Friday, August 22, 2008

Colmar Brunton Poll: 22 August 2008

Aug 22, 2008
By Therese Arseneau

The ONE News Colmar Brunton Poll has finally delivered Labour some good news. A majority of people polled disapprove of National's plans to increase borrowing; and only 37% believe National is being honest and open about its policy plans.

These reservations about National did not hurt the party's support in the poll - it remains relatively steady at over 50%. But these doubts, if left unchecked, are more likely to slowly erode National support and hurt the party in the longer term.

In terms of voting intentions the poll is more mixed for Labour. Its support has increased by 2% in the last month but the gain comes at the expense of the Greens (down 2%), leaving the centre-left no better off. And while there is cause for optimism in Labour's gains in back to back Colmar Brunton polls, their optimism must be guarded. It is simply too soon to know whether this is the start of a new upward trend for Labour.

Polling data is best viewed over a longer term as an indication of the trend of support for the various parties. The first graph is a visual representation of ONE News Colmar Brunton party vote polling data from the 2002 election up to August 2008. Election results in 2002 and 2005 are shown as large diamonds - the light grey lines indicate election dates. The dark blue and red straight lines are the best fit trend lines for National and Labour respectively. The lighter bands represent the 95% confidence limits around these trends.

The long term trend from 2002 remains relatively strong and consistent - and positive for National. But more revealing is the trend for the last year alone as seen in the horizontal dark blue and red lines. For this shorter time period, the better trend is flat with National on 54% and Labour on 36%, both +/- 3.1% with 95% confidence.

Again the news for Labour is mixed: in the last 12 months its downward trend has flattened out but support remains at a level significantly behind National.

The more crucial information in the latest poll concerns the smaller parties. If this snapshot of decided voters was the actual election poll, then none of the smaller parties would cross the 5% threshold. The Greens would be absent, as would New Zealand First, unless Winston Peters wins Tauranga. ACT, United Future and the Progressives would be one-electorate seat parties. The Maori Party would be the only small party with more than one seat.

Even more stark is the long term trend of support for the smaller parties en masse. The second graph is a visual representation of ONE News Colmar Brunton polling data from 2002 to present. It combines the support for all minor parties and is depicted by the orange line.

The trend is strong and clear - the smaller parties combined are losing support. Starting at a high of near 40% at the 2002 election, the combined support for the minor parties was at 12% in the latest poll.

There are further ominous signs for the smaller parties. First, most people polled in the 2005 New Zealand Election Study (NZES) believed there are too many parties in Parliament. Second, there is a public perception that the smaller parties are the tail wagging the dog in Parliament. Third, University of Victoria political scientists Levine and Roberts have found that voters' longer term attachment and loyalty to the smaller parties - known as party identification - is in steady decline: around 22% in 1996 and 1999; 19% in 2002; and down to 16% in 2005.

But New Zealand has a tendency to look like a two party system between elections and more multiparty on election day. This is mainly because the smaller parties do not feature prominently on the public's or media's radar screens between elections. In the first three MMP elections support for the smaller parties grew significantly during the campaign to 38% in 1996, 31% in 1999 and 38% in 2002.

The 2005 election was a notable exception. The smaller parties combined to draw only 20% of the vote. Was 2005 an aberration or the start of a new trend?

In 2002 the Alliance vote collapsed into Labour and in 2005 the centre-right vote consolidated in National. Are New Zealand voters 'going home' to the two major parties? Are we experiencing a profound realignment of our party system? These are the crucial questions of 2008.

ONE News Political commentator Dr. Therese Arseneau is a Senior Fellow in the School of Political Science and Communications at the University of Canterbury. In the lead-up to this year's election, she will be writing a regular column for, examining New Zealand's political landscape.

Related Political Animal Reading

Colmar Brunton poll: 17 August 2008
Colmar Brunton Poll: 20 July 2008
Colmar Brunton Poll: 22 June 2008

c Political Animal 2008

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