Todd Muller and Jacinda Ardern (Getty Images)

The Bulletin: Fascinating poll sets tone for the election

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: New poll sets tone for election campaign, new testing criteria for Covid-19 outlined, and weirdness occurs around prisoner voting bill.

We’re now three months out from the election, and the latest poll has returned to something approaching a balanced state of play. The One News Colmar Brunton survey still had Labour way ahead of National – with 50% and 38% in the party vote stakes respectively. Perhaps tellingly, that was exactly nine percentage points down and up from where each had been in the last one. If those numbers are repeated on election day, Labour will easily be able to govern alone, even excluding the Greens who crossed the threshold with 6%. But the poll sets in motion a couple of narratives that will be fascinating to see play out over the next three months.

The first of those – is the phone back on the hook for National? It’s something of a go-to metaphor for opposition parties that can’t get heard, and there’s some evidence that the public might care what they have to say again. It was the first poll that was taken under Todd Muller’s leadership, and he debuted with 13% in the preferred PM stakes – slightly higher than his predecessor Simon Bridges ever achieved. As Stuff’s Henry Cooke writes, “the bleeding has stopped; the furniture is kind of saved – National is still more likely than not to lose the election, but it doesn’t look like it will lose most of its caucus doing so.” Before anyone gets carried away, Jacinda Ardern is still miles ahead as preferred PM, and notably debuted a lot higher on this metric when she took over the Labour leadership. The NZ Herald’s (paywalled) Jason Walls writes that it’s neither a disaster nor a triumph for National – “but Muller cannot take all the credit for National’s nine-percentage-point jump – Labour is coming down from crisis levels of support.”

For the Greens, the poll will be another sign that they’re on track to survive the election. They would of course be foolish to take anything for granted, but if they can maintain their base, they’ll be within sight of their dream scenario – being the one party that can keep Labour in government after the election. Such an outcome might allow them to put a pretty ugly term behind them, in which they repeatedly got stymied by the much more powerful NZ First.

As for Winston Peters’ party, the omens are grim. I know, I know, there’s only one poll that counts and all that, and NZ First always swings up during campaigns. But they’re now down to just 2% support, which is extremely low for them, and a long way away from the threshold. As One News reports, it’s their lowest result since 2012. What’s more – and this is a really fascinating detail – the Act party is polling above them at 3%. It might not seem like the most natural crossover, but there is a constituency out there that could swing between NZ First and Act, and right now, David Seymour’s hold on Epsom is much stronger than the chances of Shane Jones winning Northland, meaning any rational tactical voter would have a much clearer incentive to go for Act. As the story notes, between now and the election NZ First may also have to deal with Serious Fraud Office charges against the NZ First Foundation.

When it comes to the other parties, both the Māori Party (which has a reasonable chance of winning at least one electorate) and the New Conservatives can be rounded up to 1%. They’ll probably both be disappointed with that number, as will the Opportunities Party who ended up on 0.5%. For all three, a surge isn’t beyond the realm of possibility. But with the election between the bigger parties tightening up, it becomes harder to see voters taking a punt on parties that have never made it into parliament, particularly NC and TOP.


Just quickly, a message from The Spinoff’s managing editor Duncan Greive: 

“The arrival of Covid-19 and lockdown changed The Spinoff, transforming our editorial to focus on the biggest story of our lives, taking a small team and making it a seven day a week news operation. But it also fundamentally changed us as a business, too. Prior to the crisis, around 20% of our editorial costs were funded by our Members. Now, that figure is north of 50%. The loss of some key commercial clients meant that change has to be permanent. If you’re already a member, please know that all at The Spinoff are incredibly grateful for your help. If you’re not, and can afford to contribute, please consider doing so – it really is critically important to our ability to cover the next phase of the crisis, in all its complexity.”


Testing criteria has changed somewhat, so that mandatory testing is no longer required for everyone with symptoms. Radio NZ has a report on the reaction from doctors – some are concerned that it might allow cases of Covid-19 to slip through disguised as a cold, while others say it’s a necessary move to ease the pressure on GPs. An enormous amount of testing has taken place this week, with no evidence coming back of community transmission. Dr Siouxsie Wiles has written about why she doesn’t believe it is currently taking place, based on a range of factors including the test result data.


A bill that restores the human right of voting to some prisoners has passed through parliament, but there are problems with it. Derek Cheng at the NZ Herald has a rundown of how the law ended up passing in an unworkable form, after amendments in the committee stage. Now a new bill will be introduced next week to fix those inconsistencies. As for how it ended up with those inconsistencies, professor Andrew Geddis had a run at that, saying it was the result of “procedural games and unhelpful amendments”.


