A One News – Colmar Brunton poll shows New Zealand First leader Winston Peters trailing in the race for Tauranga. The poll shows National Party candidate Simon Bridges well ahead on 48%, Peters on 28%, and Labour Party candidate Anne Pankhurst in third place on 15%.

The race for Tauranga is crucial for New Zealand First and could have a significant effect on the outcome of the election. Under New Zealand’s Mixed-Member Proportional system, parties must win either an electorate or 5% of the vote in order to gain representation. New Zealand First has polled below 5% for most of the year, and while its support has risen recently, it has little margin for error. Peters regaining his seat in Tauranga would provide a lifeline to keep the party in Parliament, as happened in 1999. But with National having such a large lead, they will have to significantly boost their party vote.

The demise of the party would alter the electoral landscape. New Zealand First has been a feature of the political scene since 1993, and is one of the few parties to span the left-right divide, having supported both a National government between 1996 and 1998, and a Labour-led government since 2005. The party could thus play a key role in post-election coalition negotiations, assuming it remains in Parliament. While New Zealand First has pledged to negotiate first with the largest party post-election – currently looking to be National – it has not pledged support, and bad blood over the 1998 coalition break-up and recent attacks from National could incline them towards supporting Labour again.

The elimination of New Zealand First would rob National of a potential coalition partner. However, because of the way seats are allocated, National’s own representation would increase proportionately. Over the past two elections, National has shown a clear strategy of attempting to eliminate its potential coalition partners. The short-term logic is that a few extra seats of their own are better than the uncertain prospect of a future partnership; the long-term logic is an attempt to unify the right-wing vote into a solid bloc. However, unless that bloc includes more than 50% of voters, it is unlikely to be able to deliver them into government. National will still need coalition partners. And if it eats its most likely prospect, then in the long-term it may be cutting its own throat.

New Zealand’s general election must be held by November 15.

Idiot/Savant blogs on New Zealand and international politics from a left-wing perspective at No Right Turn.

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