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PM Jacinda Ardern and leader of the opposition Simon Bridges (Getty Images)
PM Jacinda Ardern and leader of the opposition Simon Bridges (Getty Images)

The BulletinMay 19, 2020

The Bulletin: A poll that means nothing and everything

PM Jacinda Ardern and leader of the opposition Simon Bridges (Getty Images)
PM Jacinda Ardern and leader of the opposition Simon Bridges (Getty Images)

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Dramatic swing to Labour in latest poll, funding package to incentivise ECE teachers to get qualified, and diplomatic ground shifts at World Health Organisation.

The first public poll that takes in the period of lockdown has been released, and it has some dramatic top line numbers. The Newshub-Reid Research poll shows Labour on 56.5%, easily enough to give them a majority on their own, with National dropping down to 30.6% support. The Greens are just above 5%, and NZ First have dropped below 3%. The poll both matters in a political sense, and really doesn’t – and it’s worth going into why it is both.

Firstly – why it doesn’t matter much: All of the usual caveats about each poll being merely one snapshot of public opinion apply here too. And even within the broad trends of support, governing parties almost always rise in the polls when they’re seen to be handling a crisis. For example, in April 2011 in the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquake, the very same Reid Research poll found National’s support at 57.5%, from a base of already being very popular. That number was never quite reached again, and the final election result several months later was about 10 points lower. It is also worth keeping in mind that as recently as December last year, National had the numbers to govern, according to the One News-Colmar Brunton poll. In other words – it is highly unlikely that last night’s poll will be the final election result.

And yet, the political map has clearly changed, as shown by a few bits of evidence. The most obvious way is in the preferred PM ratings – Newshub reports that Ardern is up to 59.5% here, while Simon Bridges is down to 4.5%. Again, you shouldn’t read too much into preferred PM polls, because they almost always favour the incumbent – but that is an enormous gap. This latest poll also supports the conclusions of internal polling that was released earlier in the month, with some numbers slightly different, but the general trend was the same.

And on one key question, the Newshub-Reid Research poll has found an overwhelming majority of people support the government. 91% of respondents said they supported the decision to take the country into lockdown, with a majority of every single party in parliament’s supporters backing the call. Earlier polling conducted by Stickybeak for The Spinoff showed huge numbers supporting how the government had handled Covid-19, and a subsequent survey found that a clear majority thought the pandemic would make the country “more united and supportive of each other.” Like it or not, the presidential nature of how this crisis has been managed means these points are now closely associated with Jacinda Ardern herself, which is probably what is being reflected in yesterday’s poll.

Will that last? The short answer – we don’t know. For Labour, the big test now will be projecting an image that everything is back under control. Their surge corresponded with an unprecedented spike in news interest, and as that fades away, they’ll be hoping that voters have simply made their minds up now and won’t be swayed. National’s main argument going forward will be that they’re better able to handle what comes after the immediate crisis. But much of the commentary this morning – including this piece by The Spinoff’s Toby Manhire – suggests that Bridges himself is in danger of being rolled, which won’t exactly project an image of stability and competence for the party.

And what about the rest of the field? A lot could change for the minor parties if a lopsided trend solidifies, and it seems like the result is a foregone conclusion. Both the Greens and NZ First are likely suffering at the moment from Labour’s extremely high polling, and some support could yet flow back in an attempt by swinging voters to keep them in parliament. Act might also benefit from voters on National’s right jumping ship, safe in the knowledge that David Seymour is likely to win Epsom again – though National strategists might now be wary of losing finance spokesperson Paul Goldsmith, a list MP who traditionally runs as a gallant loser in the seat. New Conservative rose slightly in the poll, but only to 1%, and The Opportunities Party plummeted to effectively zero. Time is running out for both. A potentially crucial bit of data that hasn’t been captured – how many voters in the Māori electorates will back Māori Party candidates, and would it be enough for them to get at least one MP back in parliament.

Just quickly, a message from our editor Toby Manhire:

“Here at The Spinoff, members’ support is more important than ever as the Covid-19 crisis lays waste to large chunks of our commercial work. It’s a tight time for everyone, of course, but if you’re able to, please consider joining Spinoff Members to help us stay afloat and keep producing work by the likes of Siouxsie Wiles and Toby Morris, whose collaborations have had a real impact in New Zealand and around the world.”

The Early Childhood Education sector is welcoming the news of a $270 million incentive package to get all teachers fully qualified. Stuff has reported on the package, which will introduce a new funding band for centres to “encourage more centres to use fully trained teachers and keep them in work,” according to education minister Chris Hipkins. Both industry group Kindergartens Aotearoa and teacher union NZEI put out statements in support of the change, and it fulfilled a campaign promise made by Labour at the last election.

