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Chrises Hipkins and Luxon (Image: Archi Banal)
Chrises Hipkins and Luxon (Image: Archi Banal)

OPINIONPoliticsFebruary 20, 2024

Yup, say voters, just like we told you

Chrises Hipkins and Luxon (Image: Archi Banal)
Chrises Hipkins and Luxon (Image: Archi Banal)

Polling in 2024 is strikingly similar to the election night result – but there are a few other morsels to chew on. 

If Christopher Luxon’s state of the nation address on Sunday sounded in large part like a campaign speech, he was reading the mood. The most striking thing about last night’s 1News/Verian poll – the first since the election – was just how close it was to the October 14 result, closer than the final polls in the lead-up to polling day itself.

When the Curia poll for the Taxpayers’ Union was published 10 days ago, overactive imaginations such as mine looked at the surge for Act, ascribed it to the noise around the party’s Treaty Principles Bill and started wondering how NZ First might respond if it were accordingly pushed under 5%. And Te Pāti Māori: how come it hadn’t matched Act’s rise in leading the opposition to the proposed referendum-prompting legislation?

To which last night’s poll, as well as the average across results from four polling companies this year (last night’s, the TPU/Curia, a Talbot Mills client poll and Roy Morgan), say: take a breath.

It’s possible, of course, that great swathes of people have hopped from favouring one party to favouring another, with the same number hopping the other way. More likely there has been hardly a hop at all. Minds have not been changed. Voters’ remorse there is not.

That, and probably a linked, sobering reminder: fewer people are paying attention to politics than some of us might imagine. The election campaign was just four months ago, these polls could be telling us on voters' behalf. Give us a break. Go to the beach. Mow your lawn. 

For all that, there are a few morsels to chew on. Chris Hipkins has looked a happy man lately. Not full yak happy – unlike Simon Bridges’ precedent, he remains party leader – but wearing a clear grin of the freshly unshackled. His drop in the preferred prime minister status, however – from 25% to 15% in the 1News survey – will be a bit of a jolt. Labour has been licking its wounds, clearing some time for self-appraisal and seeking to abide by the hackneyed maxim of opposition: don’t bark at every car. While Hipkins has been performing well in the house, however, he’s not obviously been up to a whole lot outside. A bit of barking might be in order.

That pressure will only grow if Chlöe Swarbrick, the runaway favourite to be elected Green co-leader to replace the departing James Shaw, continues to build her support. Last night saw her double her number in the preferred PM stakes, to 4%. (The Greens meanwhile will breathe a sigh of relief that there is no substantial polling punishment for the controversy around Golriz Ghahraman, nor exodus at James Shaw’s decision to step away from politics.)

Luxon, for his part, can take some comfort from opening a lead in the preferred prime minister category, just as he’ll likely be relieved that the unwelcome early blasts of attention on policies from his coalition partners – on the Treaty and tobacco policy, especially – haven’t hurt National's popularity.

More than anything, however, the data point that will encourage the National leader is the right-track-wrong-track ratio. For the first time in some while, that has swung back in favour of right track across the polls. In Talbot Mills, 43% said right direction, ahead of 41% wrong direction, TPU/Curia had 39.7% to 35.2% and Roy Morgan 42% to 41%.

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