• Anyone for Collins?

    In the absence of national public opinion polls, we have had to make do in recent weeks with other guides to voter intentions. Those guides, such as the Auckland Central poll, the incidence of google enquiries and the responses to Vote Compass questions, have suggested, not unexpectedly, that Labour is ahead and that Judith Collins continues to trail well behind Jacinda Ardern as preferred Prime Minister.

    This will not have come as a surprise to the National party. I have a hunch (shared by other observers) that their own private polling has been telling them for some time that Judith Collins is not going down well with the public.

    As further evidence of this, we have not seen or heard as much from the National leader, and she has not been as prominent, as we might have expected during an election campaign. The problem she poses for National is that they are uncertain as to how best to deploy her; when she is seen and heard, she turns the voters off, but if she keeps out of sight, National fails to get its message across.

    It is a reasonable assumption that the public’s failure to warm to Judith Collins as potential Prime Minister is at the same time a serious constraint on their readiness to vote National.

    None of this should come as any surprise. It was always a mystery – and a measure of National’s desperation, following their leadership travails – that Judith Collins should have been seen as the answer to their prayers. It was always odds on that her obvious drawbacks – her association with “dirty” politics, and her cultivation of the “crusher” image – would be a turn-off.

    And so it has proved. When she has been herself, that is, conforming to her image as a “tough” operator, the public have responded with a decisive thumbs-down. But when she has tried to soften her image, she has been seen as unauthentic and as merely pretending to be friendly and warm-hearted.

    If this interpretation of events is accurate, the response of right-wing opinion to the dilemma will be of great interest. Keen-eyed students of the political debate will have noted some cooling recently towards Collins in her treatment by the right-wing media.

    The corollary of that has been increased attention to and support for ACT and their leader, David Seymour. The ACT leader certainly deserves some credit for the work he has put in on euthanasia, and the polls suggest that he is garnering some reward for those efforts.

    He might also reasonably expect to be the beneficiary, in the event that Judith Collins has lost the confidence of right-wing commentators who would normally support National. He will hope and expect that those commentators, despairing of Collins’ ability to pull off an election victory, will decide that ACT is their best chance of getting a right-wing government.

    They will calculate that if ACT can win even a few seats in parliament, those seats have nowhere to go but National; so, a better than expected performance from ACT, and the contribution of a handful of seats, would be the best chance of making up for the now expected shortfall in National seats. An improved performance from ACT might offer, in other words, the best chance of National being able to form a government.

    The interesting (and critical) question is whether the voters will be happy to go along with that scenario as it plays out. The central question certainly remains. Why would disaffected National voters, unhappy with the prospect of a government headed by Collins, be prepared to switch their support to ACT, once they realise that a vote for ACT is in effect a vote for Collins as Prime Minister?

    National must hope that the voters won’t immediately see these implications of a vote for ACT. My guess is that the voters will not be so easily bamboozled. We should not overlook the fact, either, that although we live in a parliamentary democracy, the general election is for many voters somewhat presidential in nature. People cast their votes increasingly for the person they want to lead them.

    Bryan Gould
    23 September 2020