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.
There have been three leaders of the conservative National party in the last two months. On May 22, the unpopular Simon Bridges was ousted in a leadership spill, and replaced by Todd Muller. However on July 14, Muller resigned for health reasons, and was replaced by Judith Collins.
A Reid Research poll, conducted July 16-24 – after the second leadership change – gave Labour a thumping 60.9% (up 4.4% since the last Reid Research poll in early May). National was on 25.1% (down 5.5%).
New Zealand seats are allocated proportionally to parties that either win at least 5% of the national vote or a single-member seat. The Greens, with 5.7% in this poll, appear the only other party likely to clear the 5% threshold, although the right-wing ACT, with 3.3%, will also qualify if their leader holds Epsom. NZ First, which is currently a Labour coalition partner, has just 2.0%, and is unlikely to re-enter parliament.
After polls in May showed a blowout Labour lead, there was a much better poll for National in late June, when Muller was leader. That Colmar Brunton poll had Labour’s lead dropping to 50% to 38%, from 59% to 29% in May. I believe the big differences between the June Colmar Brunton poll and the July Reid Research poll are most likely caused by the coronavirus response, not by National leadership chaos.
In June, there was a mess-up in New Zealand’s quarantine system, in which two women from Britain were allowed to leave quarantine on compassionate grounds without being tested for coronavirus; they later tested positive. Alarm over this incident, which could have revived coronavirus in New Zealand, likely contributed to Labour’s poll drop.
Since this incident, quarantine has been strictly enforced. While there are 21 active coronavirus cases in New Zealand, these are returned overseas travellers, and there has been no recent news that would indicate community spread.
Globally, there have been over 16 million coronavirus cases and over 650,000 deaths. Up until a month ago, Australia looked good, but the hundreds of new cases in Victoria every day have damaged Australia. So it’s not as if New Zealanders need to look far afield to see what happens in countries that do not handle coronavirus well.
In my opinion, this election is primarily about handling of coronavirus. If there are no community transmissions in New Zealand before the September 19 election, Labour is likely to win easily. If the virus comes back, the election will likely be more competitive.
Jacinda Ardern’s performance recorded 85.3% approved of in this poll, and just 8.2% disapproved, for a net approval of +77.1. Collins was at 39.5% approve and 30.8% disapprove (net +8.7).