Preferred PM Polls

David P. Farrar

David P. Farrar joins us with his long running kiwiblog.

I’ve never regarded the Preferred PM polls as particularly important because the PM almost always is the Preferred PM.  Nevertheless they can give some useful insight as to how the PM and Opposition Leader are doing.

Now Colmar Brunton has a Preferred PM series going  all the way back to 1984.   What I’ve done below is to combine the scores for different politicians into whether they were PM or Opposition Leader at the time.  Because generally that is who it is between.


Let’s look firstly at the PMs. Clark from 2000 to 2005 had a popularity higher than Lange at his peak.  And even now she has a popularity higher than any PM but Lange.  In other words still very formidable.

Going from the beginning Lange’s popularity started to fade straight after the 1987 election. He left office little over 20%.  Both Palmer and Moore got honeymoon bounces but they did not last long.

Bolger’s honeymoon lasted only weeks and his popularity dropped to below 10%. Desite that he won the 1993 election and had a modest recovery to a peak of 30% in 1996.  Coalition with Winston pushed him down and Shipley replaced him in 1997.

Shipley had a recovery to over 30% and had some modest  fluctations over her two years in office.

Clark came in already at 30% as Opposition Leader and by March 2000 made 48%.  The winter of discontent saw this fall back but then over the next two years just went up and up to an unprecedented 52%. This then fell back to 36%  against English and at the height of Orewa she was just ahead of Brash.  She then steadily recovered to peak at the 2005 election.

Since then downhill for her to 33% when Key took over.  What is interesting is that since Key became Opposition Leader,  her rating has stayed much the same (a small decrease over time) -it is more Key’s which has increased.

Now we turn to the Opposition Leaders.  Just as Clark has achieved unheard of ratings as PM, Key has polled higher than any other Opposition Leader in the last 23 years. The only one who has come close is Clark herself with a peak just before Bolger was rolled and just before she in fact became PM in the 1999 election.

Now going to the beginning of the Opposition Leaders we had Muldoon for a month before McLay who polled dismally and got rolled by Bolger in 1986. Bolger got his honeymoon but only to 16% or so and despite the 4th Labour Government falling apart never was the Preferred PM before he got the job.

Moore polled relatively well as Opposition Leader, beating Bolger most of his term. His rating itself wasn’t that high at 20%, due to other politicians (more on that later) scoring significantly.

Clark has appalling ratings and was at 5% for most of the next three years.  Her rating lifted to 17% just before the 1996 election.  She then polled at between 20% and 30% while National and NZ First had their stormy term in Government.

Shipley as Opposition Leader polled around 20% which once might have been an okay rating but not against a PM on 40%.  English had a very brief honeymoon and also was at close to 20% until his massive 2002 loss which pushed him to under 10%.

Brash has an initial boost to 15% on becoming Leader.  Orewa saw him soar to 32% - a then high for Opposition Leaders (but still behind Clark). This dropped away until May 2005 when a bad budget and a good campaign lifted him back up to 30% for the election.  After that it was all downhill until late 2006 when Key took over.  Key kept climbing over several months to 38% and has stayed above 30% since.

So why were both PM and Opp Ldr so low polling before 1997?  Because Peters, Anderton and to a degree Muldoon polled highly.  This next graph shows you the PM, Opposition Leader and highest polling other MP.

As one can see, up until 1997, other MPs polled highly, sometimes in fact above both the PM and Opposition Leader.  The graph above just shows the highest polling other MP, so who were the Preferred PMs who were neither PM or Opp Ldr?

From 1984 to 1988 it was Muldoon.  From mid 1988 to 1993 it was Winston Peters.  From 1994 and 1995 it was Jim Anderton, and it was Peters again in 1996.  If we want to look at the three individuals by themselves we have the below graph:


First of all we have Muldoon in teal. He never outpolled the Pm after losing office but he did outpoll the National Opposition Leader up until 1987 and kept up some support until his death eight years after he left office.  Not many other ex PMs will ever claim that.

In black we have Winston.  He started to overshadow and outpoll Bolger in opposition in the late 80.  This faded away until he started to criticise his own Government in mid 1991. He became Preferred PM in 1993 but lost support in the run up to the election.

His Asian bashing pushed him back up in 1996 and he again became Preferred PM. This dropped away a but during 1996 as National polled strongly. The coalition saw his ratings drop below 10%.

He did then make a recovery from 2002 to 2005, but since 2005 has fallen far away.

Finally we have Jim Anderton.  Yes for a period of time he was our Preferred PM.  Don’t panic though - 30% once said they back Social Credit also.  Anderton polled a bit under 10% until 1993 and late 1993 he soared in the polls reaching 25% in July 1994.  But since then has all been a gradual downwards slope towards zero.

So all very interesting.  As I said at the beginning they are not that important overall.  The party vote is everything and the correlation between preferred PM rating and party vote rating is not that strong.  Bolger won three elections without polling highly. If I get bored one day I’ll do some graphs showing the party vote and the leader’s preferred PM rating for various parties.

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