Latest Poll: National Rises, Labour Fails BSNS103

In the new One News-Colmar Brunton poll, Labour fell by two points to 28% while National rose three to a new high of 50%, and leader Andrew Little took a painful slide in the preferred Prime Minister rankings to 7%, coming in third behind Winston Peters.

In an attempt to explain this, I refer to kiwi political strategist Danyl McLaughlan’s Hierarchy of Political Needs, an adaptation of Maslow’s Hierarchy that David Bishop drills into all first year commerce students, which offers a theory as to the behaviour of swing voters. The basis of the theory is that the base of the pyramid must be established before the apex becomes relevant.

The fatal flaw of Andrew Little’s leadership thus far has been a failure to sufficiently complete the first two steps before jumping ahead to the top of the pyramid.  To Little’s credit, he has put a lot of effort into party unity and has (largely) succeeded in stopping internal leaks, and while he could be seen as dull or somewhat bland, it’s hard to see anyone categorise him as “weird or downright terrifying”. 

But no attack on John Key will have any impact until he can convince the voters to see him as a credible alternative – and it takes a lot more than the title of Leader of the Opposition to do that. 

When Don Brash took over the struggling National Party in 2003, his resume as a respected former Governor of the Reserve Bank gave him instant credibility to build on. When John Key was given the reigns, he used the anti-smacking Bill as the opportunity to demonstrate his ability by reaching a compromise and standing beside Helen Clark in support of the measure. 

Andrew Little could have followed John Key’s example by banding together with him on a high profile proposal, for example by getting behind the flag referendum as a chance for the nation to make a powerful statement about its future. It would have been far more effective in terms of presenting himself as a potential Prime Minister than his actual strategy of taking random potshots at the cost of the project while never being entirely clear what his position was. 

If you look at them within the context of each party’s rhetoric over the past few months, these poll numbers make perfect sense. Labour has focused on attacking Key and National on their values, the third level on McLaughlans Hierarchy: painting the flag change as Key boosting his own ego, suggesting the Nats were selling out to foreign corporations with the TPP, and now demanding Key release his tax returns in an attempt to link him to the Panama Papers controversy. 

National on the other hand, has constantly reiterated the same simple attack line – ‘Labour is useless’. They don’t need any more than that, they just continue to insist that Labour is incompetent. After Andrew Little’s speech at Budget day last year, John Key didn’t even attempt to respond to the specifics, he literally just got up and declared it to be “The worst Budget response I’ve ever heard”. They are approaching the battle from the high ground, and if they can stop Labour from reaching their level, they can hold their position to an easy win in 2017.

National may have trouble winning on the 3rd or 4th rung, but that doesn’t matter if they can stop Labour from even getting onto the 2nd. And until Labour can do that, they are doomed to wallow in the realm of sub-30% poll numbers.

This article first appeared in Issue 8, 2016.
Posted 10:50am Sunday 24th April 2016 by Joel MacManus.