Reflections on the latest Marae Digipoll
While the latest Marae-Digipoll of Tai Tokerau shows the Maori party continuing to lead Labour in the electorate, Hone Harawira's support has slumped by 12%.
Dover Samuels currently holds the seat with a 5336 majority. Since April support for Mr Samuels rose from 24% to 30% in the latest poll, while Mr Harawira dropped from 58% to 46%. Independent candidate Mere Mangu gained 15% support. Despite Bishop Brian Tamaki's claims of high levels of support for his cult from Maori, Destiny only attracted 2% support. (I will link to the figures when they become available)
While it would be expected that Harawira's support would drop as the election approached, it is highly likely that the release of their more-right-wing-than-national tax cut policy has cost the Maori party support. Their 'see-no-evil-on-my-tv-screen-in-front-of-me' stance on human rights abuses in Zimbabwe has not helped either.
While I can understand Tariana Turia's party not wanting to be taken for granted by Labour, especially after the foreshore fraccas, I believe their continued refusal to rule out supporting National after the election will cost them significant support. Their position is likely to be the best political gift given to the Labour party during this election campaign. In the Listener, Helen Clark gives a pretty clear indication of what the Labour line of attack on the Maori party is likely to be.
Do you regard the Maori Party as being on the centre left? Definitely not. The Maori Party was last week trying to outbid the National Party on tax cuts and has made extraordinary statements about not being prepared to believe what is on the television screens about the crisis in Zimbabwe. So, they're not automatically being counted as numbers on the centre left? Absolutely not. They're on another spectrum altogether. Not the left/right spectrum. They're on the sovereignty versus the "let's all live here together" spectrum.
A better option for the Maori party would have been to rule out forming a coalition with National, and refuse Labour confidence and supply for the next term of parliament*, unless they repealed or made significant changes to the Foreshore and Seabed Act. Assuming Labour made no such compromises, the Maori party could abstain from confidence and supply votes and not be tarred by supporting a National government (unless of course by abstaining meant National did have the numbers, then they could reasonably reassess).
Labour will have a lot to gain by reminding New Zealand how NZ First went with National in 1996, after giving indications they would 'change the government' during the campaign. This message also has a good chance of resonating with Maori voters, especially if they emphasize the similarity of the opportunistic 'coalition policy' of the Maori party and NZ First.
Over 60 years of New Zealand history suggests Maori prefer centre-left governments. One of the books I read on the 2002 Election (I think it was the Vowles one) included an interesting chapter on Maori voting patterns. It commented that over two MMP elections Maori had been keen vote splitters, often voting conservatively with their party vote (usually Labour) and voting for an electorate candidate with a more radical edge. This pattern seems likely to be repeated in this election, where Maori will be able to punish Labour by voting out the 'turncoat' MPs, and voting for centre-left parties with their party vote. Unless of course, the Maori party show more signs of wanting to be Brash babies.
If the Maori party support National after the election, they will be a one term wonder.
* I think the Greens made a mistake when they did not place a time limit on a similar position on coalition options in 2002, therefore making a backdown over GE virtually inevitable given Labour's genetically modified pig-headedness.