Armstong’s 10 reasons why National remains so high in the polls

March 23rd, 2013 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

An interesting article by John Armstrong on why he thinks was at 49% in their last poll. A summary of his 10 reasons is:

  1. Key’s sky-high rating as most preferred Prime Minister
  2.  Key’s moderate conservatism
  3. Key is unashamedly pragmatic
  4. Neutralising of troublesome issues rather than allowing them to linger and fester
  5. A majority of voters view National as the better manager of the economy
  6. Good at maintaining momentum
  7. National is still largely defining what the arguments are about in most policy areas
  8. Opposition parties are instead still devoting considerable time and effort to fighting battles they have lost
  9. Public getting acclimatised to the rather chaotic nature of minority government
  10. Few, if any, issues that are seriously divisive and on which National finds itself stranded on the wrong side of the argument for ideological reasons

I would also add on that the alternative looks chaotic and unconvincing.

In another article, three Herald staffers look at Key’s personal popularity. First Armstrong again:

Why is still riding high in the polls? Put it down to several factors. First, an understanding of and empathy with the New Zealand character and what is acceptable and not acceptable. His moderate conservatism is straight out of Sir Keith Holyoake’s textbook.

Key’s second priceless asset is his finely-honed political instinct in which he has the sense to trust – even when receiving advice to the contrary. Few leaders who have spent six years in the job would have their feet still firmly planted on the ground. He is never aloof. Nor arrogant. He does not talk down to people. He can laugh at himself. …

Key’s affable nature is not a false front to be worn solely for public consumption.

touches on that last point:

His show of a good-natured, even-tempered, self-deprecating personality is one of his most potent weapons. It makes him seem approachable, and that helps explain why his personal ranking is so high above his party’s popularity. It also blurs the fact that he is wealthier and more powerful than most voters. If his Government is having a hard time, the next time he gives a speech he’ll get in a self-mocking joke about it, a tactic that simultaneously acknowledges the headache it is causing him while getting across the message that it is not as major an issue as is being made out. …

His sense of humour is his most underestimated asset. Voters get bored of leaders – it is one of the most corrosive factors on their popularity. Only tyrants and comedians can slow the process of that boredom. Labour cannot abide it, and that alone shows how powerful Key’s persona is.

While says:

As the Bill Clinton campaign slogan said: it’s the economy, stupid.

People vote with their pockets even when they are complaining about myriad other issues.

And I don’t think voters think the economy will do better with a Labour-Green-NZ First-Mana Government.

33 Responses to “Armstong’s 10 reasons why National remains so high in the polls”

  1. gazzmaniac (2,842 comments) says:

    As the Bill Clinton campaign slogan said: it’s the economy, stupid.

    So when is the government going to deliver a surplus then? They still have an operating deficit which will have to be paid for in the future.

    [DPF: The projections before they assumed office was a never ending structural deficit. At this stage it looks like a surplus will be achieved in 2014/15 – a remarkable achievmenet when you consider both the GFC and the earthquakes]

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  2. Redbaiter (11,656 comments) says:

    “Key’s moderate conservatism”

    A contradiction in terms that only someone ignorant of Conservatism could write.

    Key is indeed a moderate, with very few guiding political principles and that is why he is never going to be any kind of Conservative.

    The National Party founding principles are pretty much founded in Conservatism, but I do not think John Key or most of the National Party even know they exist.

    “To promote good citizenship and self-reliance; to combat communism and socialism; to maintain freedom of contract; to encourage private enterprise; to safeguard individual rights and the privilege of ownership; to oppose interference by the State in business, and State control of industry”.

    If they do know these principles exist they treat them with contempt.

    Key in particular is no Conservative.

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  3. berend (1,910 comments) says:

    Does the word conservative still have any meaning at all in the above post?

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  4. Warren Murray (400 comments) says:

    Yes he is National’s greatest asset, so how will his pragmatism secure a third term with no coalition partners?

