2023 election: The key parties, latest polling, main issues, cost of living

From one crisis to another. 

It was the 2020 election, set against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, that delivered Labour its triumphant majority and the power to govern alone.

But the 2023 election may soon undo that as the cost of living crisis is expected to drag on and rising mortgage rates crunch Kiwis' finances. 

Labour's been sliding in the polls all year. In the February Newshub Reid-Research poll, Jacinda Ardern's party sat comfortably at 44.3 percent. On Sunday night, it was at 32.3 percent.

A rebound's possible. Just ask National - it's gone from the trenches of the Judith Collins days to pole position under Christopher Luxon in a little less than 12 months. 

It's not yet known when the next election will be held, but it's likely to be in the second half of 2023. The Prime Minister - who makes the decision - hinted to Newshub it would be a late-in-the-year election.

So roughly a year out, what parties are among the key contenders? What does the latest Newshub poll tell us? And what are likely to be the key issues?


National and Labour remain comfortably ahead as the two main parties in New Zealand politics.

After sitting in the 20s for months, National has returned to the fore under Luxon's leadership. The latest Newshub-Reid Research poll found it is currently New Zealand's most popular party with 40.7 percent support. 

Luxon, the former Air New Zealand chief executive who last month attempted to show off his 'everyman' credentials with a stint at McDonald's, only took on the leadership a year ago.

He said National's focused on "the things that matter most to New Zealanders".

"How is this Government not responding to a cost of living crisis, why is our healthcare system falling apart?" Luxon told Newshub. "Why do we have low attendance and achievement records in education, why do we have rising levels of crime, and why hasn't this Government solved the housing crisis."

The latest Newshub-Reid Research poll.
The latest Newshub-Reid Research poll. Photo credit: Newshub.

Dr Lara Greaves, a political scientist at the University of Auckland, said National is now in a better position to contest the election than it was leading into the 2020 contest.

"National's looking very competitive, has more of a voice, and is taken more seriously by the media and by voters," she said. "So they're more able to frame the issues and get ahead of the issues in a way that they couldn't previously at all."

"They had a lot of rumblings and grumbling about how the 1pm press conference or the sheer dominance of Jacinda Ardern in media around COVID [were] disadvantages to them in their last campaign, whereas this time around that's not going to be the case."

A series of scandals and internal problems distracted the party before the 2020 election. There was the Todd Muller coup and resignation, the Hamish Walker health data leak, the Andrew Falloon messages, Merv from Manurewa, and Denise Lee's leaked policy objections.

But Professor Richard Shaw, a politics lecturer at Massey University, said National's been building a narrative that it's moved on from those credibility issues.

"Some of the decisions, tactical and strategic decisions, that were taken, particularly during the [2020] campaign, are pretty remarkable when we look back at them, some really bad photo ops," he said. 

"I think that there is no question that there is the perception and also the reality that this is a more competent and capable frontbench."

National is back in contention under Christopher Luxon.
National is back in contention under Christopher Luxon. Photo credit: Getty Images.

But there could still be a few "sleeper issues" for National, Prof Shaw said.

That includes how Luxon responds to questions about his faith and views on reproductive rights. While the National leader has promised not to touch abortion rights if he becomes Prime Minister, he was criticised for his handling of the issue following the US Roe v Wade ruling

National's also had the Sam Uffindell saga and Barbara Kuriger's conflict of interest in recent months, while Luxon's had to deal with gaffes like a social media post suggesting he was working in Te Puke, when he was actually holidaying in Hawaii

"You don't want to see those things come out three months before the election," Dr Greaves said. "Whereas, if it is a year out, it looks more like [Luxon] is still trying to find his feet and manage a party. A few months out and they won't look like a team that is ready to go."

Luxon continues to trail Ardern as preferred Prime Minister, with his own rating slipping 2.4 points to 21.5 percent. The Newshub Reid-Research poll also asked Kiwis to describe the Leader of the Opposition, with many coming back saying he was an "unknown".

A prime target for National over the past year has been the Government's response to skyrocketing cost of living. 

It's criticised Labour's actions as just "band-aids" and said it doesn't have a comprehensive plan to tackle inflation. National's put forward a package of tax cuts, including indexing tax thresholds to inflation

But that proposal has come under scrutiny for helping the rich more than it does the poor. There are also questions about when National would actually make the cuts if it was elected and how much it would cost. 

