Advice for National

Obviously there has been a lot of speculation on what National needs to do to improve its appeal to New Zealanders in the light of two polls out this week (one by my company Curia).

I;ll first comment on the polls themselves. The Curia one was done at an unfavourable time for National. During lockdowns the Government is getting unprecedented media coverage, and the Opposition struggles for relevance. Also it had been a messy period with a number of stories that were less than helpful to National. So hopefully it represents a low point, and future polls will be better. The medium term trend is what is important, not one individual poll.

One thing interesting in the Curia poll is National has actually picked up slightly more support from Labour since 2020, than vice-versa. So it isn’t that people are flocking back to the Government. In fact Labour is down 5% or so from the election also.

National has lost support to ACT, and also to undecideds. This partially reflects that there remains uncertainty about National, and it has a weaker brand than in the past.

The poll also showed a huge gender gap between men and women. Looking more closely in this, it was really only with younger men and women. There is less of a differential with over 60s. So a key requirement for National is to increase its appeal to younger women.

There is obviously some speculation around leadership. I would caution against a belief that changing leader is some magic wand that fixes everything. If voters are unsure about National, I’m not sure going from four leaders in four years to five leaders in four years will improve things.

For my 2c what National needs is to focus on the basics. Namely:

  • Pick your three or so issues you want to focus on, and relentlessly hammer them. Don’t react to every issue of the day.
  • Understand that during a lockdown, Covid-19 is the dominant issue, but be prepared to shift the conversation once (hopefully) NZ is back in Level 1 in a few weeks.
  • Announce (at least) a major policy that will make the public tune in and want to hear more. Normally you would not do this so early in the electoral cycle, but circumstances means you can’t afford to wait until late 2022.
  • Have a clear strategy and messaging that all MPs are signed up to and repeating.
  • Avoid own goals, distractions and the like. The media will generally run at most one story a day on National. It needs to be something positive and pro-active.
  • Work out how to differentiate from ACT. When ACT was the 1% party you didn’t need to worry about them. When they are attracting much more support, you need to be able to state clearly the case for why a CR voter should support National, not ACT. This is not to say National should battle ACT for the CR vote rather than target winning voters from Labour. But you do need to be able to articulate the value of supporting National.

The Government has shown a profound inability to actually deliver change or make good on their promises. That means they are potentially vulnerable as by 2023 it is very possible they will have little to show for six years in office. No doubt they will still be promising light rail in just a few more years. But to change the Government you also need to convince people that the alternative is capable of governing well, has exciting policies and ideas, is focused on improving things for families and is unified and competent. That is the challenge.

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