Bryce Edwards: The Gamechanger PM and polls

Bryce Edwards: The Gamechanger PM and polls

Last night’s opinion polls answered the big question of whether a switch of prime minister would really be a gamechanger for election year. The 1News and Newshub polls released at 6pm gave the same response: the shift from Jacinda Ardern to Chris Hipkins has changed everything, and Labour is back in the game, surging ahead of National.

The poll results for 1News and Newshub were remarkably similar. But to comprehend their message it’s still best to average them out. Here’s the average party vote results:
•           Labour: 38 (up 5.5)
•           National: 37 (down 2.5)
•           Act: 10 (No change)
•           Greens: 7.5 (down 1.5)
•           Te Pāti Māori: 1.4 (down 0.5)
•           NZ First: 2.1 (down 1.5)

And here’s the average preferred PM results:
•           Hipkins 21.3
•           Luxon 20.4

Labour and Hipkins: Surging back into the game

Labour has surged back ahead of National after being well behind for the last year. It looks like the change of leader was just what Labour needed, even though many assumed that Ardern resigning would be the final nail in the party’s coffin. Instead, it turns out that Ardern had been a liability, holding Labour back.

As Newshub’s political editor Jenna Lynch explained, “Losing a leader can be incredibly destabilising, but Labour has flipped that from fiasco to fortune.” She explains that “It’s a huge turnaround for a party that was previously trending downwards in support – Hipkins has proven to be Labour’s saviour.”

Although Newshub political reporters can be rather hyperbolic about polls, Lynch was right to make the following claim: “This poll is a tectonic shift in the political centre of gravity. Labour is in front, somewhere they’ve not been for a year now. Chippy has changed the landscape. Decision 2023 is going to be dynamite.” Lynch claims that “the country’s caught Chippy Fever”.

Hipkins’ new pitch to the public has obviously resonated – being less woke, more working class oriented, and focusing on the issues that matter – specifically the economy and the cost-of-living crisis.

In terms of Hipkins’ leadership, 1News political editor Jessica Mutch McKay says that the polling shows the public “like the fact that he’s changed the tone for Labour and really tried to narrow that focus.”

Labour will be particularly happy with the high levels of trust expressed for Hipkins. The Newshub poll found that 53 per cent trust Hipkins, with only 27 per cent saying they don’t. In contrast, only 37 per cent trust Christopher Luxon with 44 per cent, saying they don’t. These figures are crucial – it’s very hard for an untrusted politician to win an election.

The 1News poll asked voters whether they approved or disapproved of the leaders. For Hipkins his net approval rating was 36 per cent, made up of a 46 per cent who approved, and 10 ten per cent who disapproved. In contrast, Luxon’s net approval rating was only 9 per cent – made up of 43 per cent approval and 34 per cent disapproval.

Herald political editor Claire Trevett says these results for Labour and Hipkins give him significant momentum to carry him forward: “The strong start in the polls gives him more license to do what he thinks he needs to do when it comes to shedding the parts of Labour’s programme that he thinks are holding them back. It will also give his caucus hope: And hope is crucial for discipline.”

Therefore, if Hipkins wants to carry out a big policy reset – for instance, ditching Three Waters, pushing back further on Co-governance – he now has much greater authority and leeway to do so.

National and Luxon: Falling behind for the first time

National had previously been sleepwalking to victory, confident that the Ardern-led administration was deeply unpopular and were likely to lose the election without National even having to provide a strong alternative. They can no longer be complacent.

Stuff political editor Luke Malpass says the party will have to re-evaluate their electoral strategy: “It also poses a significant challenge for Luxon and National, which has ridden the tide of discontent with the Government over the past year. This suggests National will have to reassess its tactics”.

Claire Trevett also emphasises the trouble that Luxon is now in: “It’s not a good start to the year for National Party leader Christopher Luxon, who also delivered National an initial bump when he took over a bit over a year ago. He has managed to keep the party in the mid-30s – but has not managed to drag it back into the 40s yet, and his own approval ratings have stagnated.”

Those low trust ratings for Luxon will be particularly worrying. As Newsroom’s Jo Moir says today, the poll results show that “Kiwis are yet to connect with the Luxon brand.”

