Guest post by Adrian Beaumont, who joins us from time to time to provide commentary on elections internationally. Adrian is an honorary associate at the University of Melbourne. His work on electoral matters for The Conversation can be found here, and his own website is here.
New Zealand has relatively few polls compared to other countries. Before this week, the last polls had been conducted in January to early February, well before the coronavirus crisis began. Those polls had the governing Labour party one to five points behind the opposition National.
What a difference the handling of the coronavirus crisis has made! In two polls conducted in early to mid-May, Labour had 56.5% in a Reid Research poll and 59% in a Colmar Brunton poll, while National was respectively at 30.6% and 29%. Since the previous iterations of these polls, Labour is up 18 points in Colmar Brunton and up 14 in Reid Research, while National is down 17 and down 13.
While other countries have struggled with coronavirus, New Zealand is close to eliminating it. The strict lockdown imposed on March 26 appears to have worked, with very few cases recorded since the end of April. There are currently 1,504 total cases, 21 deaths and 1,455 recoveries in New Zealand. Subtracting deaths and recoveries from total cases gives just 28 active cases. Australia has also been successful, but has 516 active cases on just over five times New Zealand’s population.
As a result of New Zealand’s success in handling coronavirus, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s net approval has rocketed to +76 from +33 in October 2019 in the Colmar Brunton poll. 86% approve and just 10% disapprove, figures comparable to Western Australian and Tasmanian Premiers Mark McGowan and Peter Gutwein in the recent premiers’ Newspoll. Opposition Leader Simon Bridges slumped to a net -40 net approval from -22 last October.
Bridges is no longer the opposition leader. After these dire poll results, he was rolled in a party room spill on Friday, and replaced as National leader by Todd Muller. Numbers in the spill have not been released.
While Labour has a huge lead now, there are four months to go until the September 19 election. Elections are not decided by gratitude, as Winston Churchill can attest to after being thumped in the 1945 UK election. However, there are likely to be reminders from other countries regarding the dire effects of coronavirus. In addition, if the virus is indeed eliminated in New Zealand, the economy should start doing much better than the economies of coronavirus-hit countries.
Under New Zealand’s Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) electoral system, parties qualify for the proportional allocation of seats if they either win at least 5% of the overall vote, or win a single-member seat. Since 2017, Labour has governed with the support of the Greens and the populist NZ First. NZ First is below 5% in the polls and the Greens are at about 5%. It’s plausible that neither party re-enters parliament, and that almost all seats go to either Labour or National.