Politics

After specials, it’s closer than ever – but what do Winston’s voters want?

Pollwatch: what happens if you factor in NZ First voters’ preferences, asks Toby Manhire.

To predict the thinking process of Winston Peters is clearly to skate on thin ice. But what does the most recent polling information tell us about the direction his voters might want to go?

With the special votes in, the New Zealand First Party’s two options are tight as a French braid: National has 56 seats. Labour and the Greens together have 54. New Zealand First hold the crucial nine-seat balance of power.

It’s close, and Peters is vindicated in his decision to hang back from serious negotiations before that count landed. Today, the calculus just looks different. Hopefully, he’ll swiftly announce that his earlier stated deadline of a coalition deal by October 12 needs to be pushed back by a week or so. Not just because, anoraks aside, New Zealand has actually quite enjoyed a holiday from politics and we haven’t, weirdly, plunged into a desperate Hobbesian state of nature, but because it’s reasonable to expect that negotiations should be conducted soberly and seriously rather than rushed. Obviously, not a 500-day Belgian sort of thing, but a fortnight would be fine.

But where were we? Polling. What do New Zealand First voters want? According to the most reliable recent poll that asked that question, from Colmar Brunton for 1News, 65% preferred a Labour-led government, and 25% a National-led government, and the other 10% didn’t want to say or couldn’t care less, or were automatons who had travelled from the future with insufficient linguistic talent to answer a follow-up question.

But, if we factor those responses in, the centre-left option nudges ahead. Ignore the undecideds and map that number on to seats, the Labour-Green side would get about six and a half seats, and National about two and a half. Obviously you can’t win half a seat, though this is definitely something that should be explored for the future given the potential entertainment. (And for the love of god don’t come at me with your sainte-laguë formula smarts.) The point is, roughly speaking, if we assign those preferences, you’d finish up with Labour-NZF-Green at 62 seats versus National-NZF at 57 seats, with ACT’s one seat tallying up the 120.

What does this mean? It means a bit, but not that much. If you’d asked those who were planning to vote NZ First whether they wanted Winston Peters to favour whichever party would introduce most of his party’s manifesto, you’d expect to get a very high percentage. He and his party will factor in, too, the relative stability of going with a National-led double-act versus a three-party harmony. But also the risk of going with a government seemingly on the slide versus one on the rise. And the issue of legacy, and – oh god this is turning into another one of those interminable whad’ll-he-do pieces; anyway that’s the final pollwatch for election 2017, thanks for you company, got to go buy some undies at Kmart.

Read more:

Simon Wilson: The special votes swing left – here’s what it could mean

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