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John Armstrong's opinion: Latest 1 NEWS poll should send alarm bells ringing for Jacinda Ardern, National's fortunes turning

The findings of the latest 1 NEWS Colmar Brunton Poll will have surely sent shockwaves pulsating through every vein and artery of New Zealand's body politic.

If nothing else, this gauge of the mood of a fickle public should have the alarm bells in the Beehive offices occupied by Labour's current tranche of Cabinet ministers not just ringing, but simultaneously screaming and shrieking in agonised unison.

The results thrown up by the poll are cause for serious worry on the Prime Minster's part as much, if not more, than they will have been greeted with instant and undiluted delight by the Leader of the Opposition.

The survey has turned the political worlds of Jacinda Ardern and Simon Bridges upside down and inside out.

1 NEWS Colmar Brunton Poll - October, 2019 - Preferred PM. Source: 1 NEWS

Only Bridges is left standing. If replicated at next year's election, the numbers would have National's leader becoming the country's next prime minister, although one with the slimmest of majorities.

In one fell swoop, the assumptions which have underpinned much of the political discourse since Ardern's astonishing resurrection of a fast-fading Labour Party have been shattered.

IMPROBABLE BECOMES POSSIBLE

The poll has transformed what was widely agreed to be improbable into the possible.

Is such a scenario so far-fetched such that it has no credibility? There will be many — especially in Labour's camp — who will dismiss the latest soundings of voter opinion as a "rogue poll".

The science which governs statistical research decrees that one out of every 20 polls will be unreliable for reasons which don't need to bother us. Suffice to say there is no way of knowing whether the findings of any such survey are off-beam until it is too late.

There will thus be many others who would argue that it is best to await corroboration from future polls before drawing hard and fast conclusions from this one.

Politics doesn't wait for anyone or anything, however. It is about the here and now.

And the here and now is that the 1 NEWS poll has given National a monster-sized boost in morale at a time when things are by and large (and at last) going right for the party.

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Political editor Jessica Mutch McKay has the results. Source: 1 NEWS

Labour must presume the results of this most recent sampling of the public mood is accurate.

If the poll does indeed turn out to be a rogue poll, then Labour has lost nothing.

If Labour does nothing and the poll proves to have been an accurate measure of the public's take on politics in all its messy and gory detail, then the party risks being behind the political eight-ball.

DRAMATIC REVERSAL

The dramatic and drastic reversal of political fortune presaged by the poll would have Ardern's deprived of the luxury of not having to rely on Winston Peters to secure a second term in government.

Prior to Monday's poll, Ardern had been in the enviable position of not having to worry should New Zealand First fail to clear the five per cent threshold at next year's election and thus be shut out of Parliament.

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The National Party leader talked about his negative approval rating in the latest 1 NEWS Colmar Brunton poll. Source: Breakfast

In every poll bar one conducted since the last election by pollsters for the free-to-air television channels, the combined support for Labour and the Greens has been higher than the totals recorded by National.

That all gave grist to what was another assumption — that Labour and the Greens would only have to turn up for the election to take office as a coalition government — one, moreover, which would be free of the major irritant and impediment which goes by the name of Winston Peters.

That has all changed. The long-standing gap in support between Labour and National, which the former party thought it was closing, has re-opened.

The former now trails the latter by seven percentage points.

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1 NEWS’ Colmar Brunton poll last night revealed Labour dropped by three points to 40 per cent, while National was up two to 47 per cent. Source: Breakfast

Even though the Greens gained a one percentage point lift in backing in the 1 NEWS poll, the party's total level of support fell just short of being sufficient for the two centre-left parties to overhaul their centre-right rival.

NATIONAL MAJORITY

With ACT's one seat, National has a majority. It might be a fantasy one rather than a real one. Nevertheless, it is a weapon Bridges and his troops can wield in the ongoing psychological warfare which is life in the bear-pit of Parliament.

An opinion poll is not a general election, of course. The levels of support registered by the two main parties will yo-yo up and down in subsequent polls during the roughly 12 months to go before election day.

A lot can change. But some things have already done so.

For Ardern to continue to hold office following next year's ballot, the odds are now more heavily weighted on her needing New Zealand First to survive as a parliamentary force.

That is unless the Greens can stage a revival — a revival which does not merely cannibalise votes from Labour.

Right now, the only problem facing Bridges is that he does not allow his understandable glee into unedifying gloat.

At 47 per cent, National's rating in the 1 NEWS poll is at its highest since the last election.

The poll has catapulted Bridges into the kind of territory occupied by Sir John Key when he won the 2011 and 2014 elections.

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Jessica Mutch McKay gives her take on the drop for Labour and boost for National in the 1 NEWS Colmar Brunton poll. Source: 1 NEWS

In both contests, National's share of the vote topped 47 per cent. In 2011, National secured 59 seats in what was a 121-seat House. In 2014, the party went one better, picking up 60 seats.

Were the results of Monday's poll replicated at the ballot box, National would be entitled to 60 seats in Parliament, with ACT's lone seat tipping the balance.

NO MORE 'NO MATES NATIONAL'

The 1 NEWS poll should thus stifle Labour's taunts of "no mates National".

The assumption had been that National would be shut out of government through lacking any allies in Parliament unless Bridges could pull off something which eluded leaders of the calibre of Key and Helen Clark, namely winning enough votes to be able to operate a single-party government.

Like the other aforementioned assumptions, the notion that National was doomed to be in permanent Opposition has been blasted out of the water.

The poll also suggests — no doubt much to Bridges' relief — that his miserable rating in the preferred prime minister stakes of just nine per cent is not infecting National's party vote.

The big question is whether the upwards hike in backing for National and the drop in support for Labour is the none-too-surprising end-product of several pretty dreadful months for the major governing party.

That can be remedied. If it is the Ghosts of Labour's Past at play in another episode in the electorate's long-standing love-hate relationship with the party, then the disenchantment will be of a much more difficult variety to appease.

Since Peters vetoed Labour's intended introduction of a capital gains tax back in April, Ardern's Administration has been in a state of drift.

The "well-being" Budget was a flop. There was the lengthy wait for the KiwiBuild "reset". The delays in coming up with a replacement which wasn't latter gave huge credence to National's oft-repeated claim that Ardern is all talk and no delivery.

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The Housing Minister appeared on TVNZ 1’s Breakfast this morning. Source: Breakfast

The message Ardern needs to take from the 1 NEWS poll is simple: Arrest the drift and get Labour's house in order. Tolerance of policy blunders and ministerial gaffes needs to be reset to zero.

The longer the malaise within the Government, the more embedded will become this week's worrying poll ratings.

As TVNZ's political editor Jessica Mutch McKay observed in her analysis of the poll's finding, it is not just the ratings of party support which matter.

What will be just as crucial is that tiny fluctuations in the support enjoyed by parties are likely to have an inordinate impact on the power equation which will reveal itself during the evening of election day.

The margin between retaining or regaining power and remaining or washing up in Opposition have rarely been as narrow. The contest for the ultimate prize of being prime minister likewise is now looking to be as tight as it has ever been.

Someone will be the victor; someone else will be the vanquished.

Or — as a long-deceased Australian politician once famously quipped— when it comes to life and death in the farmyard of politics, one day you're a rooster and the next you're a feather-duster.

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Our polling reveals the gloss appears to be wearing off Labour. Source: 1 NEWS