Prime Minister John Key is optimistic the flag referendum will fly, with the first round of voting papers going out today.
People have until December 11 to rank the five designs, before a second referendum is held in March to pit the winning flag against the current one.
A UMR Research poll of 1000 people released last month found the red and blue fern design by Kyle Lockwood was the most popular of the new offerings, followed by a black and blue version of the same design.
Speaking to reporters in Manila, Mr Key said he's ranking the black and blue design by Lockwood first, ahead of Lockwood's red and blue design, followed by red peak, then the silver fern, and the koru design fifth.
He said polling indicated there was a reduction in people who said they wanted to keep the old flag.
"A majority are saying they want to keep the old flag but I think you have to wait until you get to a one-on-one debate, that's when people will engage."
He says turnouts are often small in postal votes and more people will likely fill out the second referendum than the first referendum.
"On balance at the moment it's probably more likely that they'd keep the old flag than change but it's not so overwhelming that you couldn't see that move around."
Professor John Burrows, chair of the Flag Consideration Panel, says whatever the result he wants to see people have their say on the issue.
"We'd like to see a really good voting turnout in both the first and second referendum."
He says even people who don’t want to change the flag should vote for an alternative design.
"It's really important people vote in the first one too because if indeed there is change in March, if it does happen, you've have missed your chance to say what the alternative flag ought to be."
More than three million voting papers for the first flag referendum have been mailed out.
Voters are being asked to rank five alternative flag designs, chosen by a flag referendum panel out of 10,292 designs submitted by Kiwis.
The majority of Returned and Services' Association members supported the current flag, national president BJ Clark has said.
Watch the video to see the full interview with Professor John Burrows.
NZN / 3 News