'Negative ratings are off the scale': Is Simon Bridges National's very own David Cunliffe?

Is Simon Bridges National's answer not to Jacinda Ardern, but David Cunliffe? 

The National Party leader's struggle to rise up the preferred Prime Minister polls is because he is viewed negatively by so many, political commentator Chris Trotter says, citing sources.

"I am told from people that see these things that his negative ratings are off the scale, and that's the problem," the left-leaning blogger and author told The AM Show on Monday.

"Sometimes it's impossible to understand why people like someone or dislike them. [Cunliffe] never clicked. I don't think Simon has clicked yet. He may do."

Cunliffe was popular with the Labour Party membership, who elevated the former Cabinet minister to the party leadership in 2013, but didn't have the same support from his caucus colleagues. He led Labour into the 2014 election, which was a disaster - the party falling to its lowest level of support since the 1920s. 

He was replaced by Andrew Little, who also struggled to win over the public. Little made way for Ardern right before the 2017 election, which saw the party's fortunes reverse almost overnight and catapult them into power. 

At the most recent Newshub-Reid Research poll (October 2019), Bridges was on 6.7 percent as preferred Prime Minister - up 2.5 percent on the previous poll, where he trailed National colleague Judith Collins, but well behind Ardern's 38.4 percent. 

But Bridges' own low ratings don't appear to be hurting National like Cunliffe's hurt Labour. On October's poll results, National would have 56 seats to Labour's 54. 

Trotter said while Ardern earned a lot of political capital in her handling of the mosque attacks last year, the close margin between the Labour-Green-NZ First bloc and National-ACT means she "can't afford any more KiwiBuilds, she can't afford any more major failures".

Labour's biggest problem, he said, is that they vastly overpromised and should never have declared 2019 the "year of delivery".

"You underpromise, you over-deliver."

Trish Sherson and Chris Trotter.
Trish Sherson and Chris Trotter. Photo credit: The AM Show

One of National's biggest problem is a lack of coalition partners. Trotter said it's unlikely NZ  First will side with National.

"2008 still looms very large in the memory of Winston Peters and in his present mind," said Trotter. "That was the only time NZ First was bundled out, and it was based on John Key's assessment it made more sense to push him out - and it worked."

Newshub asked Bridges at the weekend if he'd rule out working with Peters, but was told he had nothing to say yet. 

Trish Sherson, PR expert and former ACT Party press secretary, said National needs its minor partner to bring in more than one MP this time around if they're to have a chance of forming the next Government.

"If you think about David Seymour, he has got the euthanasia referendum this time around, that is a whole election campaign of free publicity for him," she said.

"There is also the free speech issue... Andrew Little is poised to make some sort of announcement on hate speech. If they mishandle that, if Labour-Greens make that the ditch to die in, I would foresee ACT exploiting that to the maximum."

She expects this year's election campaign to be the first predominantly fought online.

"Facebook will be the fighting ground this time around. I think the parties will spend very little - they'll just get their free-to-air ads on TV, the rest will be on Facebook."

Trotter doubts it'll have the same impact as it has overseas, however, noting that social media campaigns tend to focus on people's anger and 

"Are there enough angry New Zealanders to make that social media campaign work? In the US and in the UK there was enough anger. There was more than enough. I don't think there is [in New Zealand]. Not at the moment... We don't have a Brexit, we are not a broken, angry gun-toting country like the US."