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  5. s.russell (2,076 comments) says:

    I think Armstrong makes some good points, but he misses fourreally big ones.

    1) As Liam Dann points out, for all the moaning in the newspapers, most Kiwis have Not found the past four years economically painful at all. Most people have NOT lost their jobs, infaltion has been low and wages have kept up (if not grown much). Biggest of all, mortgage interest rates have been low, which has made a huge difference to many households.

    2) Criticisms of National have mostly been over ephemeral fluff. There have only been a few real cock-ups and none have touched on the real core of National getting on with doing good things in the genuinely important areas.

    3) The alternative is just ghastly (1). Labour are nasty, viscious, incompetent, and obsessed with trivia. They couldn’t be trusted to run a bath properly.

    4) The alternative is just ghastly (2). Labour has responded to their 2008 loss by lurching to the left. Combined with the Greens (and Winston) they offer an alternative that way way to the left of middle New Zealan’s comfort zone. What they do not grasp is that the Clark Govt was already too far left for most Kiwis çomfort – but it got elected because National at the time was unable to offer a credible alternative (esp after the mess of Bolger-Shipley).

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  6. iMP (2,665 comments) says:

    There is one big elephant here: a coalition of the Left is basically tied with National, despite the Left’s woefullness. Ulp!

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  7. sparky (235 comments) says:

    John Key/National is streets ahead of the AWEFUL left coalition. The very thought of a Labour/Green/Mana/NZF is enough to give anyone a headache just thinking about it. If we were so dam unlucky to get that Left Coalition NZ would be in SERIOUS trouble.

    I agree David, that the alternative to John Key looks chaotic and unconvincing.

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  8. Reid (21,424 comments) says:

    Key is a poll-driven fruitcake.

    It’s quite obvious his main goal is not to scare the horses by doing anything radical. One tiny example of this and they are myriad, but just one tiny example is his reversal of the class-sizes decision in the Education portfolio, which was made as a result of polling delivered to him while he was in London, which resulted in a phone call between him, English, Brownlee and others and a reversal of the decision. He is a poll-driven fruitcake.

    Which is a shame because after ten years of Hulungrad plus the arrival of the GFC, lots of radical things need to be done.

    But no.

    Quite frankly he’s a traitor. Any politician who enters office but doesn’t take the necessary decisions they know need to be done not just as a result of their life experience but as a result of the data they receive as one of the privileges of that office, and doesn’t take those decision, betrays the people who elected them. They do. Politics is NOT there to enact the will of the people, it’s to do the correct thing on behalf of the people. There is a sacred trust between the people who elected the politician and the politician, to do that. And when you’re the PM, this sacred trust extends to all the people in the whole country, not just those who voted for you. And Key has betrayed that trust, in order that he be popular, regardless of whether or not he does the right thing.

    In that sense he’s precisely the same as Hulun was, who also betrayed that sacred trust, but unlike Key, she did it because she was evil and had an agenda to enact, and did that secretly, knowing the useless media would never pick up on it, and they never did, and never have. And as a consequence, Hulun was a very popular PM and remains in many memories as “one of the if not the best PM NZ ever had.”

    Which just goes to show how profoundly stupid most voters are. I mean, firstly they think Hulun, who was evil and who did evil things (i.e. sins of commission), is good, and secondly they think Key, who is good but is failing to redress evil things (i.e. sin of omission), is good as well.

    This profound stupidity is not new of course, Churchill made several quotes pointing to it (average conversation with voter etc, democracy is worst apart from all alternatives, etc.) No, it’s a phenomena of humanity. But this is precisely why a politicians job is NOT to do what the people think is the right thing (because they’re too fucking stupid to know what it is) but to do the correct thing whether or not the people agree with it. This is what drove the greatest ever revolution in NZ politics, Rogernomics. A similar thing should have driven both Bolger and Key, but Bolger was too thick to get it, and Key is too egotistical to do it.

