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Government must maintain its momentum

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 16/06/2017 Peter Wilson, Political Writer

When the 1News Colmar Brunton poll gave National 49 per cent there was an element of `this is too good to be true' about it.

But a week later, on Thursday, Newshub's Reid Research poll put National on 47.4 per cent.

Those polls average out at 48.2 per cent.

To get that into perspective, National has won the last three elections with 45 per cent, 47.3 per cent and 47 per cent.

Something good is going on for the government, and last month's budget must be partly responsible for its remarkable ratings.

The trick is going to be maintaining the momentum.

The budget's feel-good factor won't last. The government is going to have to come up with more voter-friendly policies during the campaign.

It almost certainly will, although on Finance Minister Steven Joyce's admission he's already spent nearly all the surplus he's going to get during the next two years.

Most of it has gone on the $11 billion infrastructure spend-up announced in the budget.

He says he's still thinking about taxes, but it's not a short-term thing.

Prime Minister Bill English isn't giving anything away, and says he's not taking the polls for granted.

Nor should he. Even on current ratings it's going to be a close call.

But it's going to take a three-way coalition to beat National.

Labour, which was down to 26.4 per cent in the Newshub poll, talks about that as though it's a done deal.

Deputy leader Jacinda Ardern says she takes an MMP perspective "and there's only one seat in it".

What she means is that the Newshub poll, translated into seats in parliament, gave National and its current support parties 61 seats and a Labour/Greens/NZ First coalition 60 seats.

"It wouldn't take much to turn that ship around," she says.

Ardern is right - if NZ First plays Labour's game.

That's far from a done deal.

NZ First is polling well - 9.4 per cent in the Newshub survey. That compares with the 8.6 per cent it gained in the 2014 election.

But it's still behind the Greens, who increased their support to 12.5 per cent.

Would Winston Peters sign up to being the weakest partner in a three-way coalition?

He's turned that choice down before, and would almost certainly turn it down again if that's the way the cards fall on September 23.

Labour has to raise its game. It has to go into the election with a decent chance of being a strong leader in a coalition.

It won't achieve that if it ends up around 20 points behind National, which the Newshub poll points to.

It does have time, about 100 days, to turn its ratings around.

But election campaigns tend to favour minor parties, and NZ First usually wins more votes on election night than polls suggest.

What Labour has to do is make sure they don't come from its own support base, and at the same time cut into National's big lead.

It's going to be a hard road for Andrew Little.

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