Meanwhile, kids went back to school yesterday, so how did it go? Radio NZ reports about 80% of kids attended, though at some schools the attendance was as low as 30%. Strict hygiene protocols were in place, and principals have reported that the kids were following them. In what might seem slightly like a throwback to the old days of corporal punishment in schools, the Wellington High principal kept a metre-ruler on their desk – though rather than using it to whack kids, it was merely there to indicate what physical distancing looks like.

The diplomatic ground has shifted at the World Health Organisation overnight, reports the Washington Post via Stuff. Taiwan has dropped a bid for observer status – which New Zealand was backing, despite opposition from China. President Xi Jinping, who opened the assembly, also signalled that China will back a WHO-led review into the handling of Covid-19, which will focus mainly on how international collaboration worked (or didn’t work, as the case may be) to prevent the spread.

We got more information yesterday about the government’s official contact tracing technology. On Wednesday, an app will be released by which people can record themselves as being in a particular location, with the data then being held on the device. As was reported in yesterday’s live blog, the PM says it aims to “bolster existing contact tracing efforts, rather than replace them”. The term used was a “digital diary”, with Ardern noting concerns about paper based forms with personal details sitting in public places, and apps that had companies holding user data. It will not be compulsory.

An important bit of primary industry news: The NZ Herald’s (paywalled) Jamie Grey reports log prices have risen over the weeks of lockdown, as lower production allowed an import backlog in China to be cleared. At this stage, it’s just a rebound, not a full recovery – much will depend on whether demand stays strong.

Meanwhile in forestry, this is an excellent read on the budget allocation towards the removal of wilding pines. Writing on Farmers Weekly, Annette Scott reports that there are shared concerns among the farming and environmental worlds from such pines. They’re considered an invasive pest on both farmland and pressing into native bush. The funding is part of a wider package aimed at creating environmental jobs to redeploy unemployed workers, and Federated Farmers hope that much more money will be put towards the job.

There have been a few emails coming in about elements in the budget for retraining, so here’s a thoughtful piece that looks into it more deeply. Newsroom’s Dileepa Fonseka has spoken to those with various stakes in the mass retraining of workers to support infrastructure and construction projects, which won’t necessarily be something that happens overnight. Labour shortages have after all been one of the stumbling blocks for a whole lot of big plans in these industries. There could also be shortages of work in some parts of the construction industry, which could also cause unemployment concerns.

From the Friday files: Today’s piece is a similarly magisterial piece of work from a journalist who loves big document dumps. The NZ Herald’s (paywalled) Matt Nippert has put together the timeline for how the public service responded to Covid-19, from January onwards. The abiding sense I get from reading this piece is of a ratcheting up of pace and tension within the public service – all of a sudden, information and advice that would have been weeks in the making had to be delivered in days or hours.

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Joseph Parker, film star

Right now on The Spinoff: Siouxsie Wiles and Toby Morris explain exactly why loud places are such dangerous places for the spread of Covid-19. Former Parole Board member Rhonda Pritchard writes about the current opportunity to reform prisons. Patrick McKendry gets the inside story on boxer Joseph Parker’s viral lockdown videos. Charles Finny gives his views on how we can ensure an export-led recovery. Jean Teng and Alice Neville write about the difficult return for hospitality businesses trying to stay within the rules. And Missy Te Kanawa writes about how the budget feels like a missed opportunity for Māori.

For a feature today, a piece that elaborates a bit more on concern in the religious world about gathering limits. Writing on the Democracy Project, Palmerston North priest Father Joe Grayland has questioned the rationale for the decision, and whether it has been made with the validity of religious worldviews in mind. Here’s an excerpt:

Is this decision based on strong reasoning and compelling logic or is it just religious discrimination, based on anti-religious pragmaticism?

If five-year-olds at school, revellers in restaurants and people in cinemas are responsible enough for their own and other people’s safety why are people attending religious services considered less capable? Is this an example of paternalistic politics that treats some well and others badly? Where is the team of five million now that so many have been excluded?

Or, is it an economic decision based on the notion that religious organisations do not contribute to the tax-base, so they should have fewer rights to gather?

In sport, a story from last week that I missed. A $265 million support package for sporting organisations has been announced, with the intention that it will help both professional and grassroots sport through the Covid crisis. Stuff’s Mark Geenty has taken a closer look at how it might get divvied up, with almost $100 million likely to be out the door quickly, and the rest to be spent on a more long term basis. Importantly, one condition of receiving funding is that women’s sport is treated fairly by administrators.

That’s it for The Bulletin. If you want to support the work we do at The Spinoff, please check out our membership programme

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