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New political poll: Assessing the fortunes of the minor parties

With the latest political poll results showing a familiar trend for Labour and National, things are getting interesting for the minor parties.

The 1News Colmar Brunton poll released last night had support for Labour at 53 percent, National at 32 percent, NZ First at 2 percent, the Greens at 5 percent, and ACT at 5 percent.

Former United Future leader Peter Dunne spoke to First Up about the prospects for the smaller parties.

While the results suggested Labour could govern alone, Dunne said: "We've never had a single party government under MMP and the last time we got close to this possibility was 2002 when Helen Clark set out to say look, just give me your party vote, give us the majority, and that's the last thing people wanted to do."

Auckland University political studies professor Jennifer Curtin also said New Zealand voters under MMP were not that interested in going back to majority government.

She expected Labour's support would drop below 50 percent going into the campaign, meaning keeping potential coalition partners close was important - even when they weren't needed.

Dunne expected polls would tighten and Labour would need a coalition partner.

"That's where it becomes interesting, because the Greens are hovering desperately close to tipping out of Parliament altogether."

Curtin said quite a large percentage of New Zealand voters were very tactical and would split their vote.

"So there will be voters on the centre-left to left who might have previously been thinking 'party vote Labour' who may choose, looking at the Greens sitting on 5 percent, who may choose to party vote Green," she said.

Dunne said if the Greens went below 5 percent they'd be back, but they should still be concerned.

"Historically, the Greens have always done better in opinion polls than they have done in the election itself. So if they are on 5 percent now, they could well be on 4.5 percent on election day, which would be enough to tip them out of Parliament, which would then put ... a lot of focus on the Auckland Central seat.

"If the Greens can win that then they can cross the threshold and their votes will count. I think it will be an interesting race in Auckland Central now and there will be a lot of pressure on Chloe Swarbrick to be their standard bearer there."

Curtin said the Greens would have to campaign hard in their own right and the battle in Auckland Central would help raise their profile even if Swarbrick did not win that seat.

Dunne didn't have optimism for New Zealand First.

"I think if New Zealand First fails this election I suspect they won't come back...

"There is one significant point from last night's poll though that if I was a New Zealand First worker I would be extremely concerned. Certainly their vote is down to 2 percent, that is by no means enough.

"But there was a secondary poll about which of the political leaders were most trusted, and the really interesting thing was that the least trusted and most distrusted political leader is Winston Peters, according to that poll. Now, if people don't trust the party leader, it seems unlikely to me that they are going to vote for that party in any great numbers. So I think that New Zealand First is facing a pretty bleak future."

AUT politics lecturer Lara Greaves said it was looking bad for New Zealand First and she would be surprised if they got back up above 5 percent, but also that it was difficult to make decisive conclusions about the party because Peters knew how to work politics.

She expected the most NZ First was likely to get was 3 or 4 percent if things continued the way they were.

Dunne said the challenge for the major parties was making sure they have support parties lined up to be part of a government post-election.

"That's where I think ACT's showing last night is particularly interesting. It's certainly showing up as a much stronger likely partner for National, but it wasn't a few months ago."

It's the first time ACT has polled so well.

Asked about what had driven ACT towards 5 percent support, party leader David Seymour said: "I think we have taken principled stands on all of those [firearms laws, freedom of speech and the euthanasia bill] and we have shown that ACT can be principled enough to stand against the whole of Parliament".

If ACT were to go into a coalition with National, Seymour would not want a ministerial role.

"I've already turned down being a minister in order to advance the End of Life Choice Act. I'm very prepared to do that again to keep ACT as a party of independent-minded MPs on the crossbenches critiquing where necessary, raising new ideas, I think that's the kind of contribution New Zealand needs from ACT in Parliament right now.

What it means for the major parties

Dunne said polling trends were more important than individual results.

"The trend is that there's a significant gap between the two main parties and even National's own private polling shows that.

"I think based on that we shouldn't be too surprised by last night's result. I think perhaps it's a slightly better one for National than the Reid one, which means probably their bleeding is over for the time being.

"But look, there's a long way for them to go. Labour has got to be careful that a sense of complacency doesn't creep. I don't mean to the party but to it's supporters. They may well think 'oh well Labour's going to win so I can afford to vote for someone else'.

"So I think there still challenges for the main parties in this. The election is clearly not over, it hasn't even begun yet, but I'd far rather be in Labour's than National's at the moment.

Curtin said National leader Judith Collins would not be happy but she still had just over four weeks until the polls open and she might need to flip the discourse and go more positive, rather than only going negative.

But Greaves said National had responded more productively to this poll than it did to the Reid Research poll which came out last weekend.

Greaves believed National would rise a bit as the campaign period started, simply because people were now thinking more about who they were going to vote for.

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