Yet, perhaps Luxon will take heart in the fact that Hipkins’ bounce wasn’t even higher. As the Spinoff’s Toby Manhire says today, Labour’s surge was “Sizeable, but certainly not conclusive”, and Hipkins’ 23 per cent preferred PM rating is “hardly stratospheric”. Manhire concludes that this poll might even come to be seen as just a “Chippy blip”.

Luxon was certainly quite correct when he told Newstalk last night that this boost for the new PM was to be expected: “New leaders always get a bump and we’ve seen that in the past and particularly when you hold the office of the Prime Minister, it’s even more so.”

A hung parliament? A “Chrismaker” Te Pāti Māori? And a dying NZ First?

The two latest poll results emphasise how close the race now is between the left and right blocs. At the moment, the National/Act bloc is only slightly ahead of Labour/Greens. And neither poll result would allow one side to form a government.

In a 120-seat Parliament, one side needs to be able to count on the votes of 61 seats. Both polls had National and Act winning 60 seats – just one seat short, and Labour and the Greens on 58 seats. The other two seats were held, in both polls, by Te Pāti Māori – who hasn’t declared who they would coalesce with. In these poll scenarios, Te Pāti Māori could only give their support to a rightwing government, otherwise, they would cause a hung parliament.

Last night, Te Pāti Māori MPs were keeping their cards close to their chests, suggesting that although they were unfavourable towards National, they wouldn’t rule out supporting a rightwing administration. They are enjoying being, as one pundit put it, the “potential Chrismaker”, and the leaders started talking about what their bottom lines would be for coalition negotiations with Labour and National.

The fortunes of the minor parties, therefore, continue to be crucial to this year’s election race. And this poll wasn’t just bad for National, which obviously leaked support back to Labour. Support has also shifted to Labour from the Greens and New Zealand First. While this might not have a big impact on the Greens, the loss of support from New Zealand First might prove to be crucial in thwarting their supposed 2023 comeback, which had previously looked likely.

Therefore, the rise of Chris Hipkins is not only a real threat to Chris Luxon, but also to the plans of Winston Peters. We might look back on the arrival of PM Hipkins, and perhaps these polls, as being the crucial point in which the survival and revival of New Zealand First were killed off.

All the parties and politicians who fared poorly in last night’s poll will know that a poll bump and honeymoon were always likely to occur for Hipkins and Labour. Everyone will now be wondering just how long it can last – or whether it’s the start of a new momentum for a revived incumbent.


Dr Bryce Edwards is Political Analyst in Residence at Victoria University of Wellington. He is the director of the Democracy Project.

This article can be republished under a Creative Commons CC BY-ND 4.0  license. Attributions should include a link to the Democracy Project.  


Other items of interest and importance today

Jenna Lynch (Newshub): Chris Hipkins has changed the game, and election 2023 is going to be dynamite
Jessica Mutch-McKay (1News): ‘This changes things’ – What the latest political poll results tell us
Claire Trevett (Herald): Jacinda who? A chipper Chippy as first polls give Prime Minister Chris Hipkins a dream start and Christopher Luxon a fright (paywalled)
Luke Malpass (Stuff): Poll boost for Chris Hipkins shows election right back in play
Simon Wilson (Herald): How not to be a Chippy Butty – some suggestions for the new PM(paywalled)
Jo Moir (Newsroom): National takes a tumble while Labour gets runs on the board
Toby Manhire (Spinoff): A Chippy blip, or something more?
Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): BOOM – TVNZ Poll and TV3 – Shock Labour Surge – election back in the balance
David Farrar: How much of a honeymoon bump do new leaders get?

Jenna Lynch (Newshub): Newshub-Reid Research Poll: Chris Hipkins is Labour’s saviour but hung Parliament on cards for election 2023
Jenna Lynch (Newshub): Newshub-Reid Research poll: Chris Hipkins tops preferred Prime Minister rankings in first outing as leader
Jenna Lynch (Newshub): Newshub-Reid Research poll: Majority of voters trust Labour’s Chris Hipkins, many don’t trust National’s Christopher Luxon
Felix Desmarais (1News): First poll results with Chris Hipkins as PM revealed
Anna Whyte (Stuff): Poll: Chris Hipkins delivers boost for Labour
Herald: Political polls: Prime Minister Chris Hipkins’ and Labour’s popularity soar
RNZ: National loses ground to Hipkins’ Labour in two new polls

