Newsroom Pros 9 things at 9: Poll confirms National leads Labour by 8-9 points on last day; Youth-quake possible and would upend polls

In today's email we ask whether, despite the final poll showing National poised to win a fourth term in government, a 'youthquake' of people enrolling as they vote could yet upend the result.

1. National in pole position

The final poll to be published before Saturday's election has confirmed National has a lead of eight to nine percentage points over Labour.

That puts Bill English in the box seat for him to negotiate the formation of a Government with Winston Peters, which would give National a fourth term - the longest since the introduction of MMP in 1996.

National could even govern alone with this lead if either or both of New Zealand First or the Greens fail to make it back into Parliament, given any wasted vote from them and The Opportunities Party is effectively redistributed to those parties who make it into Parliament. The wasted vote could be as high as 10 percentage points.

Newshub published its last Reid Research poll tonight. It showed support for National down 1.5 percentage points at 45.8 percent, while Labour was down 0.5 percent over the last week to 37.3 percent.

That lead of 8.5 percentage points was broadly unchanged from Reid Research's poll taken early last week and was in line with the Colmar Brunton poll published on TVNZ on Wednesday night, which had National with a nine percentage point lead over Labour.

However, there remain differences for the minor parties between the two main public polls.

The Reid Research poll showed New Zealand First and the Greens on 7.1 percent each, being up 1.1 percentage points and 2.2 percentage points respectively from a week ago.

But the Colmar Brunton put New Zealand First in danger of dropping out of Parliament altogether at 5.1 percent and the Greens at 8 percent.

Since the advent of MMP, the polls have been remarkably accurate in the final two weeks of campaigning for the two major parties, although the fall in the number of public polls in the last two elections (NZME and Fairfax no longer do their own regular polls) does reduce those confidence levels.

However, the same polls have tended to over-estimate the eventual result for the Greens by a percentage point or two, while they have under-estimated New Zealand First by two to three percentage points.

Adjusting for that and assuming that these past biases are repeated for the small parties, there is a danger the Greens drop out of Parliament and a chance New Zealand First gets closer to 10 percent.

That opens up the possibility that Labour could govern with New Zealand First. If the polls are accurate for the smaller parties, then there is also the chance that Labour would have enough to govern with the Greens and New Zealand First, and possibly the Maori Party. That is a less likely prospect given Winston Peters' antipathy towards the Greens (strongly) and the Maori Party (very strongly).

Peters is also more likely to want to be a strong partner in a two-way Government, rather than one of three or four jostling for position. He's not a three way sort of guy, going by his actions joining previous Governments. He's definitely not a Green or Maori Party sort of guy.

Therefore at this stage, the most likely prospect is a National-New Zealand First Government, with the next most likely possibility being that National could govern alone or in tandem with ACT and Maori again. Then there is the remoter chance of a Labour-Green-Maori Government.

As I said yesterday, there are many variables at play here, which reduces the confidence in any particular outcome. But it's fair to say that the party with the largest vote share, particularly if it is over 45 percent and more than eight points ahead of the next party has a larger chance of governing than the party on 37 percent.

The key variables to watch on the night apart from the respective shares of National and Labour are:

  • Will the Greens get over five percent and get back into Parliament?

  • How many seats will the Maori Party get off the back of one or two electorate wins?

  • Will New Zealand First out-perform their polls as they have in the past?

  • Has there been a 'youth-quake' that invalidates all the poll results?

We have also been told that the private polling by National and Labour also puts National in front, but by more like two to three percentage points, rather than eight to nine. The two last polls finished their surveys on Wednesday, which means they have not taken into account any swings through the latter part of this week.

2. So has there been a 'youth-quake'?

On the face of it, the very high early turnout suggests that young voters have voted in droves, mostly for the Jacinda Ardern-led Labour Party.

As of Wednesday afternoon, over 800,000 people had voted, which was almost twice as many as voted at the same stage in 2014. It suggests almost half the electorate and well over one million people will have voted before Saturday.

If the young have voted at greater rates, that would mean the polls are likely to have underestimated the Labour and Green votes because they assume the same turnout rates for various demographics when they do their sampling and re-weighting of results.

Even though the two big polls rely on landlines for their sampling (100 percent for Colmar Brunton and 75 percent for Reid Research) they keep calling until they reach their required number of young voters, so they don't miss out the youth as some might think.

Some might argue that young people contactable by landline may be 'different' to those not contactable by landline. If this is true and there has been a change in turnout among the young, then the polls could underestimate both the scale of the vote and have missed who they would vote for.

The polls show that the young are mostly voting for Labour and the Greens, while women are more likely to vote for Labour and men more likely to vote for National.

A Horizon Poll of 846 voters taken last week (and published yesterday) showed those leanings, as have others in previous weeks.

The key question is whether the early voters are young.

We don't know in any systematic or verifiable sense that the big increase in early voters is because the young are enrolling and voting (often at the same time) at greater rates than in past elections.

There's been plenty of anecdotal evidence of queues of young people at polling booths, particularly at universities and in big cities.

