Election 2017: 55% chance of fourth term for National

Alex Eastwood-Williams

It's considered by many to be the most unpredictable election in a generation, but Right Minds NZ's Alex Eastwood-Williams attempts to predict the unpredictable election. 

This has been probably the rockiest and most unpredictable election campaign in my lifetime, with wide discrepancies between polls, a raft of resignations and a campaign in which no one comes across as a clear front runner. Gone are the days when commentators such as Yours Truly would write with glee about the impending demise of the Labour Party. National have gone from sleepwalking to victory to panic and disarray, while the Greens and NZ First - who both looked on the verge of achieving record high election results at the start of the campaign - are now fighting for their political lives. 

The predictions and analysis I present to you are based on a number of factors: Polls, including secret internal polls from three different sources who I've had the privilege of being privy to during this campaign; historical trends; a sense of the mood "on the ground" but above all it's really nothing more than a guess, because in a campaign this volatile, guessing is the best we can do. 

Without further ado, let's begin by examining the parties and how they're likely to fare:

The Parties:

National: The Shy Tory Factor is likely to come into play for National this election, in which the loss of charismatic former leader John Key in conjunction with the rise of Labour's new media-savvy leader Jacinda Ardern has seen National somewhat muted and sidelined throughout the campaign, and it's possible this is the reason for a number of bad poll results.

While the some of the media polling suggested National was shedding support, and at one point had fallen below Labour, the internal polling on both sides has told me a different story, with all internal polls I have seen consistently putting National ahead of Labour by a wide margin - often around 10 points, and I predict that National will finish 8-12 points ahead of Labour.

National is also certain to pick up at least two electorate seats from Labour: Hutt South and Napier will almost definitely switch from red to blue this year. On the other side of the coin, four safe National seats are under serious threat by NZ First, which could balance out the electorate seat count - though electorate seats seldom affect the overall election result, and victories here are almost purely symbolic. 

National can expect a result somewhere between 43% and 47%, I'll go with what's in the middle and say 45%.

Likely result: 45%, 56 seats

Labour: There is absolutely no getting away from the fact that there WILL be a swing to Labour this year - probably around 11%. In saying that, most Labour supporters are going to find themselves disappointed tomorrow night - Labour will not crack 40%, and anything over 35% would be quite remarkable.

It's a testament to how far Labour have come this campaign that we're even talking about the possibility of them hitting 40% - at the start of this year there was a poll that had them below 20%. Positive media coverage, as well as the perception of National as tired, has buoyed the Labour campaign and Andrew Little lies forgotten by public. 

It's uncertain as to whether or not Labour can expect to enjoy the results of a "Youthquake" as reports have been conflicting and contradictory regarding the engagement of young voters this year - some outlets claim young voters are registering in record numbers, while others claim that there are less young voters registered this year than in 2014. 

The other challenge Labour needs to overcome is the fact that its support base is almost entirely confined to Auckland and Wellington. It looks set to lose Napier, while in Wellington it's likely to lose Hutt South but gain Ohariu. 

As stated above, Labour can expect to be between 8 to 12 points behind National, probably in the 35-37% range, I'm going with the middle one again and saying 36%.

Likely result: 36%, 44 seats

Greens: Though most commentators will be talking about NZ First, it is actually the Greens who will be by far the most important factor in this year's election outcome. 

The Greens may or may not make it back in, though personally I'm betting that they will. If they don't get back in, then a fourth term for National is almost completely assured, with the best case scenario for the left being a hung Parliament if the Greens don't return.

The Greens aren't likely to do well, and will probably scrape in by the skin of their teeth. While the Metiria Turei scandal is often blamed, in reality the Greens are being squeezed on both sides - with Labour's Jacinda Ardern taking much of the Greens' urban, liberal, affluent voters on one side, while Gareth Morgan's TOP (which features almost identical policies) is taking Green voters from the other side.  

Polls have the Greens at 4% at the low end and 8% at the high end, averaging around 6-7%. It should be noted that the Greens tend to do better in polls than they do on election night, so I'm going to dock a percentage point from them and predict they will scrape in with 5%, maybe as high as 6%.

Likely result: 5%, 6 seats

NZ First: Unlike most elections, in which NZ First starts off weak and builds support throughout the campaign, this one appears to be the opposite: NZ First started strong, looking like they were going to ride a wave of populist and nationalist discontent to their best ever result and the possibility of Winston Peters on the 9th floor of the Beehive, only to find themselves squeezed by Labour and National as they were in 2005. 

While National voters may have a touch of the "Shy Tory Factor" about them, they have nothing on NZ First voters who are probably the least predictable voters in New Zealand, the least likely to be polled and the least likely to talk to a pollster. As such NZ First could and should be prepared for anything to happen tomorrow night: They could go as low as 4% and as high as 14%, there is that much variation in the polls. 

If disaster strikes and they do fall below 5%, Winston Peters looks certain to win Northland, and this may save the party. Three other electorates currently held by National are also competitive for NZ First, and if there's going to be an upset or election surprise tomorrow night, it will almost definitely be NZ First who deliver it, and it will probably be by winning one of those seats in addition to Northland. 

NZ First always do much better than polls say, and bearing that in mind I think that 9% is a realistic result - though I say this with the caveat that you should always expect the unexpected from Winston Peters, the master of chaos in New Zealand politics. 

