The Listener has published the results of a poll conducted 19-24th May. In contrast to other major polls, this one has included undecided voters in the base of the calculation. That means the percentage of party support is considerably lower than it would otherwise be. Whereas 44% of decided voters support National, only 35% of the overall sample do (see this table shared by Matthew Hooton). It is the latter figure that The Listener has chosen to publish. But as we know, a large proportion of those eligible to vote choose not to.
In the last election, turnout was only 77%. That is why pollsters leave out the undecideds when calculating party support. After all, we don’t calculate the party vote as a percentage of the electorate. If we did, then the National vote was only 36% in 2014. That makes The Listener poll less sensational than the headline numbers suggest. And it means the result is consistent with every other poll we have seen out this year. National leads Labour by a wide margin and any centre-left government would depend on the support of NZ First.
But there is one major difference: the new poll suggests that Labour’s electoral support has not recovered from 2014. Only 19% of respondents would vote Labour. If we remove the undecideds, this would mean a party vote of 24% – one percentage point less than the 2014 result.
And yet, until now, Labour has been averaging 29-30%. Last week, these poll numbers were cited by NZ Herald journalist Claire Trevett as evidence that Labour would avoid further collapse. Trevett went on to suggest that any failure of Labour to form a government this year could have more to do with the unreliability of Winston Peters than the Labour vote. This is a naïve claim.
In May 2014, Labour was polling slightly better than it is now. But after four months of campaigning, it finished with barely a quarter of the vote. Analysis by David Farrar on Kiwiblog suggests that this has been a recurring theme in every general election since 1999. On average, Labour support has declined 5% from the start of election year to election day.
It may be that the worst is yet to come for Labour. Certainly, political columnist John Armstrong agrees. The haphazard and lackluster response of Andrew Little to the Budget has prompted Armstrong to argue that the greatest challenge for Labour in 2017 could be preserving its status as a major political party. The Listener poll gives further justification to this argument.