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Cablegate: Have New Zealand Voters Simply Tuned Out Labour?

VZCZCXRO6906
RR RUEHDT RUEHPB
DE RUEHWL #0071/01 0570412
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 260412Z FEB 08
FM AMEMBASSY WELLINGTON
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 5099
INFO RUEHNZ/AMCONSUL AUCKLAND 1633
RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA 5118
RUEHDN/AMCONSUL SYDNEY 0652
RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI
RUCNARF/ASEAN REGIONAL FORUM COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 WELLINGTON 000071

SIPDIS

SIPDIS
SENSITIVE

STATE FOR STATE FOR EAP/ANP
PACOM FOR J01E/J2/J233/J5/SJFHQ

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM KDEM NZ
SUBJECT: HAVE NEW ZEALAND VOTERS SIMPLY TUNED OUT LABOUR?


WELLINGTON 00000071 001.2 OF 002


1. (SBU) Summary. Successive political polls in the past two weeks
showed that the ruling Labour Party has failed to cut into the
opposition National Party's sizable lead as the 2008 election year
begins. The Colmar Brunton poll, New Zealand's most important, had
Labour at 34% trailing National at 53%. This was followed by the
Fairfax Media-Nielsen poll which showed Labour at 32% compared to
National's 55%. This coincided with a sequence of political
controversies and problems for the Government, compounding a
particularly bad period for Labour. Although it is still early in
the election cycle, these polls may have Labour worrying that,
regardless of its policy announcements designed to appeal across a
wide spectrum of the population, voters nonetheless remain unmoved.
End Summary.

Labour Still Trailing
---------------------

2. (SBU) In its first survey for the 2008 election year New
Zealand's most prominent political poll, the Colmar Brunton poll,
underscored the main opposition National Party's continued dominance
over the ruling Labour Party. Released over the February 16-17
weekend, the poll found the National Party at 53%, with the Labour
at 34%. These numbers have not changed much in the two months since
the last poll in December 2007. An analysis of recent Colmar
Brunton polls shows the trend in favor of National and against
Labour remains unabated. Labour's political ally, the Green Party,
up 4.1 points to 6%, was the only other party to register over the
5% threshold needed for representation in parliament on the basis of
party vote alone. On these findings, National could conceivably
govern alone without needing any support from the minor parties as
presently required by Labour.

3. (SBU) In the same poll, National Party leader John Key increased
his lead over Prime Minister Helen Clark in the Preferred Prime
Minister stakes. Key was up one point to 36% with Clark dropping
three points to 27%. On economic outlook, the poll revealed that
pessimists of New Zealand's economic prospects continue to grow at
the expense of optimists.

4. (SBU) If Labour thought that the latest Colmar Brunton poll was
dire, worse was to come a week later. The Fairfax Media-Neilsen
poll, released over the February 23-24 weekend, found that since the
last poll in November 2007 National surged 10 points to 55% with
Labour losing 8 points to 32%. This result was front-page news in
the weekend edition of the Dominion Post newspaper, where emphasis
was given to National's 23-point lead over Labour being its biggest
since Labour took office in 1999. Compounding the grim news for
Clark was Key's dramatic overtaking of her in the Preferred PM
stakes. In the Fairfax Media-Neilsen poll, Key gained 8 points to
44% to Clark, who dropped 9 points to 29%.

National: Labour Faces New Reality
-----------------------------------

5. (SBU) A National Party Member of Parliament has told us that
although his party is extremely pleased by both poll results, it
nonetheless remains guarded against any complacency. The MP
commented that despite her diminishing personal support in the
polls, National still regards Clark as Labour's most potent
political asset. However, the MP observed that in John Key, Clark
now faces the most capable National Party leader she has ever faced
in an election year.

A Series of Unfortunate Events for Labour
-----------------------------------------

6. (SBU) The poll results came during an already depressing period
for Labour, which has been forced on the defensive by a sequence of
bad political news. Over the past week, Clark has had to defend her
Government against allegations of accepting inappropriate donations
from a wealthy expatriate Labour donor, and purportedly promising
the same donor a possible cabinet position and the honorary
diplomatic post in Monaco. Her government has also been criticized
for published failings in the health sector. Another blow for
Labour has been the growing expectation that its ability to deliver
oft-promised tax cuts in this election year may be sharply curtailed
after release of the Government's tax receipts showed USD 158
million less than forecast.

Labour's Early Year Political Renewal Dashed
--------------------------------------------

7. (SBU) The Labour Government had high hopes for making inroads
into National's popularity after starting the year with an active
program of well-received policy announcements. It has also made

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some recent decisions that were broadly supported by the public,
e.g. its strong stance against Japanese whaling. However, these
poll results in addition to recent negative press have derailed any
immediate hopes Labour had for narrowing the polling gap at the
start of the 2008 political season. Clark has since predicted that
further government policy announcements will show voters that the
Labour government is firmly behind their concerns and popular
support will return to Labour.

8. (SBU) Labour is likely to be extremely frustrated by these poll
results because, on balance, it had down little wrong since the
start of the year. Yet despite a terse-looking Clark at some recent
public events, there are no obvious signs of this frustration within
Labour ranks. Labour is likely to console itself in that the
election is still many months away and there is time to re-group.
However, it must nonetheless be alarmed that these polls did not
account for Labour's recent PR debacle in its sampling.

Comment
-------

9. (SBU) A year ago, leading pundits patiently explained that while
National as a party was ahead in most polls, Clark would continue to
dominate the leadership ratings and effectively balance the contest.
However, Key's leadership surge at her expense has shattered
Clark's hitherto impregnability and has enticed some media to
venture that the only way for Labour to regain pre-election traction
is to install Trade Minister Phil Goff as leader. Clark is,
however, unlikely to be removed from her post by Labour's caucus,
where she maintains solid support. Nevertheless, the party must be
concerned that after nine years in power, the New Zealand public has
simply stopped listening to Clark -- and like voters in Australia,
may be looking for change for change's sake. End Comment.

McCormick

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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