While, most of the time, we talk only about the “headline numbers” in polls – that is, what percentage of the party vote each party is getting – if you look further into the numbers you find interesting snippets which perhaps help us to understand which way the election might go. Most of these numbers look good for Labour and bad for National.
Firstly, the breakdown in today’s Herald poll shows up some worrying signs for National and its leader. Among women, Labour is almost 20 points ahead: 50.8% plays 32%. If this holds tomorrow, then National is toast.
Asked about the two party leaders, Helen Clark is seen as more trustworthy (49% vs 31.8%), more compassionate (45.7% vs 31.5%), more intelligent (43.3% vs 31.9%), and more competent (59.1% vs 25.6%). TV3’s poll last night also showed Clark’s clear superiority in the minds of voters. Since the start of last year, the number of Kiwis who think Clark is a capable leader hasn’t moved: she’s rock solid at 85%. In the same period, the number of Kiwis thinking Don Brash is a capable leader has slipped from 61% to 51%. On having sound judgement, being good in a crisis, and having adequate experience, Clark’s numbers have stayed the same in the past two years, while Brash’s have slipped. Fully 70% of Kiwis think Brash is rather inexperienced, compared to 11% who think that of Clark.
Voters’ appraisal of Clark and Brash’s performance also suggests greater admiration for Clark. At the start of last year, 64% thought Clark was performing well, and 20% thought she was performing poorly. By last night’s poll, those numbers had barely changed: 64% and 24% respectively. On the other hand, the more that Kiwis have seen of Don Brash, the less they have been impressed. At the start of last year, 58% thought he was performing well and 22% thought he was performing poorly – so, pretty much on a par with Clark. In last night’s poll, those thinking he was performing well had dropped to 41% and those thinking he was performing poorly had almost doubled to 41%.
So, the thesis that there is a strong anti-Helen Clark sentiment in the electorate seems terribly shaky looking at these numbers – perhaps the result of the echo chamber of right-wing bloggers and talkback callers than the wider electorate? These numbers also bring up the interesting issue as to whether New Zealanders are prepared to elect a party that it acknowledges would provide us with an inferior Prime Minister to the incumbent. Does leadership matter so little that a slick marketing campaign can overcome a objectively superior Prime Ministerial candidate?
Another question that American political pundits often look at to see how they think an election will go is whether voters are optimistic or pessimistic about the direction the country is going in. If they like how things are going, they’ll be much more likely to vote for the incumbent. TV3 asks its interviewees whether they believe New Zealand is becoming a better or worse place to live in. At times in the last few years – for example, post-Orewa – those saying “better” and those saying “worse” have been neck and neck. In April of this year, the “worse” even had a lead of 6%. However, in last night’s poll, the “better” outnumbered “worse” by 50% to 34% – the biggest lead “better” has had in over two years. A similar story can be found in the last National Business Review poll. Interviewees are consistently asked in the NBR poll: “Generally speaking are things in New Zealand heading in the right direction, or are they off on the wrong track?” In the final NBR poll before the election, “right direction” had a 35-point lead over “wrong track” – 63% plays 28%. You have to go back to April 2003 to find such a positive result.
All these figures – an incumbent Prime Minister the people rate highly and a country the people are happy with – point to a Labour victory tomorrow. That’s certainly the conventional wisdom. But this has been the most unconventional of unconventional campaigns, so one shouldn’t rule out Kiwis acting in a completely unpredictable and unprecedented manner tomorrow.