One Question Quiz
Image: Getty Images, additional design by Tina Tiller
Image: Getty Images, additional design by Tina Tiller

PoliticsJune 7, 2022

Why National is winning

Image: Getty Images, additional design by Tina Tiller
Image: Getty Images, additional design by Tina Tiller

On the issues that matter the most to people, National has the wind at its back, a new Ipsos survey reveals.

In a wide-ranging interview with Guyon Espiner this morning, Christopher Luxon was in ruling-out mood. There will be no beneficiary crackdown under a National government, he said. And there will be no more asset sales. The mantra for Team Luxon as they warm up for an election year? Less is more.

New polling published this morning supports that strategy. The fall from the giddy heights of popular support for Labour witnessed during the crunchiest months of the Covid crisis has been well documented, as has the National Party’s return to a stable footing, after years of civil war. But the Ipsos Issues Monitor underscores National’s reversal of fortunes, and it’s decidedly uncomplicated. It’s the cost of living, stupid. 

As part of its regular polling, Ipsos asks respondents to select “the three most important issues facing New Zealand today”. It separately asks which is the party “most capable” of handling a range of issues. One year ago, across the 10 top issues, the board lit up all in red. It looked like this:

Top issues and political party most capable of managing, June 2021 (Ipsos survey, total sample 1,000)

That was always going to be something of an aberration – Labour only had one way to go. But still, the contrast is striking, even if it’s mostly a return to types. Here’s how the same list looks today.

Top issues and political party most capable of managing, June 2022 (Ipsos survey, total sample 1,000)

The latest survey, conducted in late May after a budget that included $350 in cash payments for the “squeezed middle”, finds that inflation and cost of living remain the primary political issue of concern. After leaping from 31% selecting it as one of their top three issues in October to 53% in February, it has edged further up, to 56%. Housing is second on 37% – which seems to have fallen alongside prices, down from 51% in February – followed by healthcare on 29%.

‘Most important issues facing New Zealand’ (Ipsos, June 2021, total sample 1,000)

An accompanying Ipsos poll, on “perceptions of inflation”, found that one in five New Zealanders were finding it difficult to manage financially, with 30% saying they were “just getting by”. The numbers are broadly similar, said Ipsos, to polling they have conducted in Australia, Canada and Britain – where inflationary pressures are broadly similar. 

New Zealanders were more pessimistic than their counterparts in the US, Australia and Canada when it comes to expectations of change in standard of living over the next 12 months – though we had a less bleak outlook than Britain and Japan.

Who, or what, is to blame for price increases? The global economy was selected by 87%, Covid-19 pandemic by 85%, while 69% reckoned “business making excessive profit” was part of it, and 65% pointed to government policies. 

The survey results support the political focus on New Zealand’s supermarket duopoly. Of the 12 countries surveyed, New Zealand registers the highest number (89%) who expect to see an increase in food prices over the six months; we top the chart, too, for the number (71%) who point to food prices as the area where an increase would have the most negative impact on their lives over the next year.

To state the obvious: there is a very long way to go. National will – it has already – come under pressure to set out a stall beyond the small-target approach, especially if they’ve plateaued, as suggested by the most recent TVNZ poll and another that reportedly had Labour ahead by a neck. Labour holds the purse strings; Grant Robertson has a budget to deliver. There will be a growing interest in what governing arrangements will look like, with the two big parties pretty much certain to need support from at least one other party to take the Treasury benches.

National has not won, but it is winning. Labour – like its namesakes around the world – continues to find the neck-albatross of perception on economic management impossible to shake off. And as for National’s ship: when the wind is at your back, you don’t need to hoist up all the sails. 

The Ipsos NZ study was conducted from May 16 to 22 with 1,000 people surveyed.

Keep going!