About one in four New Zealanders back a move to change Hamilton’s name back to the original name of Kirikiriroa, according to a new survey conducted by The Spinoff and Stickybeak. The majority position was that the name should stay the same, with a reasonably large cohort of undecideds. The survey also asked New Zealanders for their views on the degree to which this is a racist country, with about one in five saying it is “not racist at all”, and the rest of the answers being split along the spectrum. Incidentally, Hamilton’s mayor Paula Southgate says she has received a “torrent of abuse” over the removal of a statue of Captain Hamilton, including threats.


The Peter Ellis appeal case has continued after his death, on the basis of his lawyers trying to restore his mana. The NZ Herald has reported on the case, which will take in aspects of tikanga and how that relates to the law. Ellis went to his death as a convicted child sex offender, in a verdict that his supporters have long argued should have been overturned.


Watercare has been criticised by Auckland Council for not being ready for the current drought, reports Radio NZ. It’s not so much that the drought should have been predicted (though climate change modelling shows that such events are becoming more likely) rather than a lack of planning and preparation that councillors were angry about. Watercare’s chair says the CCO will reassess how it goes about planning in light of the drought. In related news, the storage dams are still less than half full.


Here’s a really interesting story about a Council decision to spend more money for a better environmental outcome. The Nelson Mail’s Skara Bohny has looked at the call to deconstruct – rather than demolish – an old earthquake-prone warehouse, which is at risk of collapsing onto a library if a big quake hits. Essentially what deconstruction means is that the materials could end up being used again, rather than being carted off to a landfill. This might seem like a fringe concern, but building waste accounts for a huge share of what gets dumped, so it’s symbolically significant.


A world news story that you simply have to know about: temperatures in the Arctic are hitting record highs and showing little sign of any cooling. National Geographic has covered the climate change implications of this, including the potential for accelerated warming through feedback loops, of less ice on the ground and higher chances of Siberia’s vast forests burning. “The warm winter and hot spring meant that the snow usually blanketing the ground across much of the region melted about a month earlier than normal. Bright white snow plays a crucial role in keeping parts of the Arctic cool, by reflecting the sun’s incoming heat.”


Got some feedback about The Bulletin, or anything in the news? Drop us a line at thebulletin@thespinoff.co.nz

Right now on The Spinoff: Justin Latif writes about the difficulty of getting people to actually ride the cycleways in Māngere. Massey University provost Giselle Byrnes explains why it isn’t necessarily cheaper to provide learning online. Emily Writes covers the increasing calls for post-birth care to be taken much more seriously. Matt Lawrie explains how light rail was derailed in Auckland, and how it could get back on track. Michael Andrew finds the coolest boat ever made on TradeMe and investigates why it was built. And Justin Giovannetti writes about the context of the word Eskimo, and why it is considered harmful and derogatory.


For a feature today, a clear-sighted view of the medium term future of the NZ economy, with prospects of open borders a long way away. Newsroom’s Bernard Hickey has looked at the events of the last week around quarantine facilities, and argues that we need to plan for there to be extremely limited space available. Here’s an excerpt:

Less than five percent of the places will be available for non-residents. That means less than a couple of dozen people a day. That is a far cry from the 250,000 students and guest workers arriving each year pre-Covid-19, and the five million visitors a year forecast within a couple of years.

Any business model depending on those numbers is dead until either a very fast and very reliable test is available, or the parts of the world that provide the bulk of our tourists and students and guest workers are vaccinated. That means China, India and the Philippines, which have a combined population of almost three billion.

Demands from universities, the Opposition leader, the Deputy Prime Minister and the tourism industry to quickly reopen our borders are simply unrealistic, unless New Zealand takes a collective decision to sacrifice its nanas for the sake of rescuing a less-than-10 percent chunk of the economy.


In breaking sports news, New Zealand and Australia will co-host the 2023 Women’s Football World Cup. Stuff reports the bid beat Colombia’s by a 23-12 margin of votes, and will now have a relatively short window of time to put it all together. There will be government support, with sports minister Grant Robertson pledging $25 million, coming on the back of the news the PM Ardern has also been making phone calls in support of the bid. Around half the group stage games will be held here, including the tournament opener, along with several knockout games including a semifinal. It has become a very big deal of a tournament, and to put that in context, global TV viewing figures for last year’s Women’s Football World Cup reportedly outrated the Rugby World Cup.


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