NZ Election 2020: Election delay will benefit National, smaller parties - expert

A political expert believes National is the biggest winner in the Government's decision to delay the election.

It was set to be held on Saturday, September 19, but was pushed back to October 17 after parties complained of being unable to campaign properly due to COVID-19 restrictions, particularly in Auckland.

Massey University politics professor Richard Shaw says it gives the Opposition more time to plan.

"It gives them another month to wait to see if the Prime Minister or the incoming Government drops the ball... or some unexpected flare-up to occur in COVID, some disaster to happen at the border. None of that has occurred yet, but there are four extra weeks during which something anticipated could go wrong." 

Dr Shaw says it also gives a chance for people to forget about National's leadership battles. National has changed leaders twice this year - Todd Muller rolled Simon Bridges, then stepped down a few weeks later, replaced by current leader Judith Collins.

"People have probably forgotten Todd Muller by now. They've probably forgotten Andrew Falloon and Hamish Walker, they've probably forgotten the man from the National Party's board who phoned in pretending to be somebody he wasn't."

National was among those who called for a delay to the vote - initially asking for it to be postponed to November or possibly even next year.

Government coalition partner New Zealand First also called for a delay, saying the "playing field is hopelessly compromised" and running the election under COVID-19 restrictions was "highly likely to lead to a reduced turnout given legitimately held health fears". Leader Winston Peters didn't specify a preferred new date.

Despite the delay, Dr Shaw doesn't think the extra few weeks the Opposition parties will have to win voters over will make much difference to the result.

"I think this is a slightly different election. Because this is a COVID election, I think it becomes much, much more about people's evaluations of past, present and possible future leadership in difficult times... 

"It's not that people will be uninterested in policy, but I think the assumption policy is what is going to swing voters' when we do go to the polls, probably doesn't hold up to the same extent this time around as might ordinarily be the case." 

But he still thinks overall the delay will help the Opposition more than hinder it, giving the Government more time to screw something up. 

Dr Shaw says it also gives the smaller parties time to make their case, and the Greens more time to put the 'green school' controversy behind them.

"But it also gives Advance NZ and the other conspiracy theorists in the Public Party more time to get traction with their dangerous, misinformed and incorrect interpretations of things... it cuts various ways."

Polls show National is well behind Labour, which could potentially end up governing alone - the first time any party's achieved that in the MMP era. The Greens are on the border of the 5 percent threshold.

Youth excited to have their say

The delay means people who turn 18 between now and October 17 will get to vote, rather than having to wait until 2023. 

Howick Youth Council representative Daniela Mittelstaedt is stoked, because it means she'll get to have her say on two very important topics that might be done deals by 2023.

"I'm pretty happy that I get to vote on the cannabis and euthanasia referendums, because they're really important issues I really wanted to have a say in."

Lockdown has played a big part in her interest in politics, she told Newshub, with everyone tuning in to the regular COVID-19 response updates and watching the media grill the Prime Minister and health officials.

"Everyone was waiting for the 1pm news update and it kind forced everybody to have an opinion."