Ani O’Brien (Democracy Project): Luxon can’t afford to continue ‘small target’ politics
Liam Hehir (The Blue Review): Can Luxon keep his no personal attack streak going?
Dave Armstrong (Stuff): Greens could threaten Labour’s hold on Wellington seats
John Roughan (Herald): Jacinda’s goodness will be a hard act to follow (paywalled)
Duncan Garner (NBR): Picking up the pieces: Hipkins’ mission impossible (paywalled)
Damien Venuto (Herald): The harm in referring to Jacinda Ardern as ‘Cindy’
Shaneel Lal (Herald) Jacinda Ardern has gone but sexism and misogyny remain in NZ politics (paywalled)

Tom Kitchin (RNZ): Carmel Sepuloni: What does it take to be deputy PM?
Jemaima Tiatia (Newsroom): Have you heard of Nafanua? Well, she just walked in the room
Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): The woke media’s appalling identity politics coverage of Carmel Sepuloni

David Fisher (Herald): Auckland floods: Wayne Brown’s text to tennis mates – can’t play because have ‘to deal with media drongos over the flooding’
Todd Niall (Stuff): Why the silence of Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown matters
Gavin Ellis: Lessons from the great flood
Rachel Smalley (Today FM): Schools closed across Auckland – This is Lockdown Labour
Thomas Cranmer: Auckland clr Sharon Stewart: ‘it could come back to bite the council’
Tova O’Brien (Today FM): I hope Wayne Brown takes less time to draft a resignation than to declare a state of emergency
Duncan Garner (Today FM): Part-time Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown should resign for Auckland’s ‘Black Friday’
Thomas Manch (Stuff): National Party MP Gerry Brownlee scathing of Auckland mayor Wayne Brown
Barbara Dreaver (1News): Auckland floods: Māngere matters
Jonth Dine (RNZ): Auckland flooding: Māngere residents say they felt abandoned and traumatised
Gordon Campbell: On counting the ways Auckland was failed by its mayor
Thomas Manch (Stuff): Govt to relook at proposed emergency management law after Auckland mayor’s flood handling
Chris Nicoll (Newsroom): Now is the time to re-think EQC
Herald Editorial: Hipkins’ baptism of muddy waters (paywalled)
RNZ: Mayor Wayne Brown admits ‘hiccups’ in response
Bernard Orsman (Herald): Auckland floods: Mayor Wayne Brown vows to carry on following criticism of his leadership during weather crisis
Stuff: Wayne Brown announces independent review into flood response, but denies any wrong
1News: Akl floods: Defiant Wayne Brown ‘certainly not going to resign’
RNZ: Prime Minister Chris Hipkins: ‘Still a very challenging time’ for Auckland
William Hewett (Newshub): Prime Minister Chris Hipkins says Auckland mayor Wayne Brown requested more communications staff days after saying council had too many
Lincoln Tan (Herald): Community leader Dave Letele stands by call for Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown to resign as communities rally to support flood victims
Nick Truebridge (Newshub): Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown refuses to resign, promises investigation into Friday’s disaster response
Mike Yardley (Stuff): One communications disaster after another for Aucklanders
Verity Johnson (Stuff): Does Wayne Brown understand his grumpy old man problem?
Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): The Boomer King promised to Fix Auckland, he drowned it instead – why you should be angry at yourself
Tim Dower (Newstalk ZB): Wayne Brown hasn’t endeared himself
Jonathan Killick (Stuff): Waka Kotahi apologises after staff clocked off for the weekend during disaster
Caitlin Rawling (Newshub): Jacinda Ardern’s house affected by Auckland floods – Prime Minister Chris Hipkins
Anne Gibson (Herald): Jacinda Ardern, a chopper and a digger: Ōwairaka land/tree slide call gets big response
Gabrielle McCulloch (Stuff): Auckland schools must remain closed this week
Herald: All Auckland schools, kura, early learning services and tertiary institutions to close until next Tuesday, Febuary 7
Herald: Auckland floods: Diocesan School for Girls principal ‘incredulous’ about school closure communication from authorities