    A tragic shame, for those of us in this country who have an IQ above room temperature and who know what the right thing is, to keep getting let down by those egotistical cowardly or just plain stupid wankers who put up their hand to go to the Beehive and once there, act as if the only duty they have, is to themselves and their “legacy” and fuck the people who put them there, they don’t matter.

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  9. tvb (5,512 comments) says:

    Labour is constantly pushing for a higher degree of planning and control over people’s lives. But who says they will be any good at it. Key’s moderate conservatism fits in well where NZers are politically. Key has this instinct on what people will stomach and he is powerful enough in his Leadership to do what e wants. He wears his considerable authority with a lightness of touch. Some people mistake this for weakness but they will make a bad mistake. Sacking two ok ministers and increase his popularity must have sent a shiver up the spine of all Ministers.

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  10. UglyTruth (7,220 comments) says:

    Quite frankly he’s a traitor.

    That’s pretty harsh. Just because he doesn’t have what it takes to effect meaningful change doesn’t mean that he has betrayed anyone.

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  11. Johnboy (20,828 comments) says:

    Plus of course, despite the baying of the uninformed and penurious masses he has managed to convince 400,000 of us to repurchase what we apparently already own!

    He makes Houdini look like a fellow that gets all tangled up in knots. 🙂

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  12. Reid (21,424 comments) says:

    That’s pretty harsh.


    He knows what is the right thing to do, anyone with his background would. Combine that with the data he receives as PM and he could commission any study he wants on say, eliminating youth rates, dropping the WFF back to only households who earn less than a combined $100k, eliminating or substantially degrading the interest-free student loans, etc etc etc etc etc etc etc etc etc.

    They are all perfectly obvious decisions. It’s also perfectly obvious why he doesn’t take them. He is therefore, a traitor.

    Richard Prebble said once politics was an extremely difficult job. What I suspect he was meaning was not going along with the opinion polls on a given issue, that’s easy, but going against the opinion polls and nevertheless, winning.

    I admit I may be a bit OTT with the “sacred duty” thing, but IMO, that’s really what it is. At the end of the day, it is about trust, from us, to them. That’s why they get all the privileges and all the power over us, to do what they want, with virtually no limits. That’s a power not given freely or lightly by us to anyone else, and they need to react accordingly. When they don’t, by acting venally or abusively, they are traitors, IMO. And Key is acting venally. He has, since Day one, determined to mirror Hulun’s popularity if not also some of her methods and his psychology is quite apparent on that, to me.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if he had taken advice on Hulun, on doing that. It would suit Hulun, to not have her reforms destroyed or interfered with, and it would appeal to Key as a young inexperienced 45 year old, having secret conversations with “the master” on how to successfully conduct his term in office. Of course I speculate, I don’t say that happened as fact, but particularly in his early days, one could read into his actions something of those conversations coming through. Or at least I could, and did.

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  13. Reid (21,424 comments) says:

    One thing I forgot to add. By his inaction on interest-free student loans, he has frozen that albatross into the political framework. Just as Bolger had one chance and one chance only to reverse the anti-nuke stance, with all the angst that policy caused and continues to cause, so Key did with this one.

    But he has determined not to do that, and just like the anti-nuke policy is and was an albatross around our collective neck, so too has this interest-free student loans become one and that alone makes him a traitor in my book, as Bolger also was.

    Note that they are albatrosses because neither of them do anything but cost us a hell of a lot in ongoing and historical terms. They have not one positive argument and plenty of negatives, in the real, actual world, when you look at them. The fact that most look at them with teary-eyed emotion doesn’t change that cold, hard fact.

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  14. Pete George (24,828 comments) says:

    I would also add on that the alternative looks chaotic and unconvincing.

