The government has been flailing in recent weeks, yet the National Party has failed to capitalise on a golden opportunity. That comes down to leadership, or a lack of it.
Labour is clinging onto the low 40s while National has failed to hit the much-needed 30% in the latest political poll.
No one in Labour will be thrilled with 41% in Monday night’s 1News/Colmar Brunton Poll – a two-point drop coupled with Leader Jacinda Ardern’s preferred Prime Minister rating tanking to the lowest it has been in two years at 39%.
Collins, Bridges drop
Its saving grace, as is always the case in recent years, is that National is doing worse in the party vote and considerably worse in the preferred PM stakes.
That is a huge problem for Judith Collins, who is sitting on just 5% while ACT Leader David Seymour is more than double that on 11%. Even first-term MP Chris Luxon is gaining on his Leader, up one since September’s poll, to 4%.
Yet, the MP widely tipped to make a move on Collins – former leader Simon Bridges has almost dropped off the recognition scale. He’s down to just 1%.
But to add to Collins’ woes is her net favourability of -31, which is not quite in the doldrums that Bridges experienced when he hit -40 shortly before he was rolled last year but is not much better. Collins’ score has plunged from -19 in May 2021 (approval ratings were not polled in September 2021).
The common theme here is that National is struggling to find a leader the public actually likes. Last week, two other polls were published, both had National in the 20s while Labour hovered either side of 40.
Bad news for Labour
Talbot Mills Research (formerly UMR and the traditional Labour pollster) had Labour down five points to 41 – the lowest seen since pre-Covid times.
Meanwhile, National was up two to 24 and ACT was up one on 17%.
Seymour was also ahead of Collins in preferred PM rankings, with 15% to her 10%.
At the same time, the Taxpayers’ Union Curia poll (formerly National’s traditional pollster), had Labour down six to 39 and National up four to 26%.
In any of these combinations, Labour and the Greens can still comfortably govern, but it is a far cry from the Labour-majority thumping of the election in October last year.
The handling of Covid well and truly won Labour its majority and is single-handedly causing its decline in the polls in recent weeks.
Complex rules, messages
Part of the problem is the clarity around its messaging and what it will take to break Auckland out of its three-month lockdown.
Ardern did not help herself at her weekly post-Cabinet press conference on Monday afternoon when she again announced an announcement.
The Cabinet has decided when Auckland’s hard border will be lifted and friends and family will be able to reunite again but Ardern would not budge on the details, saying that would be revealed on Wednesday.
For those separated from husbands, wives, partners, children for months now it is like a Christmas Advent calendar where the days keep getting added instead of subtracted, and there’s not even any chocolate to sweeten the wait.
The Cabinet has also decided to move the whole country into the Covid Protection Framework at the start of December, because it provides greater protection than the current Alert Level 2 settings do. That means 90% vaccination targets will be scrapped for some District Health Boards.
Director-General of Health Doctor Ashley Bloomfield told Newsroom that it was Sunday (November 14, 2021) when he first discussed with his team the benefits of the whole country moving to the traffic light system earlier.
Ardern had already indicated to Newsroom in an interview on Friday that Cabinet was seriously considering it.
New framework needed
While Ardern says that a lack of vaccine certificates have not hamstrung the government from moving into the traffic light system already, Bloomfield was more honest in his response. He told Newsroom the new framework required vaccine passes to enable it.
He also said the worry with Level 2 was the amount of activity that can go on between the vaccinated and unvaccinated and the likelihood an outbreak could occur.
The problem for Bloomfield and the government is that outbreaks are already occurring and Covid is already spreading down the North Island.
And as long as the country remains in Level 2, and not the Traffic Light System, there is more opportunity for the vaccinated and unvaccinated to transmit the virus.
Waiting another two weeks until November 29 to announce that the whole country is moving into the Covid Protection Framework is just another fortnight of increased spread of the virus.
In answering Newsroom’s questions so honestly, Dr Bloomfield has exposed the government to a ton of criticism about how failing to create vaccine certificates sooner has, and will, continue to allow more time for the virus to spread.
All of this is an incredible opportunity for National to capitalise on.
But when its starting point is having a leader who the public simply does not like, the chances of getting any cut-through are next to nothing.
And if the answer to their problems is a former leader registering 1% in the latest poll, National has a whole lot to think about when the caucus meets in person for the first time on Tuesday (November 16, 2021) morning.
Jo Moir is Political Editor at Newsroom based in Wellington. The above article has been published under a Special Agreement.