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The government gets a wake-up call

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 11/08/2016 Peter Wilson, Political Writer

National 45.1 per cent, Labour and the Greens 44.2 per cent - that's way too close for comfort and the government should be taking notice, says NZN political writer Peter Wilson.

The trend is going the wrong way and, unless it turns around, National will go into 2017 playing catch up.

That's really bad, because as elections approach it becomes more and more difficult to turn the polls around.

National won the last two elections with 47 per cent of the party vote (47.3 per cent in 2011, 47.04 per cent in 2014).

It needed partners for a majority in parliament, and signed up the Maori Party, ACT and United Future.

Prime Minister John Key has shrugged off this week's 45.1 per cent as he tries to appear unconcerned.

It's about the same as where National was for the last two elections, he says.

His problem is that a drop of nearly two points isn't "about the same" - it could be the difference between winning and losing.

The Newshub poll, and others this year, have shown neither side with enough seats for a majority on their own.

Translated to seats in parliament, this week's poll gives National 55 and Labour/Greens 53. In a 122-seat parliament, the majority is 62.

And here's the catch: With 55 seats, on current polling National can't make it with the Maori Party, ACT and UF.

That's a place Key doesn't want to be, because it means he would need NZ First for a fourth term in office.

Winston Peters would decide the winner.

He's been kingmaker in other polls this year, and NZ First is firmly entrenched at around eight per cent.

In 2014 there were doubts about whether the party would reach the five per cent threshold for list seats.

There are no doubts about that now, and Peters has firmed up his party's future by winning the Northland by-election.

It usually gains more votes than polls predict, and next year could win more than the 12 seats it now holds.

National's 1.9 point fall in the Newshub poll puts it in the danger zone, the next two or three will show whether it's going to stay there.

Key has a remarkable record of keeping it at 47 per cent in the last two elections, but it's going to be really hard next time.

And National won't have Kim Dotcom and his "moment of truth" antics to help it.

That campaign, which backfired big time, is considered by National itself to have made a difference of up to two points on election night 2014.

Dotcom didn't swing voters to National, what he did was make complacent supporters so angry they went to the ballot box to show him what they thought.

The government is going to need a very good 2017 to take up the slack and get into a position where it can win 46 per cent or 47 per cent of the party vote.

And without Dotcom it will have to find another way to spur lazy supporters into action.

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