    I did a list on that: Ten crosses for National’s opposition

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  15. Scott (2,743 comments) says:

    I will never vote for John Key again because he has allowed the left rainbow agenda of gay marriage and gay adoption to all but be passed into law. These are radical measures which no actual conservative would countenance for a minute. It’s amazing when parliament is enacting the most radical redefinition of marriage ever that the presiding prime minister can be described as a conservative in the style of Holyoake.
    I believe he has betrayed the trust of the electorate by allowing these radical measures to come into law that were not part of National’s manifesto. I will never vote National again.

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  16. Johnboy (20,828 comments) says:

    I’ll vote twice to make up for you Scott! 🙂

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  17. s.russell (2,076 comments) says:


    If Key were to act as you propose he would destroy the political prospects of the National Party for 20 years. Everything he did would be reversed by an incoming Labour/Green Government, Russel Norman would be finance minister and New Zealand would go down the plughole faster than you can say the T word.

    If you argued that THIS would be an act of treachery you would be on stronger ground.

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  18. Reid (21,424 comments) says:

    If Key were to act as you propose he would destroy the political prospects of the National Party for 20 years.

    I disagree. As I’ve said many times, the GFC gave him the circumstances to sell those policies to the NZ public in a way that no opportunity ever has, but he didn’t take it.

    The time has passed where that is possible, but it could have been done, if Key had been an astute politician and not just an ego from the banking world who thought it would be a jolly good thing to take a tilt at running a country for awhile.

    I’m not saying it would be easy, of course it wouldn’t, but Nil Mortalibus Ardui Est – nothing is impossible for humankind.

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  19. UglyTruth (7,220 comments) says:

    It’s also perfectly obvious why he doesn’t take them.

    Do we have perfect knowledge of the context of Key’s reasoning? If not, then it’s not perfectly obvious.

    He is duty bound to act in the Crown’s interests. If people trust an agent of the Crown to act in their interests then they have not done their due diligence IMO.

    Reid, I think that I agree with you more than most people would, and I think that the reason we disagree here is because of our views of the Crown are not the same.

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  20. Johnboy (20,828 comments) says:

    “I did a list on that: ”

    I hope you never helped Peter D with his list of “new things to tax” Peter G? 🙂

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  21. Gulag1917 (1,642 comments) says:

    All National will do is take us to national disaster slower.

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  22. Johnboy (20,828 comments) says:

    Slow orgasm’s are always the best orgasm’s G1917. 🙂

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  23. Redbaiter (11,656 comments) says:

    John Key may be popular but he’s no leader.

    Popularity is easy, leadership is hard.

    Mind you when the National Party is made up of so many inarticulate surrender monkeys and craven political cowards like s.russel, what is there to lead?

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  24. Johnboy (20,828 comments) says:

    As usual you have cut to the heart of the issue Red!

    Who shall we vote for o master? 🙂

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  25. Rightandleft (782 comments) says:

    I agree with all of Armstrong’s points. I like National under Key because it is a moderate party, not a really conservative one. Key is pragmatic and centrist. David is also right about the left of centre parties being chaotic and seriously concerning as a potential government. I agree that Key is somewhat poll driven, but obviously not entirely or he wouldn’t have pushed ahead with asset sales and charter schools and he wouldn’t have ignored the Smacking Bill referendum. As for the example Reid gave about Key backing down on class size changes. That wasn’t due to bad polling, that was the realisation that the whole policy had been massively screwed up by the incompetent Ministry of Education. Since they have no understanding of how schools actually work they didn’t realise that their changes would kill off technology teaching in intermediate schools. As soon as the real effects of their changes became known Key had to rubbish them.

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  26. transmogrifier (527 comments) says:

    Quite frankly, if he and National weren’t able to poll so high with the absolutely useless rabble in opposition, they would need to be taken out back and put out of their misery. Nothing serves National as well as the utter clusterfuck that would be the alternative.

