One swallow does not make a summer, but…

Note: this post originally appeared on ‘Douglas to Dancing’, a blog I maintained from 2007-9 on the ACT New Zealand political party. The blog was an extension of the thesis I wrote about the Act Party in 2007, From Douglas to Dancing: explaining the lack of success of ACT New Zealand and evaluating its future prospects (PDF).

As ACT strategist Brian Nicolle emphasised to me in written remarks last year, National has not won an outright majority since 1951 – the year of the waterfront workers’ strike. One could argue that a landslide election victory is well overdue and deteriorating economic conditions (don’t forget, New Zealand, not the United States, is the country halfway to a technical recession) offer fertile ground for a National 50%+ result. But if the rule, rather than the exception, prevails, we should expect National’s support to erode over the next few months as voters seek to “keep Key honest”. Presuming National steps down from current poll ratings of 50-55% to more realistic 40-45% levels, what happens to the 5-10% “froth”? ACT will be hoping some of it comes to itself.

A little hope for this came in the latest Roy Morgan poll, out on Friday. ACT – which these days normally doesn’t even make it into polling commentary, leaving one to hunt for the light blue line just above the 0% mark in the accompanying graphic – has perhaps gained a little of what Duncan Garner et al. would call “traction”. The party is now up to 2.5%. From Australia, Gary Morgan tells us:

New Zealand First has lost some ground in recent weeks likely due to the funding scandal surrounding leader, Winston Peters, while ACT NZ’s increase is likely due to the strong performance in Parliament of ACT NZ leader Rodney Hide in questioning Peters about where the funding has gone.

Well, maybe. I recalled similar optimism a while back and on searching through my old ACTion weekly e-newsletters found these comments in the April 18 edition:

New poll details released today by UMR Research showed the ACT Party polling below 1 per cent at the start of the year but support jumping to 2.4 per cent by March. So the ball has started rolling and the closer we get to election time the more the momentum will pick up. Roger’s prediction that if we can get to 3% we can get 7% might just come to pass or even surpass that.

It’s been reported that UMR – the polling company used by the Labour Party – has withheld its polling data since April, so I don’t know what more recent results are in UMR polls. But a reality check: in the New Zealand Herald‘s “poll of polls”, ACT comes in at just 0.9%; in this week’s Herald-Digipoll, ACT polled just 0.2% – surely its lowest-ever result. Until ACT starts registering higher results in other polls, treat the Morgan result as an outlier.

Still, an ACT contact pointed out to me the most recent results in the Morgan poll for ACT have been 1%, 1%, 1.5%, 2%, 2%, 0.5% and 2.5%* – “it’s the trend that matters”. That’s a fair point – if you remove the 0.5% result, ACT has been putting on an average of half a percentage point per poll – but when measuring such miniscule figures I’m not sure how much validity they hold. To use another Duncan Garner word, wait and see whether ACT can gain “momentum” by the time of the next Roy Morgan poll – and move up to 3%.

As The Hive implies, the real story behind the Morgan poll is National’s drop in support below the 50% mark, to 47.5%. In the most recent poll of polls, it reached 51.6%. If this trend is reflected in further polls, it suggests voters may be tempted to keep National in check by going to a small party. When this effect happened with Labour, New Zealand First and United Future became beneficiaries, as they cultivated a more centrist position. ACT needs to collect support from voters on National’s right who dislike Key’s compromises with the left over the likes of his adoption of the Working for Families policy.

  • UPDATE: some hours after I posted this I found Colin Espiner had written a commentary piece coming to similar conclusions as mine in the last paragraph – definitely worth reading:
    There may be another reason why the Yellow Coat of Epsom has a spring back in his step. National is giving Hide plenty of room to play on the centre-Right at the moment. The Working for Families announcement was an absolute gift. Judging by some of the comments on this blog, there will be a few disgusted National voters heading ACT’s way over the decision to continue to deliver welfare to upper-middle-income earners.


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