Tomorrow is election day in New Zealand, with the conservative National Party under Christopher Luxon favourites to depose a two-term Labour government that Chris Hipkins has led since succeeding Jacinda Ardern in January. Polls suggest the best Labour can hope for is a balance of power position for populist veteran Winston Peters and his New Zealand First party, between Labour and the Green Party on the left and National and Act New Zealand on the right. This would replicate the situation when Peters unexpectedly threw in his lot with Jacinda Ardern and Labour after the 2017 election. Labour’s landslide re-election under Ardern in October 2020 decimated National and evicted New Zealand First altogether, but National has enjoyed a recovery under Luxon’s leadership while Peters has benefited from a familiar wave of anti-major party sentiment.
Labour has been a been a long slide in the polls ever since, which appeared to be briefly arrested when Hipkins came to the leadership in January but resumed thereafter. However, polls from the last week have recorded movement back to the left: Reid Research has National down from 39.1% to 34.5% since mid-September and Act steady on 8.8%, with Labour up from 26.5% to 27.5% and Green up from 14.2% to 14.9%; 1News-Verian had Labour up two from a week previous to 26% and Green up one to 14%, with National up one to 37% and ACT down one to 9%; and an Essential Research poll for The Guardian had Labour up from 26.9% to 30.3% since a month and Green down from 11% to 10.6%, with National down from 34.5% to 34% and ACT down from 10.3% to 7.9%.
New Zealand First has consistently been polling in the range of 6% to 8%, putting them over the threshold of 5% that entitles parties to shares of the 120-or-so seats in parliament proportionate to their share of the vote. That would leave the party blocs of left and right needing upwards of 46% to secure a majority of seats without help from New Zealand First, which would come down to about 43% if New Zealand First failed to clear the bar, putting a vote share of nearly 5% out of contention. The latest polls generally have both blocs short of the former figure, although National and ACT are at 46% between them in 1News-Verian. A caveat in all this is that the pollsters had a bigger failure in 2020 than the one they had suffered in Australia the previous year, though because the winner was called correctly it attracted notice. Three final week polls gave Labour an average lead over National of 46.3% to 31.4%, when the actual result turned out at 50.0% to 25.6%.
Poll Bludger contributor Adrian Beaumont, who has been following the campaign more closely than I have, had an update yesterday in The Conversation that offered the following on what to expect from the count:
We’ll only have a clearer picture once polling booths close at 7pm (5pm AEDT) on Saturday, when all ordinary votes cast at early voting centres or on election day will begin to be counted. There are also “special votes”, usually cast by voters outside their home electorate (similar to absent votes in Australia). In the past, these have benefited parties on the left, which can take another one or two seats over the preliminary results. If past practice is a guide, however, there will be no updates to the published results after election night until the official results (which include special votes) are released on November 3.