This election campaign is now looking like a three-way fight between National, Labour and NZ First.
That’s because the Greens look likely to take a heavy hit in the polls as a consequence of the Metirira Turei affair and its fallout.
But it also means that NZ First is starting to come under fire from the two main parties.
One consequence of that is that NZ First Leader, Winston Peters, looks to be under siege in his seat of Northland and could conceivably lose it.
At the same time, early indications are that the Metiria Turei affair may have cost the Greens a big slice of their support.
POLITIK understands that both Labour and National have new polls showing that the Greens have tumbled, possibly by as much as half of their last levels of support in the main media polls.
Meanwhile, Labour appears to be applying pressure on Winston Peters by having their candidate, Willow Jean Prime, contest the Northland seat much more vigorously than she did in the by-election two years ago when she effectively folded her campaign to allow Winston Peters to win the seat.
What all this suggests is that the election of Jacinda Ardern and the Turei affair have combined to make this election much more of a two party race between National and Labour with NZ First playing a spoiler role.
At the same time as the public perceives the race to be closer, it might be expected that support will come back off the small parties and back onto the big ones.
The votes falling out of the Greens would logically be going to Labour which indicates that the so-called “Jacinda bounce” may be as high as 5 – 10% which could put Labour up into the low 30s.
That sounds possible.
Even senior party officials seem astonished at the level of support Ardern is generating.
Meanwhile, Labour is quietly working away to subvert Winston Peters in the Northland seat.
Their candidate, Willow Jean Prime, had a baby last weekend but both Labour and national sources say they are expecting a vigorous campaign from her.
That will be in contrast to the 2015 by-election when Labour tactically shut her campaign down so that Peters could win the seat and effectively deprived the Government of its absolute majority.
But that does not apply anymore.
In the 2014 election, Prime won 8969 votes; in the by-election only 1380.
Peters’ current majority is 4441 — so he is highly vulnerable to any move by Prime to restore her 2014 vote.
And that, at this stage, appears to be Labour’s strategy.
National, meanwhile, having largely given up on reclaiming the seat a few months ago is now beginning to believe that it can come close to taking it again.
One party source suggested that the result could be similar to Tauranga in 1999 when Peters held the seat but by only 63 votes over National’s candidate, Katherine O’Reagen.
Plainly both parties want to try to keep the pressure on Peters in Northland and thus tie him up to reduce his ability to campaign on a nationwide basis.
However, with NZ First rating so high in the polls overall, Peters might well be prepared to lose his seat in order to keep the national campaign going.
Labour leader, Jacinda Ardern, yesterday re-iterated that Labour’s first choice for a support partner would be the Greens — but Labour also has to prepare for all contingencies and that now includes the possibility that the Greens may be a pale shadow of their former selves with not enough numbers to give Labour a majority.
Ardern would have been heartened by a NZ First fund raising email which went out last night defining the party’s goals as:
- An affordable, safe house.
- Access to First World health care
- Open education escalators for our young to go as far as they can
- First World jobs and First World wages/salaries.
All of those are objectives she would share.
Meanwhile, Nitonal faces the possibly impossible task of trying to form a Government with both NZ First and the Maori Party.
That is why both main parties want to maximise their share of the vote. They also want want leverage over the small parties. But the reality is that this is looking like a three-way fight between National, Labour and NZ First.