There’s been debate about the latest TV3 Reid Research poll. The poll, which was taken between February 12 and February 21, has National on 51.4%, Labour on 32.6% and the Greens on 11%. No other party reaches the 5% threshold. In the ‘Preferred Prime Minister’ stakes John Key is on 41% with David Shearer on 10%. Where the parties are concerned, the poll is out of step with recent TV1, Fairfax, Herald and Roy Morgan polls by between 2% and 7%. Commentators have also pointed out that in the last election all the major polls overstated National’s support by between 3% and 7%. Given Labour’s and Phil Goff’s woeful results in that election, one might think it barely mattered. But when you take into account the current level of unemployment, the Government’s abysmal handling of the Christchurch school amalgamations and closures, the Novopay debacle and the Prime Minister’s complicity in the shonkiest political deal I can remember since I’ve been in this country, National’s and its leader’s high ratings do seem somewhat strange.
But in one sense, the accuracy or lack of accuracy of the polls really is irrelevant. This is because the pollsters are objectively proved right or wrong only once every three years: after the election, when it’s too late for their influence on the outcome to be undone. In an earlier post I argued that political polls tend to be self-fulfilling on the basis that people are reluctant to vote for a persistently low-polling party or leader. Our natural instinct is to back winners. The high-rating leader is also able to bask in the warm glow of his poll success while his low-rating opponent has to engage in an unconvincing dismissal of the poll result and an equally unconvincing defence of his and his party’s performance that presumably led to it. TV3’s latest Reid Research poll may not be accurate. Labour may not have only 32.6 percent support or the Greens only 11%. National may not be within cooee of 51.4%. But for the moment, and until the next moment, that’s where the parties stand. National supporters will take heart; Labour and Green supporters will endure a small chip in their confidence.
But it’s in the Preferred Prime Minister stakes that the effect is most dramatic. According to this poll, John Key on 41% has a massive 31% lead over David Shearer on 10%. The Labour leader is back where his predecessor was just before the election – only worse. And yes, I know, it can’t be right, it isn’t fair, and the only poll that matters is the poll on election day. But it’s a really bad look and the very last thing that Shearer needs as he announces his new front bench line-up. And here’s the main point: Shearer’s future will be determined by the polls. If he lingers too long under 15% the uneasy peace which he has quite skilfully negotiated between the Labour Caucus factions will become increasingly fragile. The knives will be out. He might well have been better during today’s reshuffle to take the Clark approach and bring Cunliffe, who has after all publicly declared his loyalty, back into the tent, if only close to the flap. And then there’s the likeable and engaging Grant Robertson – young, ambitious and only one step away from the glittering prize. As he pondered the results of this latest TV3 Reid Research poll, what thoughts might fleetingly have traversed his consciousness?