Politicians wishing to put a good spin on a bad poll, or appear modest in the face of a good one, say the only poll that counts is the election.
They are right, but only partially.
No matter what the polls say, the election is the only one which can change things. However, while individual polls might be ignored as rouges and we’re not even a third of the way into this government’s expected term, the trend matters and it is consistent.
National is favoured by more than 50% of respondents; Labour by a little more than half tha tnumber. Phil Goff comes a distance third to John Key who gets similar support to his party, and the former leader who isn’t even in parliament any more.
In spite of the recession, the growth in unemployment and the prospect of up to a decade of deficits the latest TV3 poll shows the government’s popularity and Key’s have risen while Labour’s and Goff’s have fallen, again.
A Listener story on Labour reported a caucus pact to retain Goff until the next election. But even if they did dump him it probably wouldn’t make a difference. The leadership of a party which has lost an election after nine years in government is a poisoned chalice. It is difficult for either the leader or the party to make any traction and the party’s low appeal is at least as much in spite of the leader as because of it.
The incoming government is able to blame the outgoing one for many of the problems it faces. If Labour criticises National it looks carping and if its MPs offer alternatives, they’re asked why they didn’t implement them when they had the chance.
But Labour’s problems go deeper than this.
Its philosophy pushes it towards policies which require spending and redistribution of income. Any plans it comes up with will require an increase in tax and borrowing, neither of which will be popular.
It has fewer than 10,000 members. If that includes union affiliates the party is in even more trouble because that means there are a lot fewer than 10,000 active members. Minor parties get by on far fewer but that is a very small foundation on which to support a major one.
Memberhship matters for money and votes. If membership is dropping income and supporters will too.
It happened to National after it lost power in 1999 and it’s happening to Labour now.
It’s still more than two years until the next election. But if the trend in the polls continue 2011 could bring back the ghosts of elections past with Labour facing the same loss of fortune National did in 2002.