started yet, and there is a lot more to come. But unless any of the candidates get some real cut-through with an idea that gets everybody talking it’s hard to see there being big changes. And of course Crone doesn’t believe there should be big ideas. She believes they need a kind of consolidation period. And Goff’s a bit the same. So we’re not likely to see big cut-through ideas.”
The poll result may compound pressure on Mark Thomas to withdraw, said Wilson. “But the reason he is in the race in the first place hasn’t disappeared. He thinks he’s the right guy for it and he doesn’t think the more officially supported candidate from the National Party [Crone] is better than him. As for Palino, he’s got a completely different platform, he’s doing his own thing. I can’t see him stepping away.”
Wilson said the size of Goff’s lead could portend a low turnout. “It’s going to be hard to motivate people to vote when they think it’s a foregone conclusion, and the tragedy of that is, apart from the general issue of participation, what the Americans call a big down-ballot vote going on. There are a whole lot of other people to vote for on local board and in council wards, and it would be a shame for all those elections if there aren’t more people voting.”
In the 2013 mayoral election, Len Brown won 47.8% of the vote to John Palino’s 31.7%. The turnout in Auckland was just shy of 35%, down from 51% at the previous election.
While the leading candidates have nailed their colours to the mast of rates control, “reducing rates” ranked third when respondents were asked to select the top priority for a new Auckland Council. The leading issue, selected by 50.7% of people, was housing, followed by public transport on 33%, reducing rates on 29.5% and cutting bureaucracy on 19.2%. Picking up the rear was berms, which 1.2% selected as the top priority, while 3.2% said none of the above.
Len Brown’s performance
There was a largely grim report card, meanwhile, for Brown, who is standing down after serving two terms as the first mayor of the amalgamated Auckland, and will hope to be remembered more for the Central Rail Link and the Unitary Plan than the sex scandal that threw his mayoralty off course a few days into the second term. Just over 41% of those who answered rated his performance as “fairly bad” or “awful”; 36.7% said “average”; and 21.7% “excellent” or “fairly good”.
“I think history will treat him more kindly than this,” said Wilson. “But, poor old Len. He embarrassed himself at the beginning of the second term and hasn’t recovered, and that’s really clear.”
Further findings from the poll, including some striking results on the housing crisis, will be published by the Spinoff in coming days.
Survey Sampling International (SSI) conducted an online survey among a representative sample of 760 Auckland residents aged 18 and over with quota applied to gender, age and region within Auckland. All respondents were screened to ensure they were New Zealand residents and eligible to vote. The polling period was 17-19 August and the margin of error is +/- 3.6%.
SSI is the premier global provider of data solutions and technology for consumer and business-to-business survey research, reaching respondents in 100+ countries offering the widest, most diverse access to audiences around the globe through its own panels, social media, online communities and affiliate partners. SSI has 40 offices in 20 countries and serves more than 3,000 clients worldwide.
Subscribe to The Bulletin to get all the day’s key news stories in five minutes – delivered every weekday at 7.30am.