National has a powerful 25-30 point lead depending on which poll you read, more than a year into their term.
But this actually makes me quite confident for New Zealand First. I don't think National is going to maintain their enormous advantage through an election campaign. Come election time in 2011, they will almost certainly have dropped below 50% and I believe will end up getting around 47-48% of the vote, barring some horrific event to weaken public confidence in them.
But the soft support for them is not going to necessarily transfer over to Labour. Labour has yet to convince the voters that ditched it that it is a party worth returning to power. Indeed, with Goff still as leader and running at 30% in the polls coming into election year, there is every chance that their support could collapse as far as 20% as voters do the math and see Labour won't win, just as happened to National in 2002.
The other minor parties are probably going to rise, but the picture is not as rosy as some might conclude. The Greens seem to have a ceiling of support at around 9-10%, and given that they usually poll better than they do at the election and are currently sitting on 4% while Labour is weaker than it has been since 1996, they should be genuinely alarmed about their chances in 2011. Peter Dunne is the new Jim Anderton and Jim Anderton is done. The Maori party will run a big campaign for the party vote in 2011 and will do better than in previous years, but I don't see them going over the 5% threshold. With four or five electorate MPs they will likely only get one or two list MPs. ACT's support could very well rise in the 2011 election, but they will only take that off National in a zero-sum game.
So I'm projecting that going into the 2011 election there will be between 15-20% of soft support that could end up going to a party that makes a strong case for being a voice in Parliament for the policies not being represented. New Zealand First with its strong brand in terms of Winston Peters and a good campaign could very well be returned to Parliament with a bigger, better team than ever.
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