One thing some commentators have pointed at to discount the likelihood of a 'youth-quake' is that enrolment rates among the young have apparently been just as weak as in previous elections.

The Electoral Commission citing data up until September 19 seems to confirm that enrollment rates among 18-24 year olds is below 70 percent. Some have suggested the very high rates among the old (over 97 percent for over 60s) means there might even have been a 'grey-quake'.

But everyone is assuming that the enrolment figures include the numbers of those people who have enrolled at the same time they voted. Formal enrolment (without voting) closed on August 23.

A source told me this morning that the Electoral Commission are not including the same-day-as-voting enrolments in their published figures for enrolled.

The Electoral Commission said on Twitter yesterday that only some of the 'enrol as they vote' enrolments were included in the figures because only some of the forms had been processed.

So, essentially, we don't know yet whether there has been a 'youth-quake' and whether, therefore, the polls are under-estimating support for Labour and the Greens.

This could be the wild card that throws us all on Saturday night. The polls in Britain and America appeared to be wrong on Brexit and Trump, in part because of a change in turnout rates among older and poorer voters in the mid-west and south of America and the North of England.

3. The party that came back from the dead

Newsroom's Tim Murphy spent some time with Green Leader James Shaw on the campaign trail yesterday to look underneath the hood of the rebound in support for the party in the last fortnight.

"A campaign that looked dead in the water, its poll ratings plummeting from around 15 to 4 points in some surveys after co-leader Metiria Turei resigned on August 9, is perhaps the most remarkable story of survival and leadership of the 2017 election," Tim wrote in this piece published on Newsroom.

"It is the party that came back from the dead. In the Wednesday night One News-Colmar Brunton poll, the Greens had recovered to eight percent in the party vote - low by their aspirations in July but miraculous by their apparent chances in the past six weeks," he wrote.

"Eight percent would get them nine MPs and that means new blood including Chlöe Swarbrick and Golriz Ghahraman would join existing MPs down to ninth ranked Mojo Mathers and 10th ranked Barry Coates."

Thursday's Newshub poll had the Greens on 7.1 which also gives up to nine MPs.

Shaw, 44, told Tim he and the party adopted an approach he had used in a past life as a change management consultant in the United Kingdom, imperilled by unpaid bills from financial institutions struck by the Global Financial Crisis.

"To avoid the death spiral, we would meet each day and work out what we had to do to keep the lights on tomorrow. We did it until we came out the other side," Shaw said.

"That is the most analogous experience to what we faced as a party. It actually forces you to prioritise to the single most important thing you can to do to steady the ship and keep going.

"And as long as you are still alive tomorrow, you just keep going."

See Tim's full piece on the Green turnaround here on Newsroom.

4. Winston's last stand

Newsroom's Tim Murphy also attended Winston Peters' attempted 'Save the Waterfront' rally in Auckland around midday yesterday.

Tim reports just a few dozen people -- apart from media and New Zealand First staffers -- attended on a blustery day on a wharf.

"If you were generous, and counted passersby, the media, all the NZ First people from its bus with placards and pedestrians waiting to cross Quay St at the lights, you might have counted 80 people in the New Zealand First leader's general vicinity," Tim wrote.

He described Peters' performance as strangely off-key.

"He was as poised on the outside as ever, all cufflinked, coiffed and highly polished shoes. But the event seemed last-minute and disconnected. His messages were a bit of a grab bag and his answers in the question session were, to be polite, random. He paused at times reaching for words and his promise to get the Super Gold Card man across to Motutapu twice a month for free was the stuff of parody."

See Tim's full piece here at Newsroom.

5. Rod Oram's column: 'Farming is bankrupt'

Rod Oram takes a look in this week's Newsroom Pro column at the future of farming.

He argues it's time for farmers to stop squandering their natural capital and avoid an environmental bankruptcy, in the same way farmers dug themselves out of financial bankruptcy in the late 1980s.

"Today, agriculture in New Zealand is bankrupt, as it was in 1985. Then it was an economic failure, particularly in the sheep industry. The sector was propped up by $1.2 billion of taxpayer funding under the Supplementary Minimum Price regime, most of it paid out in just two years to 1984. Adjusted for inflation, that would be $4b today," Rod wrote in his column published on Newsroom Pro.

"The Lange Labour government swept away SMP and other bureaucratic encumbrances to farming. This was not deregulation. It was a radical shift to a superior market system backed by regulations on farming and food to ensure quality and to safeguard New Zealand’s reputation.

"The big transformation enabled farmers to thrive. Since the end of SMP and other sectoral constraints, the number of cows milked has increased by 120 percent to 5m, and milk volume has trebled to more than 20 billion litres a year.

"Today farmers are highly regarded at home and abroad for their innovation, the quality of their products and – uniquely among farmers worldwide – doing so with essentially no government subsidies at all.

"We taxpayers still pay, though, through heavy contributions to the sector’s science and R&D, irrigation, trade promotion, clean-up of lakes and rivers and other assistance.

