Late on Friday, POLITIK was contacted by a long-existing Wellington business source with the results of what was said to be polling by Labour’s polling company, UMR.
Those results were published on POLITIK at 5.00 a.m. this morning but withdrawn at 6.30 a.m. after it became clear they were the product of fake news.
The polling purported to show a massive swing from Labour to National.
It had apparently been provided to the source by an MP.
But the information had been spreading through the Wellington business community since Thursday and was being widely discussed in the capital.
On Sunday, POLITIK was in discussion with a minor party leader about another matter when the question of the poll came up.
The leader claimed to have more detail, some of which they provided. Ironically that information seems to have been based on the real UMR poll, which, like the fake poll, had ACT on 13; NZ First on 4.4 and the Greens on somewhere between seven and eight per cent.
It’s on that basis — two usually reliable sources — the story was prepared.
What we now know is that the poll was fake.
Its origins have been traced back to a Twitter account #GoodbyeJacinda.
The poll appeared there last Wednesday and appears also to be the origins of another tweet from National’s pollster, David Farrar who hinted at the fake poll results in a tweet on Thursday.
The “Goodbye Jacinda” account, in turn has its origins with a Christchurch bricklayer, Colin Wilson, whose handle is #Coltheman1.
He first got attention in 2019 on Twitter when he began the “Turn Jacinda” campaign to turn over in bookshops copies of books and magazines with Ardern’s image on the cover.
He has been a persistent Twitter critic of the Prime Minister — and National Leader, Judith Collins, has on occasions engaged with him as recently as last November, calling him “Col”.
But if his intention was to bolster her position, his fake poll may have backfired.
The real UMR poll has been made public this morning. .
That showed Labour down 5 per cent from last month to 43 per cent while National was on 28 per cent. ACT was on 13, NZ First on 4.4 and the Greens on 8.
But the poll as published also shows ACT leader David Seymour increasing his lead top 14 per cent over Judith Collins on 11 per cent as preferred Prime Minister.
Those results will add to the current divisions within National, which were exacerbated by its annual conference last weekend and rancorous board elections.
The board must now appoint another member to replace Sir David Carter, who resigned saying he had no confidence in the president, Peter Goodfellow.
There will be pressure to appoint the candidate with the next highest vote, Christchurch PR consultant Felicity Price.
But though Price answers the complaint about the lack of South island representation on the board, she does not address the lack of provincial or rural representatives.
The party also faces major questions about what POLITIK understands is a lack of donations from “big money”.
Labour’s Electoral Commission return for 2020 shows the party got $769,586 from donors who gave more than $15,000 while National got only $347,262.
National made up for that with more small donations than Labour, but even so, big money, which is its traditional base, was clearly not donating to National last year, and POLITIK understands that situation continues.
The lack of big donations suggests that the so-called “big end of town” is unconvinced by Judith Collins’ leadership.
NZ Herald political commentator and former National Party advisor, Matthew Hooton, has suggested that the nearer the party gets to power, the more vulnerable Judith Collins is likely to be.
“As soon as National appears to have a more plausible chance in 2023, Bridges and John Key’s preferred combo of Christopher Luxon and Nicola Willis will come into contention,” Hooton wrote on August 6.
“Bluntly, neither the grandees of the Key era nor a majority of National’s current caucus wants Collins to be Prime Minister.”
This appeared to be echoed in a Stuff interview with Simon Bridges at the weekend where he disclaimed his “kiwi” abilities to back up a boat saying he would prefer to read a book than watch super rugby.
Stuff quotes Bridges: “I can see John Key shaking his head in disbelief, now more sure than ever why he backs Chris Luxon and Nicola Willis,” he said.
Collins, in 2018 set her own benchmark for the viability of a leader.
That year when she stood unsuccessfully for National’s leadership, she said once a party’s polling went below 35 per cent, people began questioning the leader, saying, “can we win?”
Meanwhile, Labour knows its vote is going down.
Politik understands there has been a recent effort to begin preparing new MPs from previously held National, provincial seats for the worst, warning them they may be one term only MPs.
But in the short term, attention will remain on National.