Thomas Coughlan (Herald): Three Waters could alleviate floods – it could also make them worse (paywalled)
Pattrick Smellie (BusinessDesk): Stormwater: the difficult ‘third water’ (paywalled)
Herewini Parata (Herald): Iwi leaders: Floods are the wake up call on why we desperately need the Three Waters reform
John MacDonald (Newstalk ZB): Does Auckland show a need for 3 Waters reforms?
Stephen Ward (Waikato Times): Ex-Te Pūkenga exec into another controversial role with Three Waters
Stephen Franks: Who’s calling the shots on co-governance? Lawyers or MPs? Will the Court of Appeal order disclosure?

Liam Dann (Herald): Flooding likely to add to inflation woes – BNZ economist (paywalled)
RNZ: North Island floods may cost economy about $466 million, economist says
Lisa Marriott (The Conversation): New Zealand’s tax system is under the spotlight (again). What needs to change to make it fair?
Brianna MciLraith (Stuff): Fuel prices could rise by up to 40 cents a litre by April as tax cuts end
Kate MacNamara (Herald): Forced sale of supermarket assets still on the table as Govt tackles cost of living (paywalled)
Jem Traylen (BusinessDesk): Commerce Commission asks for longer rollout of grocery competition rules (paywalled)
Mark Lister (Bay of Plenty Times): Hipkins’ chances hinge on the economy (paywalled)

Max Rashbrooke (Stuff): On education, we know what Hipkins dislikes better than what he likes
Richard Harman (Politik): Shaking up science
Rob Stock (Stuff): Fear and loathing of ‘free-riding’ families who don’t pay school donations
Gabrielle McCulloch (Stuff): ‘It’s dreadful’: The average price of a school uniform in Auckland is now $460

Erin Gourley (Stuff): After seven years, Let’s Get Wellington Moving finishes first construction project
Tom Hunt (Stuff): How a late-holiday Cook Strait crossing turned perilous
Tom Hunt (Stuff): Broken Cook Strait ferry drifted a nautical mile towards rocks
Georgina Campbell (Herald): Interislander ferry Kaitaki arrives in Wellington after mayday with 800 passengers on board
Gordon Campbell: On the bad outlook for fuel and transport costs
David Wiliams (Newsroom): Clean car crowing ignores stark reality
RNZ: MBIE apologises after agencies’ vehicle emissions put online

Nicholas Jones (Herald): ‘Worst ever’ hospital wait lists climbs to 67,000
Jonty Dine (RNZ): Māori leaders on alcohol policy: ‘We should stop pretending this isn’t about money’
Hamish McNeilly (Stuff): Fight looming over proposed cuts to Dunedin hospital rebuild
Ruth Nicol (Listener/Herald): Aged-care crisis: The soaring costs hitting Kiwi families(paywalled)
Martyn Bradbury (Waatea News): Chris Luxon’s argument against the Māori Health Authority doesn’t make sense
1News: Covid-19: 10,589 new cases, 28 deaths and 189 in hospital
Aileen Alegado (Stuff): What New Zealand can learn from mental health care in Australia

Olivia Wannan (Stuff): Rain records are going to keep falling after Auckland’s floods
Andrea Vance (Stuff): The toxic paper mill sludge that consumed a lake
Steven Cowan: Golriz Ghahraman: Talk is cheap
Keiller MacDuff (Stuff): Majority of waterways off limits to fish, new study shows
Matthew Scott (Newsroom): Black Sand Highway: Sea lion vs traffic
Philippa Tolley (Stuff): New Zealand’s poor recycling record costing jobs as well as the environment
Liz McDonald (Stuff): Recloaking a harbourside treasure from an ancient remnant
Steven Walton (Stuff): Treated sewage no longer being pumped into Lyttelton harbour thanks to 15km submarine pipeline
Steven Walton (Stuff): Lyttelton Port abandons plan to reduce carbon emissions with biodiesel
Niva Chittock (RNZ): Scientists observe warming seas for harmful algal blooms

Joel Maxwell (Stuff): Last words: Titewhai Harawira on damehoods, Te Tiriti and her ‘wicked witch’ status
Ethan Oneroa (1News): PM, te ao Māori leaders pay tribute to Titewhai Harawira