Cablegate: National Likely Election Winner

DE RUEHWL #0378/01 3120409
R 070409Z NOV 08




E.O. 12958: N/A

Ref: Wellington 370

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1. (SBU) Summary. One day before New Zealand heads to
the polls, the odds appear to be stacked against Labour
winning a fourth term in government. Polls released in
the last two days show the opposition National Party is
maintaining a double-digit lead over Labour. The
economy is the main election issue, followed by law and
order, which have been consistent winners for the
opposition National Party. Most media pundits already
have called the election for National, although some
analysts have reminded voters that Labour overcame a
poll deficit in 2005 to narrowly win. The question is
whether National will be able to form a coalition
government, or will Helen Clark prove the master
collation builder once more. End Summary.

Polls Promise National Win

2. (SBU) If the latest polls are to be believed,
National may be coasting to victory at the polls on
November 8. The TV One and TV 3 polls released on
November 6 show National in the lead, with TV One
giving National a 12-point lead and TV 3 nearly the
same at 13 points. A Colmar Brunton poll also showed a
12-point gap (47 percent for National and 35 percent
for Labour). The latest Herald Digi-poll had National
at 48 percent and Labour at 36 percent. Finally, the
Fairfax-Nielsen poll on November 7 showed National
ahead of Labour by 18 points (49 versus 31 percent).
Averaging out the five polls puts National at roughly
47 percent and Labour at 34 percent. Media analysts
note that the minor party polling results would give
National supporters ACT and United Future three or four
seats meaning that National would not need the Maori
Party to take control of the government if these poll
results hold. PM Clark has dismissed the final polls,
saying that they are "all over the place" and

3. (U) The economy remains the number one issue going
into the November 8 election. The November 6 Herald
Digi-poll showed (as did previous polls) that the
economy, at thirty-two percent, was the issue most
likely to influence voters. Moreover, the number of
respondents who believed that the National Party is
best able to handle the financial difficulties facing
New Zealand (fifty percent) clearly outweighed those
who believed that the incumbent Labour Party would
(forty-one percent) do best. Labour has continued to
focus its economic policies on government-funded and
government-led initiatives. The few exceptions have
been where Labour has tried to mirror some of the well-
received ideas of National.

4. (SBU) National has made considerable effort to
persuade voters that it has greater competence on
economic issues and to reassure voters that it will not
dramatically change direction or undercut existing
social safety nets. John Key, a former international
money trader, has asserted that he is better equipped
to understand the current turmoil in the global
financial markets than Clark, a career politician. He
has also stressed that many of his front-bench MPs have
real world experience outside government that will keep
National attuned to moving the economic levers in ways
that favor the majority of working New Zealanders. Key
has offered economic policies that New Zealanders
generally find attractive such as larger tax cuts and a
focus on infrastructure development. Key is not the
unabashed free-market deregulator that has kept some
moderate New Zealand voters away from National in the
past. Rather, his public-private economic management
philosophy appeals to voters who have questioned the
Labour government's intervention on economic issues,
such as the decision to buy back the rail network
earlier this year.

Law and Order a Focal Point

5. (SBU) Law and order issues have consistently placed
second behind the economy on a list of issues likely to
influence voters. The November 6 Herald-Digi-poll
showed law and order as the second-most important issue

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to voters. Over the past three years, widely reported
recurrent incidents of violent crime, parole violations
by recidivist offenders, increase in drug-related
crime, and organized criminal activity have left many
New Zealanders fearing that their country is not the
safe haven it was once thought to be.

6. (SBU) National has emphasized a firmer response for
youth offenders and no parole for worst repeat
offenders. With regard to correctional matters,
National favors incarceration over Labour's tendency to
promote rehabilitation. Labour has been reluctant to
acknowledge that law and order is a growing problem in
New Zealand, claiming that the media are simply
reporting more violent crime. They may be right, but
that has not mattered. The policy void has given
National a distinct political advantage, particularly
since police organizations have applauded National
policy proposals.

Clark's Trust Argument Has Not Changed Polls

7. (SBU) From the outset of the campaign, Clark has
promoted trust as a central theme of the election. She
was campaigned on her years of executive experience and
her ability to form governments in the intricate MMP
environment (reftel) in contrast to Key's own relative
inexperience. Clark has continued to do better
personally in the polls than has her party. She has
repeatedly sought to undermine Key's character by
presenting him as deceitful and as having a secret
hard-right agenda. But Labour's recent attempts to
attack Key's character by trying to implicate him in a
decades-old financial scandal fell flat. Moreover,
Labour Party President Mike Williams flew to Australia
at taxpayer expense to pursue the Labour Party's
investigation into Key's potential relationship to this
issue, which became a point of embarrassment for Clark.
Recently, Clark had to contend with further revelations
about Winston Peters and the Owen Glenn scandal, which
also pointed to Clark being less than honest about how
much she knew regarding Peters' potential conflict of
interest in the Owen Glenn affair.

Debates Favored Key

8. (SBU) On November 5, the last of three debates
between Clark and Key took place, and media analysts
and commentators awarded a slim victory to Clark.
However, on balance experts and the public alike
thought that Key was the overall victor in the debate
series. It is not certain whether Key's strong debate
performance will translate into increased support on
Election Day. It did, however, serve to strengthen his
Prime Minister-in-waiting credentials and showed that
he could go head-to-head with Clark, a formidable

"Only a Miracle Can Save Labour"

9. (SBU) Many from the media have already called the
election for National. One of New Zealand's most
respected political journalists wrote on November 6
that there was already a popular sense National would
lead the next government. John Armstrong of the New
Zealand Herald, the country's biggest daily newspaper,
observed that "the pervading question is no longer
whether Labour has any chance of winning; it is now the
margin by which National will win." Armstrong believed
that the drive has gone out of Labour's campaign and
that party "does not have much left to deploy" ahead of
Election Day.

10. (SBU) The Dominion Post, another daily newspaper,
featured a front-page headline saying "Time for a
Change," and citing the 49-31 percent poll results
favoring National from the latest Fairfax-Neilsen
polls. Most journalists have been hedging their bets,
noting that Labour narrowly squeaked by to win in 2005
based on a strong get-out-the-vote effort by Labour
Party faithful in South Auckland that tipped the
balance for Labour. Clark has been spending
considerable time in South Auckland at the end of the

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campaign to try and shore up support from the party

Comment: Who Will Win the Second Campaign?

11. (SBU) Although the polls have narrowed over the
past 10 months, National is still commanding a
consistent double-digit lead over Labour going into
tomorrow's election. But winning the election is not
enough. Unless National polls over 50 percent, which
few expect, they will need to form a coalition.
National Party officials are quietly optimistic that
they will stay above the 47 percent mark, which means
they would likely be in a position to govern with ACT
and United Future, and would not need the Maori Party.
But in the complex world of MMP politics in New Zealand
and as voters witnessed in 2005, Helen Clark cannot be
ruled out to deliver an upset victory.


© Scoop Media

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