Newshub poll surprise; Heavy early voting; Water tax pain; Inside the battle for Ilam

In today's email we look at the latest poll result in this "drag race" election campaign.

1. Another poll shock

This time the surprising poll result was in the other direction.

Newshub's Reid Research poll published last night put support for National up four points in the last week to 47.3 percent, while Labour fell 1.6 percent to 37.8 percent.

The poll was taken between last Wednesday and Monday (September 6-11). That period included coverage of the Stuff debate on Thursday night and ongoing debate about Steven Joyce's budget black hole claims and National's accusations of Labour's 'seven new taxes'.

The last TVNZ Colmar Brunton poll (taken September 2-6) showed Labour widening its lead from two percentage points to four points last week, with Labour on 43 percent and National on 39 percent.

The only other regularly released public opinion poll is by Roy Morgan, although it is not as closely watched as the Reid Research and Colmar Brunton polls because of its perceived volatility. Roy Morgan's last poll was taken on August 13 and showed National at 42.5 percent, down 0.5 percent from the previous month, while Labour was at 32.5 percent, up two percentage points.

The other two regular opinion poll series by Curia and UMR are done privately for National and Labour respectively. Bill English said yesterday that Reid's 47.3 percent was higher than National's own polling.

"Those numbers are a bit higher than what we're seeing," English told Newshub. "What we see is a drag race between the two big parties."

RNZ's poll of polls averages the three public polls and the UMR and Curia (up until July) polls. It was sitting last night with National on 41.3 percent, Labour on 40.5 percent, NZ First on 7.5 percent and the Greens on 5.5 percent.

The other point of note from Reid Research's poll last night was the Greens slipping 1.2 percent to 4.9 percent, which would put them below the five percent threshold under MMP.

Jacinda Ardern again ruled out any sort of electoral accommodation deal that would allow the Greens to come into Parliament on the coat-tails of an electorate MP gifted an electorate by Labour. She said she thought the Greens would still make it in over the five percent threshold.

New Zealand First was down 0.6 percent to six percent in the Reid Research.

As with any poll, this is just one data point in a set that is moving around. I tend to keep an eye on poll of polls for a broad indication of where the trend is heading and where the main parties sit. There has clearly been a narrowing of the National lead in the last month. My sense is the two main parties are around 41 percent. The minor parties are tougher to pick.

The history of polling and election results in New Zealand in the post-MMP era show the polls are broadly accurate for the two main parties on election night, but tend to over-estimate the Greens and under-estimate New Zealand First by a percentage point or two respectively.

That would suggest the Greens could miss out on getting in Parliament and New Zealand First could get nine to ten percent. Assuming ACT wins Epsom, that would make the eventual result dependent on how well the Maori Party does and which way Winston Peters wants to jump.

We can be broadly certain of two things in this election with nine days to go. Winston Peters is likely to be the kingmaker and the electoral 'mood' is unsettled. It could easily shift again in these remaining nine days.

After all, there are also two sayings worth knowing in politics.

'A week is a long time in politics' and Harold MacMillan's apocryphal view on what worried him: 'Events, dear boy, events.'

2. Small businesses like Ardern too

Yesterday's 'Mood of the Boardroom' survey of big businesses found a surprising openness to the idea of a change of Government, although most still preferred National. Now a survey of small business owners show Labour has also closed the gap with them.

An MYOB-Colmar Brunton survey of 400 SME business owners released yesterday had support for Labour at 29 per cent, up from 10 per cent at the same point last year, with National ahead on 44 per cent (although down 13 per cent during the same period).

MYOB New Zealand general manager Carolyn Luey said Labour had made up ground since Ardern took over from Andrew Little.

“Traditionally National has the small business owner vote locked up...National retains its lead with SME owners, but Labour has definitely closed the gap.”

Luey said one concern for National was the 42 per cent who felt it was "time for a change", against 37 per cent who believed the Government deserved to be re-elected.

The poll was conducted from September 4 to 8, with a margin of error of 4.9 per cent.

3. English on the water tax trail

Bill English was on the campaign trail in Canterbury yesterday and met with a group of over 300 people in Ashburton who said they feared Labour's water royalty.

English was reported in Stuff and the NZ Herald to have received a rapturous welcome from locals concerned irrigators would have to pay a water tax under Labour.

"We want to achieve higher environmental standards and apparently no one's thought of this until about six weeks ago. It's all new, apparently, lifting the quality of water in our rivers – brand new idea," English was quoted as saying by Stuff's Charlie Mitchell.

"All that tells you is they [opposition parties] take no notice of you. They have no idea what you do, how you do it or why you're so good at it. We're backing you."

One member of the crowd told English he was preaching to the converted and urged him to fight hard against such a tax.

"If we are going to go down - and I hope we don't - we go down fighting. Because I can assure you, I am not going to be happy about paying a water tax," NZME's Isaac Davison quoted the crowd member as saying.

English responded: "We will do better than that. We are going to win fighting."

The water tax issue has clearly energised many in the provinces.

Here's an opinion piece in Newsroom from Dr Terry Heiler, an engineer and a former CEO of Irrigation New Zealand, arguing against such a tax.

4. Raf Manji's gamble in Ilam

Newsroom's Shane Cowlishaw and Sam Sachdeva have been profiling some of the more interesting electorate battles in recent weeks.

Shane has done Wairarapa, where there is talk of a Labour or New Zealand First upset win. Sam has done Christchurch Central, where National's Nicky Wagner is not optimistic about retaining her seat for a second time.

Now Sam has taken a look at Ilam where Christchurch Councillor Raf Manji is running as an independent against Gerry Brownlee in the usually safe National seat.

Sam spoke to both Raf and Gerry and his profile is a insightful look at the personalities and issues at play. Here's Sam's piece, which was published in full first on Newsroom Pro yesterday.

5. Heavy early voting

Jacinda Ardern and her partner Clarke Gayford cast early votes in her Mt Albert electorate yesterday, and they weren't the only ones in heavy early voting.

She emerged wearing an ‘I’ve Voted’ orange sticker and told media she’d voted early for the first time in her life to get the message out to others that the opportunity was now available.

She said the chance to enrol and vote simultaneously could avoid the problem at the last election when 27,000 people went to cast votes on polling day but they were not counted because they had not enrolled.

“So, if you’re worried don’t leave it to the day. Go and enroll nice and early.”

Having had her photo opportunity voting, she would not be able to have the ceremonial moment on election day. Ardern said there were limits on what politicians could do on the day, other than vote, but she would probably just content herself with “another cup of tea.”

On a Facebook Live message from outside the booth, she said the vote had been straightforward and she hadn’t influenced Gayford’s independent vote. He said the question now was just who he had voted for, and Ardern said: “A mystery.”

Nearly 40,000 Kiwis cast their vote on Monday, the first day of advance voting, according to the Electoral Commission. The turnout of 39,444 compared to 22,234 votes on the equivalent day in 2014.

6. While you were sleeping

China loosened its capital controls overnight, allowing the renminbi to slip. This may be worth watching for capital movements into global property markets.

7. Coming up...

Bill English is campaigning in Auckland today and his due to hold his daily news conference mid-afternoon. Jacinda Ardern is campaigning in Nelson and on the West Coast.

8. One or two fun things

Katie Bradford: Question to English: "Will there be a tax on air?" English replies: "No, not from National, but others might set up a working group."

Vaughn Davis: "Super impressed that the #iPhoneX has 5 blades and a moisturising strip."