National?s polling released to caucus today


National’s caucus meets today after a two week recess. ‘Sick’ Todd McClay, the replacement for Steve Joyce, will present the latest polling numbers.

Presenting polling is an art form, and Steve Joyce was the master at it. The view of the leadership’s success is dependent on this 5 or 10 minutes when a slideshow of crucial information is put before the troops.

The stakes are high. Present too much information, and the MPs will know too much and be able to question decisions made at the top. Present too little and they will think they?re not being given the respect they deserve.

Run of the mill backbenchers (except the “fucking useless” ones like Maureen Pugh) spend their days toiling away in their local patch, doing the hard graft, trying to win voters over one by one.

These MPs know what they hear on the ground. They know what they?ve seen on the news and when they?re getting concerned about the direction of the party, they look for reassurance from the top of the party.

If the presentation does not have a plausible explanation for the numbers presented, backbenchers will want to know why, and they will also want to know if they are going to get re-elected.

So when ‘Sick’ Todd presents the polls today he has a mammoth task in front of him. The view that 50-odd MPs have of Simon Bridges and Paula Bennett rests heavily on those numbers, as well as the leader?s future. So just how will he spin it?

We know from the recent Colmar Brunton poll that the immediate impact of the Jami-Lee Ross saga was limited. National only dropped two points in what was arguably the most damaging week for the party since Bill English got beaten up in a boxing ring.

This was not surprising. There is always a lag to polling. Voters don?t immediately make a decision. They sit back, they wait, they assess, and they decide once more is known. We are now more than a month past that initial disastrous week. The public has had a decent chance to see most of the detail of Bridges? poor political management. They can assess the decisions that were made, like calling for inquiries, trying to cover up poor behaviour, weaponising one of the many caucus affairs against an MP, and turning a blind eye to Southern text messages.

Based on Labour’s internals the National caucus should expect:

1. The overall National poll number will start with a 3 but likely be above 35. This will be alarming for MPs because it matches the UMR poll’s 37 for National released two weeks ago.

2. Bridges’ support will look considerably higher than Colmar Brunton?s. This is an old trick of Pinko Farrar?s. National’s polling follows a different methodology to the public polls when it comes to preferred PM. National asks voters to choose between the Simon Bridges and Jacinda Ardern. With no other choices, Bridges automatically looks much stronger than he does in public polls, where voters can name whichever MP they like. This will be used to reassure the troops that the leader has been doing well, and Bridges? 7% in the Colmar Brunton?s won?t be worth remembering.

The real question should be about net positives. Last term on Incite Cam and I published monthly polls on Andrew Little?s net favourable, so his caucus knew just how unpopular he was with the voting public. If Labour were similarly cunning they would be getting one of their blogs to commission UMR to run a similar poll, and show that Simon Bridges’ net favourables are considerably worse than Trump?s, Corbyn?s or Shorten’s. Use these numbers to create doubt in the mind of both the National Caucus and the leader, just as doubt in Andrew Little?s mind led to his replacement by Jacinda Ardern and Labour going into government.

3. Support amongst women and voters in Auckland will have dropped. While hard to believe, up until recently National was ahead with these two groups. That?s where the swing voters sit, and that?s where movement happens. Fortunately, these slides will be flicked through at a rapid pace and the graphs will have a starting point of 2009. It?s very hard for the MPs to see what has happened in the last month when they have to look at data from the last 9 years.

Backbenchers should ask questions at this point because these are the voters who decide what National?s chances of returning to government are. If they are down then National will struggle to be a viable contender in 2020 under Simon Bridges.

4. The right/wrong direction test for the country will see more voters saying the country is headed in the right direction. In response, the leadership will tell the caucus that the economy is one of the party?s strengths. ?If only we stick it to the government more on the economy, then we can flip it back again. It?s only a matter of time before it all turns to custard on them!?

5. ‘Sick’ Todd will resort to using the excuse of a ?small sample size? during the presentation when explaining one of the results or answering a question. That answer is a proven winner time after time – it means he can cover both when he doesn?t know, and when things look bad.