The Newshub Reid Research poll last night will set National up for an internal party brawl over its list which it will decide in a fortnight.
The key question facing the party, and apparently undecided, is whether to rank Caucus members first on the list according to their caucus rankings.
The poll showed National on a new low of 25.1 per cent; if that held on election night, then the party would shrink to 31 MPs, only six of whom would come from the list.
Currently, the party has 15 list MPs.
That sets the list ranking committee up for a divisive debate as party members try to get some new MPs into the caucus ahead of existing ones.
However, National Campaign Manager Gerry Brownlee dismissed the poll as a rogue.
“These numbers aren’t even in the same ballpark as our internal polls, other public polls and the hugely positive public response to our Leader Judith Collins, including as measured by the Massey University-Stuff study,” he said.
“Even with the most rigorous methodology, one in 20 polls will always be a rogue, and this is clearly one of them. “
Their pollster, David Farrar, said on his Kiwblog, that there was no way there was a 36 per cent gap between the two main parties.
“The numerous polls I have seen and done have it way way closer,” he wrote.
There is some reason to make that argument.
The poll put Labour on 60 per cent; no New Zealand political party has got more than 58.7 per cent of the vote at a general election since 1899 when the Liberals achieved that result in 1908.
Since the introduction of MMP in 1996, no political party has gained more than 47.3% of the vote which National did in 2011.
But while that may comfort National, what must worry them is that their own support has reached a new low despite the change in leadership to Judith Collins.
National sources told POLITIK that they thought a number of National voters had switched their support to Labour over recent weeks driven by the instability in the party caused by the leadership changes and attendant resignations and the two scandals involving Hamish Walker and Andrew Falloon.
National will now have to win these “Labour-lite” voters back.
And that will be difficult both for Judith Collins whose political instincts are towards the right of the spectrum rather than the centre.
However, POLITIK understands the party is, unwittingly, in the fortunate position of not having much firmed up policy.
The policy development process was stopped by the former leader, Simon Bridges, at the start of the Covid lockdown and then picked up again by Amy Adams when Todd Muller assumed the leadership in May.
But she had not completed that task when Judith Collins took the lead a fortnight ago.
For Labour, the poll would appear to vindicate their strategy of presenting as small a target as possible.
They know they have a winner in the Prime Minister who is on 62 per cent as preferred Prime Minister; Judith Collins is on 14.6 per cent.
Ardern’s ability to lift the Labour vote was clearly evident last election campaign when she took over the Labour leadership and took its vote from 24.1 per cent in the July Newshub poll to 36.9 per cent on election day.
It would be remarkable if Collins could beat that performance by much, which suggests that the best National might hope for on election would be 40 per cent. That would give them 50 MPs (down five on the current caucus), and of those 50, 11 would come off the list.
But it would see Labour on probably 45 per cent and the Greens just over five – enough to form the next Government.
The poll is more bad news for NZ First who are on two per cent and therefore will be out of Parliament altogether unless Winston Peters can pull off a brilliant election campaign.
.The Newshub July poll in 2017 showed NZFirst on 13 per cent; they slumped to 7.2 per cent on election, much of their vote appearing to go to Labour.
But that does raise a question.
And it is a question which worries the party’s campaign strategists.
If the public polls show the party cannot win (which last nights does) then might that provoke a further movement out of National to NZ First to “keep Labour honest” or to prevent the Greens from being part of the next Government.
That is now the danger for National; that voters might write them off and start searching around for tactical votes to prevent Labour from governing alone.
Tactical voting might also enhance both the ACT and Green votes.
If that happens, National will worry that they could see a repeat of 2002 when they won only 20.93 per cent of the vote.
A party review of that campaign found that among the factors that led to the low poll was uncertainty about the strategic direction; a messy policy process; an invisible caucus that was not aggressive enough and too short a time for Bill English to establish himself as leader.
The writing is on the wall.