Is it too late for Labour?

Professor writes:

History suggests that National will overcome the ‘ third-term blues’ to win another general election. Since 1998, the party leading the opinion polls in July of the year preceding the election has gone on to win the highest proportion of the party vote come election day. I’ m prepared to make a similar prediction for the 2017.

Here’s the polls in those July years:

  • 2016 National 27% ahead
  • 2013 National 17% ahead – won
  • 2010 National 17% ahead – won
  • 2007 National 12% ahead – won
  • 2004 – National 4% behind – lost
  • 2001 – National 13% behind – lost
  • 1998 – National 6% behind – lost
  • 1995 – National 18% ahead – won
  • 1992 – National 0% behind – won
  • 1989 – National 21 ahead – won
  • 1986 – National 4% behind – lost
  • 1983 – National 5% behind – lost
  • 1980 – National 1% behind – won (but lost popular vote)
  • 1977 – National 5% ahead – won (but lost popular vote)

So some fairly good history there.

Early deciding voters tend to base their decisions on a longstanding predisposition towards a particular party, as well as performance measures they know or can estimate long before the actual date of the next election. Over the past three election campaigns an astonishingly high 73.8 per cent of National voters have reported reaching their voting decision before the start of the election campaign.

These voters know the National-led government, their policies, their ways of working and John Key’ s leadership. National has a track record of stability and, incredibly for a third-term major party, has shown very few cracks in caucus unity.

Caucus disunity is often fatal. Muldoon lost in 1984 after a failed coup. lost in 1990 after two effective coups and huge disunity. National lost in 1999 after the split with NZ First and a coup. Clark was the exception having lost in 2008 despite only minor disunity.

Jim Bolger and Helen Clark were leaders of the Opposition for 4.5 and six years respectively before becoming Prime Minister.

John Key was leader of the National Party for just under two years before he became Prime Minister, but the opinion polls had already switched in National’ s favour when he took on his leadership role.

Doesn’t help when the Mayor of Kaikoura refers to you as David Little!

Labour might be thinking it has a bit of time up its sleeve. After all, only two-thirds of Labour’ s supporters reach their vote decision this far out from the campaign; the other third wait until the campaign to reach their decision. But Labour will have to work hard for the late deciding vote.

On average 41 per cent of voters who reach their decision during the campaign give their vote to a minor party. The next highest cohort (31.9 per cent) give their vote to the major party that ends up winning the highest proportion of the party vote. Labour hasn’t won the majority of the late deciding vote since 2005.

It is also by no means guaranteed that joining forces with the Greens will see their combined vote rise. Late-deciding Labour and Greens voters tend to “eat each other’ s lunches”.

Labour tends to drop support in an election campaign, not gain it.

Here in their drop in support from the beginning of election year to election day:

  • 2014 – 9%
  • 2011 – 6%
  • 2008 – 1%
  • 2005 – 6%
  • 2002 – 4%
  • 1999 – 6%

So Labour has never gained support in election year in any of the last six elections.

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