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ELECTION 1999: Alastair Thompson’s Predictions

In the final week of the Campaign Scoop is running a series of final commentaries on Election 1999. Scoop invites other columnists and pundits to present their views on what they think the outcome from the election - reports will be compiled and presented on a special Final Week - Campaign 1999 page. The only rule is that opinions have to present a final prediction result. Readers can also enter Scoop's GREAT ELECTION COMPETITION and win Whisky!

The Final Week - Far From Cut And Dried

Opinion by Alastair Thompson

I find it hard to agree with the prevailing media opinion that this election is headed for a cut and dried victory to Labour.

Most of the media commentary on this subject is based on the grand convergence of polls this last Friday.

That four (NBR, TV3, Herald and Waikato ES) previously disparate polls appeared to come together and present the same result is nothing more than a coincidence in my view.

Yes, it is remarkable that they all pointed to the same result, but that doesn't make the prediction right. In fact for them all to say the same thing and it to be right would be altogether too remarkable to be true.

Just a week ago the Herald had the parties nearly neck-and-neck while the TV3 and Waikato polls had Labour leading by 13 to 15 points.

That doesn't mean the polls are not useful - just that what they say has to be defined more narrowly. Otherwise all you can say with any reliability is that Labour is ahead of National by somewhere between 1 and 13 points. A conclusion which doesn't help predict the result particularly.

So what do the trends in the polls say?

1. The polling trends show the minor parties rising - particularly Act, the Alliance and the Greens.

2. They show a remarkably static level of support for National at slightly above 30%.

3. They show a highly volatile level of support for Labour ranging from 33% to 42%.

The next important thing to consider is what the polls actually show in terms of results.

Most of the polls on Friday showed a Labour/Alliance/Green government with a majority of two - of Jeanette Fitzsimmons wins in Coromandel.

Two is not a large margin.

And in any event polls are just a snap-shot. To predict the result next Saturday requires divination of what the circumstances facing voters on Saturday - polling day - will be.

With a huge range of possible impacts acting on voters this is hard. The following are just a few observations on important impacts, as I see them, of the campaign - with an assessment on what I think their likely impact on the result will be.

The Muddled Understanding Of MMP Favours Minor Parties

OBSERVATION: We know, thanks to the Dominion and UMR Insight this morning, that a majority of voters do not understand that the party vote is the most important vote.
IMPACT: This probably accounts for the success of ACT and the Alliance in growing their share of the vote at the expense of the National and Labour. The Alliance and ACT understand this and can be expected to cleverly exploit it. I think ACT will get 11% and the Alliance 12%

The Winston Factor

OBSERVATION: Winston Peters is remarkably resilient and his supporters do not base their support of NZ First on what they read in the media - therefore the fact several newspapers (and public officials) appear to be setting out to knobble him doesn't mean they will succeed.
IMPACT: Winston while down is not out, I expect him to get around 5% in the party vote and even if he loses Tauranga - to win Te Tai Tonga.

The Opaque Media Environment

OBSERVATION: The densely opaque media environment continues. Last week a huge-flood took a further three days attention away from the campaign. While not media starved the campaign has found it very hard to capture the public's attention. So far the mainstream messages being pushed by both Labour (health and education) and National (taxes and the ECA) are not getting through - instead we have something akin to a silly season with strange events - Nandoor, cannabis, SIS phone numbers - etc taking the fore in TV bulletins. Perhaps it is that the substance of the campaign is just too boring in such a media rich environment.
IMPACT: It is hard to imagine any news story significant enough to take attention away from the campaign this week - but who could have predicted the flood. If another news event takes attention away from the election I suspect we will have an election result driven largely by non-campaign impacts and not based particularly on the policies of the parties or the events of this the final week. This would favour Labour’s sleep-walking to victory strategy.

The Millennium

OBSERVATION: The approaching millennium is making some people feel anxious, cautious and paranoid, it is also making people open-minded about their thinking about the future.
IMPACT: On balance I think the millennium impacts are neutral. The anxiety side of equation favours the campaign strategy being pursued by National - "safe hands, let's not go backwards". However, the open-minded aspect of the millennial impact benefits the "time for a change" position of Labour. Both impact factors favour the Greens.

Labour and National Strategy

And finally there are the strategies likely to be employed by Labour and National in this the final week.

OBSERVATION: National - If it goes for the jugular - now has a potential opportunity to snatch an audacious victory. An outside chance in my view.

While the Nats cannabis blitzkreig on the Green's last week has not been accorded with an encouraging media reception - there is a reason that Labour, NZ First, ACT and the Alliance have till now kept quiet on their cannabis policies.

While there is widespread support among the public for decriminalisation - possibly even among a majority - there is also vehement opposition from it across the political spectrum.

The political problem with cannabis is that it is the sort of issue that can push voters into taking a single issue stance with their vote. It is also an issue on which all parties can potentially lose votes.

National by flushing Helen Clark's – “we will review the law” - position into the glare of the media spotlight now have an opportunity to mount the sort of machiavellian campaign conservatives the world over have made famous. "Helen Clark - What Would She Let Your Teens Do?" A high risk strategy sure. But in for a penny in for a pound?

Even if they don't tackle Labour on this basis they will almost certainly sharpen their advertising campaign this week. The weekend's "In Come Labour - Income Taxes" - adverts looked decidedly tame.

IMPACT: National could make a difference if they keep their cool and if the public buys into what is on its face a fairly low tactic.

OBSERVATION: Labour is doing very well just as it is. The media are back playing that old familiar tune that characterised the pre-apec period - and Helen Clark is making a good show of looking supremely confident that she is about to assume the treasury benches.

IMPACT: The important thing for Labour will not to be rattled by the expected National onslaught and to respond to the barbs with wit and flair.


I have no idea what the next government will be. After being so roundly wrong at the last election on where Winston was going to jump I think it is premature to speculate on what will happen during the period of coalition negotiations. Overall I think the trend towards a fragmentation of the party vote will accelerate to the disadvantage of both Labour and National who will face a house with almost as many minor party MPs as each of them have. I do not think a National negative campaign will work this week to change the basic underlying trends for two reasons – firstly I don’t think the electorate will notice, and secondly I think a sophisticated response from Labour should be able to counter it.

Labour 32%
National 30%
Alliance 12%
Act 11% (Losing Wellington Central to Marian Hobbs)
Greens 6%
NZ First 4.8% (winning Te Tai Tonga – losing Tauranga)

United’s Peter Dunne - 1 seat
Ikaroa Rawhiti Independent Derek Fox – 1 seat

4.2% discarded vote

In this scenario – Labour/Alliance/Greens get 50% of the house and Derek Fox holds the balance of Power.

© Scoop Media

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