Likely result: 9%, 11 seats

The Opportunities Party: Surprisingly, Gareth Morgan is relevant in this election. And he's something of a kingmaker, but not in the way he had hoped. 

Basically, the better TOP do, the worse the Greens will do. If TOP do well (say, more than 3.5%) then it might mean that the Greens don't get in - which will almost certainly help National secure a fourth term. 

There's no way in hell that TOP are getting into Parliament, but they could play a significant role due to the spoiler effect.

Likely result: 3%, no seats

Maori Party: For a while, it looked like the Maori Party would be one to watch this election with the potential to hold the balance of power and play a crucial role. 

It turns out things are much less exciting. Te Ururoa Flavell now looks set to win Waiariki, after a slightly shaky start. Te Tai Hauāuru is also said to be in play for the party, and winning it could cause an overhang but ultimately it will be irrelevant to the overall result whether the Maori Party lose a seat or stay with two seats. 

Likely result: Around 1%, 1 seat

ACT: Like all minor parties, ACT are next to impossible to predict as all their poll results are below the margin of error - I've seen everything from 0.2% to 2%.

If ACT are ever going to win a second seat, now is probably the time to do it: There are plenty of dissatisfied National voters lurking around, while David Seymour has been a very effective leader in taking the party back to its psuedo-libertarian roots and dispelling the lingering ghosts of John Banks and Jamie Whyte. 

All in all, they're irrelevant and should be treated as what they are: National under a different name.

Likely result: Less than 1%, 1 seat

MANA: At the start of the campaign I said that there was a serious chance that Hone Harawira could win Te Tai Tokerau. I'm pleased to say that this  almost definitely won't be happening.

Likely result: 0 seats 

Possible Outcomes:

We now get to the fun part. Rather than trying to predict concrete results, I'm more inclined to talk about a number of scenarios and assign to them what I consider the probability of them coming to pass. 

Here are what I consider to be the only possible election outcomes, and the percentage chance of them happening. 

However there are two important factors that need to be included in order to understand my calculations. The first is that NZ First has an 80% chance of holding the balance of power. The second is that the Greens have a 29% chance of not making it into Parliament. 

Bearing these two important factors in mind, these are the possible scenarios I can see, from least likely to most likely:

Labour/Greens: 1%. I'm only entertaining the possibility of this happening because of one silly poll about a month ago. It almost certainly will not happen. 

Hung Parliament: There is a 9% chance that there could be an impasse, in which no one side can form 61 seats in a 120 seat Parliament. This could happen if TOP do well but don't get into Parliament, causing the Greens to dip below 5% but my prediction of National 45%, Labour 37% and NZ First 9% still coming to fruition. If that happened National, Maori and ACT would have 60 seats and Labour and NZ First would have 60 seats. 

There's no chance that NZ First would be willing to work with the Maori Party which would mean either NZ First do a confidence and supply agreement with National, in which they wield huge influence from the crossbenches (5% chance) or Parliament is dissolved and a second general election held (4% chance). 

Status quo/National govern alone: 10%. This can only happen if National get above 47% and if the Greens do not return to Parliament. 

Labour/NZ First: 10%. NZ First have an 80% chance of holding the balance of power, so there's therefore a 40% chance of them going with National and a 40% chance of going with Labour. However because there's a 29% the Greens won't return, in my mind that means there is around a 10% chance of a Labour/NZ First government forming if Labour do well enough. 

Labour/NZ First/Greens: 30%. See above. 

National/NZ First: 45%. There's a 40% chance that National would be chosen as the result of post election negotiations between both parties. There's also a 5% chance that NZ First may feel forced to deal with National in a hung parliament for the sake of stability and to avoid another election being held. 

To simplify, that means that overall there is a 55% chance of National winning a fourth term, with or without NZ First, a 41% chance of a change of government and a 4% chance of another general election being held within the next six months. 

Maybe, Prime Minister:

And what about who becomes Prime Minister, I hear you ask?

Bill English: 59% chance. There's no way Winston Peters would be able to convince National to let him lead their government if there was a coalition. Furthermore, Bill English would remain Prime Minister in the event of an impasse until he lost a vote of confidence, giving him an extra 4% chance. 

Jacinda Ardern: 26% chance. She'd definitely be the leader of a Labour/Greens government (1% chance) and unless NZ First was on par with Labour there would be little chance of anyone other than Ardern leading a Labour/NZ First government. However, when the Greens get involved things get interesting, as I will explain next.

Winston Peters: 15% chance. This can only happen if there is a Labour/Greens/NZ First government. The reason is because, believe it or not, the addition of the Greens gives Winston Peters a stronger negotiating hand. It's conceivable that in coalition negotiations, both sides could offer NZ First the same deal. But with Labour and the Greens, Winston is forced to swallow a dead rat in the form of having to work with the Greens. So what could they possibly offer to induce him? Perhaps 18 months on Level 9 of the Beehive might do the trick?


This is an election like very few before it, and where literally anything could happen - trying to predict it is akin to micturating into the face of a hurricane. 

On the balance of probabilities a fourth term for National is a mildly more likely scenario at 55% in total. But with just 25 hours to go (at time of writing) until polls close, I urge you to remember that it is you, the voter, who will decide the outcome, and if you haven't already done so: Get out and vote. 

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and do not reflect the views of RMNZ

About the author

Alex Eastwood-Williams