"But today New Zealand farming is environmentally bankrupt."

See Rod's full column here at Newsroom Pro.

6. Rotorua's mood for change

Newsroom's Shane Cowlishaw and Sam Sachdeva were in Rotorua yesterday as they came to the end of their tour through regional New Zealand.

They were looking at several of the most contested provincial electorates (Whanganui, Tukituki, Napier and East Coast) and two of the big Maori electorates (Te Tai Hauaouru and Waiariki) to get a taste of what's happening in parts of the country that aren't seen so often in the media.

Shane found a mood for change in Rotorua despite a rebound in activity with tourism in the last three years.

Euan Hall, 58, a maintenance worker at the Rotorua Central Mall, said he had already given his vote to Labour because “we just need change”.
“I’ve been here nearly all my life, and in the last 10 years what I’ve seen with the community is disgraceful: I see people not able to eat, I see people going through the rubbish bins here for food.”

Hall said despite all the tourists, money issues are on the minds of many in Rotorua: he used to make $1200 a week working in the forestry sector during the 1990s but is now making do on only $15.87 an hour.

Connie, a Rotorua woman in her mid-50s studying to become a counsellor who did not want to give her last name, voted for NZ First due to her concerns about the level of immigration in New Zealand and how it has affected the employment prospects of people like her son.

“My own reasoning is because it will allow for more people to go out and get some jobs...there’s nothing wrong with the people, it’s just the fact it took him a long time to get a job.”

Shane's full piece first published on Newsroom Pro also looks at Te Ururoa Flavell's prospects of retaining Waiariki against Labour candidate and former weather presenter Tamati Coffey.

The polls say Flavell will win again easily, but Coffey told Shane it would be close.

7. Struggles on the East Coast

Newsroom's Sam Sachdeva profiled the sprawling East Coast electorate and the battle there between National's incumbent Anne Tolley and Labour's high-flying new candidate Kiri Allan.

Labour has injected some excitement into the East Coast race with its selection of Allan, a commercial lawyer and one of the party’s rising talents, Sam reported.

Allan knows the hardships locals have faced: she grew up the ninth of 10 children, moving between small towns with her family.
“Hindsight’s an interesting thing, because you grow up and you see things that look right and you see things that don’t look right but you don’t know why, and I guess I grew up wanting to know why.”

She studied law and politics at Victoria University, where her lecturer Margaret Clark suggested she join a party to understand how politics worked. While she didn’t grow up in a political home, Labour seemed a natural fit given her family’s working-class background and connections to Ratana Pa.

An internship in then-Prime Minister Helen Clark’s office followed, then a stint at high-profile law firm Chen Palmer, before a return to the Bay of Plenty for legal work, where the region’s turn for the worse caught her eye.

“I grew up in these great communities, but there’s a real sense of hopelessness and desperation that is pervading through so many of our families...there’s a real heaviness that’s across a lot of our kids.”

Allan says the Government has prioritised profits over people, leaving many on the margins when investment in infrastructure could have made a difference.

While the forestry industry is doing well, she believes the region is missing a trick by sending off the logs for processing elsewhere instead of doing it here (Labour has said it will put $20m towards a local processing plant).

See Sam's full piece on Newsroom Pro, where it was published first yesterday.

8. One beer thing

Finally, after eight weeks of mayhem on our electoral landscape, we could all do with a break from it tomorrow when the remaining 1.5 million of us vote without interruptions from campaigning. Tonight, the big billboard take-down is happening and tomorrow night we'll all be glued to our screens for the results, possibly with a glass of wine or beer in hand.

So I thought I'd put a few fun things in to keep you busy over the weekend that weren't strictly election related, or are at least beer related (and politics related).

Newsroom's Shane Cowlishaw has been moonlighting as the co-host of New Zealand's first (and best) podcast about beer with an appropriately political flavour. It's called The Beerhive and Shane co-hosts it with Michael Forbes from Stuff.

Their first podcast was about the price of beer with an old colleague of mine Alex Tarrant. They then talked about the Buzz from the Beltway with Wellington Central candidates Grant Robertson and Nicola Willis. Their latest podcast is a chat over a beer or two with Newshub's Lloyd Burr and Jenna Lynch about said electoral mayhem.

I don't know about you, but some time in the next few days I shall be sitting down with a nice pale ale for a listen and to reflect on one of the craziest periods in New Zealand's political history, even if we get a result that isn't too much different from what we've had for the last nine years.

But before that, we will be sending subscribers two election special alert emails. There'll be an initial one late on Saturday night with a result and another one early on Sunday morning with more of what we know about the election outcome and what any new Government might look like.

We will also have an extended special email for everyone to read on Monday about who said what about what happens next.

9. One cartoon thing

Sharon Murdoch's cartoon about the $11.7 billion fiscal 'hole' captured the mood on the last days of the campaign as talk emerges of 'post-truth' election.

We'll see whether National's campaigning on Labour's fiscal (non) hole and its 'surprise' tax increase has actually worked within the next 48 hours.

Good luck everyone.