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ELECTION 1999: Polls, Personal Attacks, Pressure

There is a real risk in placing too much trust in the polls, however this week definite and consistent trends suggest New Zealand is preparing to vote for a new government.

On Thursday night a TV3 CM Research Poll showed the inability of National and ACT to form a government, even with the support of NZ First. The left could manage a majority with the help of the Greens who are polling on the up.

This poll puts Labour on 37 per cent, down four; National on 30 per cent, up two; ACT and the Alliance on nine; NZ First on six and the greens on 2.8.

Assuming Fitzsimons and United's Peter Dunne win their seats, as is looking likely, the seats in the House would be allocated like this: Labour 47, National 38, ACT 12, Alliance 11, NZ First eight, Greens four, United one.

This would leave National and ACT well short of a majority with 50 seats and not even the support of Winston Peters could give them a majority.

Labour and the Alliance would be just short on 58 seats and would need the four Green MPs for a two seat majority - again effectively sidelining Winston Peters.

The poll was of 1000 voters with a margin or error of 3.3 per cent.

Friday mornings Herald DigiPoll shows the Greens breaking the five per cent for the first time this campaign and the left continuing to lead.

The Greens are continuing a steep rise in polls, hitting a high of 5.2 per cent. National is on 29.1 per cent, down from 31.7; Labour on 37.8, up from 33.4, ACT on 10, down from 10.5, the Alliance on 8.6, up from 7.8 and NZFirst has dropped from 6.5 to under the five per cent threshold on 4.8 per cent.

This poll contains big worries for the government, and relief for the left who could now govern without NZ First.

The poll is of 872 voters with a margin of error of 3.2 per cent.

The DigiPoll is interesting not only for the rise of the Greens but also of the decline of NZ First. Winston has of course dismissed the poll but the fact he has slipped below five per cent now places huge pressure on his Tauranga seat.

If he was to lose the seat to either National's Katherine O'Regan or Labour's Margaret Wilson, NZ First may well not make it back to parliament. A poll a week ago showed Peters trailing O'Regan in the seat by one per cent and this race looks set to be a genuine cliff-hanger. Both National and Labour will sniff victory in the seat following the Suzanne Bruce and Robyn McDonald fiascos.

It seems the fallout for NZ First from these scandals has been reflected in the poll. What has not yet been reflected in these polls is the impact of National's assault on the Greens over the last few days.

The assault - targeting one candidate and their cannabis policy - has been widely condemned as desperate and poorly considered. It is possible that rather than harming the Greens the publicity National has generated for them may backfire into more support for the Greens. Next weeks polls will be interesting.

It is clear that National's efforts to discredit the Greens on this basis has failed in urban New Zealand, but the impact on the conservative Coromandel electorate - especially on how the local media deal with it - still remains to be seen.

The solid campaigning of the Alliance sees them solidly around the nine or 10 per cent mark but while they may be drawing support off NZ First they will be concerned at the rise of the Greens in the polls as they are almost certainly tapping into the Alliance support base.

The Alliance are looking solid and creative on the campaign trail this week and are promising a series of stunts over the last week of the campaign. The first stunt was Jim Anderton unfurling a banner declaring National and ACT as the high interest rate parties, following this weeks interest rate rise by the Reserve bank.

Strapped into a cherry picker on a windy Wellington day this stunt was as clever and funny as it was brave. It will be interesting to see what other action will follow.

Labour have played it straight over the last week with the launch of their arts policy being the single highlight. Bob Harvey has been effectively silenced - or so it would seem - and the campaign seems on track and sensible, though certainly not spectacular.

Peters has been quiet, no doubt recovering from the series of scandals which have hamstrung his party and probably preparing for a big push in the final week.

National however have been the biggest flop of the week with their terribly executed attacks on the Greens. They have timed their attention on the Coromandel poorly - realising far too late that the seat could see them out of the Treasury benches, and launching personal attacks that the public have largely seen as purely political and highly hypocritical.

Right from the start the Coromandel has been the single most crucial seat in the campaign and while Labour were slow to work it out, National seem inexcusably and desperately late.

Next week will be characterised by fortunes spent on last minute advertising to swing the undecided voters who yet may hold the key to this election. It will be a week of polls and closing addresses by the various parties.

If National looked desperate and transparent this week, wait till you see them next week.


ends

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