Two polls this week show the National Party still ahead of Labour with about 45% support.
That is encouraging for National and worrying for Labour.
But the latter has two support parties, although New Zealand First is registering below the 5% and the Green Party is hovering close enough to the threshold to make it possible it might not make it back into parliament and we’d return to a two-party system in spite of MMP.
Possible isn’t probable and in spite of being the most popular party, National lacks any allies with sufficient support to enable it to form a government with more than 50% of the vote.
Act could gain another MP or two, but it hasn’t managed to do that in recent elections and would have to do so without taking votes from National to make a positive difference.
The Maori Party might win back a seat or two, but that too is more possible than probable.
Finding another party which could either win a seat or cross the 5% threshold would not be easy.
Some are suggesting a National MP leaves the party to form another one. But National in drag would be a very difficult sell for party members and other voters, and would only help if it got votes from the left and not the centre-right.
Tariana Turia managed to win a seat when she left Labour and formed the Maori Party; Winston Peters did it with NZ First; Peter Dunne held his seat under several manifestations of what eventually became United Future and former Labour MP Richard Prebble won a seat for Act but they are the exceptions. Any other MPs that I can recall who left a party and formed another failed to hold their seats.
The other option is standing back and making an accommodation to let a new party, which would take votes from Labour, NZ First and/or the Greens, take a National-held seat.
But that would be very difficult to do and would be entering very dubious territory.
National voters gave electorate votes to Dunne but he was a sitting MP when he formed his own party. Act voters opted for Rodney Hide of their own volition and not because National made an accommodation. They supported him and subsequently David Seymour but didn’t have to vote against a sitting National electorate MP to do so.
Trying to persuade National voters to swap support from an MP they voted in for someone from a new party would be a very different matter.
National is a victim of its own success and any attempt to help another party is likely to backfire and sabotage its own support.
It’s also a victim of the failure of MMP to give us a party in the middle that stands for something and could go centre-right but what can it do about without endangering its own support?