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  27. EAD (3,893 comments) says:

    I would haphazard a guess that what motivates most people to vote for right leaning parties is the recognition that Governments primary role should be as good stewards of the economy – i.e.
    – create an environment that encourages private enterprise,
    – takes only enough tax that is required to run the core functions of government
    – runs a balanced budget
    and by doing such, more and more individuals are able to improve their own circumstances through their own efforts whilst still maintaining a basic social safety net.

    Based on the above criteria, National have been better than almost all Western governments (especially the so called “tories” in the UK) in the world but that is hardly a vote of confidence, more a reflection on the economically destructive policies these government are following.

    NZ looks a bit like Britain/USA in 2005 – rapidly rising debt levels both public and private, celebration of the new economic paradigm based on rising house prices, falling educational attainments, more and more people sucking on the public teat and all seems well. Unfortunately such prosperity based on ever increasing debt levels is a mirage and the price will eventually have to be paid but most electors prefer to bury the head in the sand and let the big government/debt machine roll on. Some of us however can see a tsunami slowly building, probably because we understand Steins Law which is “If something cannot go on forever, it will stop”

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  28. The Scorned (719 comments) says:

    Phhhfff. Epsom will vote Banks in again because they have to…so non issue.

    Keys biggest strength is that he can genuinely relax and be the “average Kiwi guy” we see. Thats due to him being an independently wealthy person…with the ability to do it again if he had to. That wealth takes any edge off to “succeed”…and so he does in a smooth way. By contrast the average lefty is a wound up, bitter and envious incompetent writhing in his insecurities. Thats because he does not have the wealth that allows him to relax and not have to sweat the small stuff as Key does. Rich people who have earned their way to where they are are far nicer and relaxed in themselves than poorer and deperate resentful ones.

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  29. Mark (1,611 comments) says:

    “I would also add on that the alternative looks chaotic and unconvincing”.

    DPF you are on the money. Shpould be number 1 on the list

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  30. Tom Jackson (2,553 comments) says:

    The answer is… None of the above

    In times of economic uncertainty, people tend to want to hang on to what they have, and are afraid of being on the hook for getting the economy out of bad times. It stands to reason that they are more likely to vote for the less fiscally interventionist and less likely to tax party. That’s National. This government cold be exposed as running a paedophile ring and would still get elected.

    Of course, this is just a case where voter rationally is collectively self defeating, so the malaise continues. It won’t stop until some government confiscates boomers’ unearned wealth and gives it to the productive members of society. And that’s the plain truth.

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  31. Black with a Vengeance (2,196 comments) says:

    Fuck the polls….Why do I feel we’re getting set up well in advance of the next election to put faith and creedence in the shysty pollsters and the shonky touting of them by media lapdogs?

    BAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA…wolf, wolf!!!

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  32. ChardonnayGuy (1,605 comments) says:

    Conservative? Not, apparently, according to the self-appointed gauleiters of social conservative ideological purity lurking in your comments threads, David. Personally, I’ve always perceived Key as a centre-right social liberal, and I don’t see anything unnatural in that. After all, so are David Cameron and Chancellor Angela Merkel, to a diminished extent. Like Cameron, Key is simply responding to demographic and opinion poll shifts and the fact that religious social conservatism is to the *centre* right what lunatic Trotskyites, Maoists and others of their ilk are to the *centre* left.

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  33. Dave Mann (1,765 comments) says:

    I think the man is popular because he is perfectly attuned to many Kiwis’ core beliefs.

    In Key’s world business and development and any kind of industry are ugly enemies which should be regulated and taxed into submission, the ‘environment’ is more valuable and sacred than human progress, indigenous people are helpless victims of wicked colonialism and need to be endlessly ‘compensated’, work is a dirty four-letter word, common people can’t be trusted to run their own lives and the Crown is an outmoded concept which needs to be destroyed.

    Why wouldn’t a person like this be popular? Most New Zealanders appear to share these beliefs to a greater or lesser degree and so this man is rightly held up as a shining example of the 21st century Kiwi Ideal.

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