Prof Shaw said the focus on cost of living and National's tax cuts means we're only having a "pretty selective policy conversation" at the moment. 

He's interested in seeing how the public responds to other policies National's formulating.

"They will have to start rolling substantive policy out sometime early in the new year and so that will have some impact," he said.

"At the moment, National is adopting that small target strategy and it's just kind of opposing, which is its job… it has only recently started to put stuff out in the public domain. Once people get a bit of a sense of what Luxon will do with certain things, then that will change the tone and tenor of things, too."

National will be hoping issues like the Sam Uffindell saga don't happen during the election campaign, said Dr Greaves.
National will be hoping issues like the Sam Uffindell saga don't happen during the election campaign, said Dr Greaves. Photo credit: Newshub.


While National's seen its support rise in recent months, Labour's has fallen. 

The latest Newshub-Reid Research poll had Labour on 32.3 percent, down 5.9 points since May and far below the 50 percent it got at the 2020 election.

Elected in 2017 with support from coalition partner New Zealand First and the Greens providing confidence and supply, Labour was then unshackled in 2020. The party currently holds 64 seats in Parliament, enough to govern without the support of anyone else.

It's spent much of the last term dealing with COVID-19 and trying to push through large projects, like the reform of the health system, public broadcasting merger, Fair Pay Agreements, and Three Waters

But those changes have also faced pushback from the Opposition. National and ACT argue some are unnecessary or a poor use of money at a time when constraint in spending is needed.

The Government's contending with the global spike in inflation. It's tried taking the sting out by cutting excise duty and public transport fares, and through its cost of living payment. But that also went to dead people and people living overseas, leading to flak from the Opposition and Auditor-General. 

The Prime Minister has recognised the cost of living will be a major factor in next year's election, announcing at a Labour conference last weekend that the Government will expand subsidised childcare assistance and increase family tax credits. 

Jacinda Ardern remains New Zealand's preferred Prime Minister.
Jacinda Ardern remains New Zealand's preferred Prime Minister. Photo credit: Getty Images.

Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson recently said he was proud of how his Government had helped New Zealand through COVID-19, as well as other initiatives like free apprenticeships and food in schools. Some infrastructure work hasn't progressed at the pace he wanted though.

"We're a Government that's got a very busy agenda - I don't think anyone would disagree with that - and so we're working hard to make progress on the issues that we think are important that New Zealanders have asked us to do," he said.

But Dr Greaves said there are also "clear policy delivery failings" that people can point to, mentioning KiwiBuild.

Dr Greaves said people's perception of what a government is to blame for changes over the course of its term. There comes a point when "people start to blame the incumbent for things because there's only so long that you can blame the predecessor," she said.

"Those outside factors like inflation and the cost of living and housing that haven't been controlled and people's perceptions of who is responsible shifts over the course of different terms. It's probably just shifted to more people in the middle thinking Labour is responsible."

Grant Robertson has been responsible for steering New Zealand through current economic challenges.
Grant Robertson has been responsible for steering New Zealand through current economic challenges. Photo credit: Getty Images.

Due to the magnitude of events over the last three years, there may be a public perception that Labour's been in power for longer than it actually has been, Prof Shaw said.

"There is that sense of exhaustion. There is something bizarre about COVID, which makes everything feel like its been around forever."

He said any dividend Labour may have had from its handling of the initial stages of the pandemic is "well and truly gone". 

"I think there is a certain constituency which really wants to forget about Ardern and the Labour Party because it's associated so strongly with the response to COVID in its various forms."

Ardern still outperforms Luxon as preferred Prime Minister. She received 29.9 percent support, but that's down 6.4 points since Newshub's May poll. While Kiwis still believe she is "caring", "kind" and "good", the sentiment towards her captured by this week's Newshub-Reid Research poll has turned more negative. 

But the Labour leader also remains a globally-recognised leader and her massive social media provides her with an unrivalled platform to explain her party's positions. 

The latest preferred Prime Minister figures.
The latest preferred Prime Minister figures. Photo credit: Newshub.

The minor parties

Jacinda Ardern believes the 2023 election will be a "classic MMP election" after Labour stomped home in 2020 to govern without the help of anyone else. 

The latest Newshub-Reid Research poll shows the minor parties are in the game. 

The results have National on 52 seats, meaning it needs ACT's 13 to pass the necessary 61-seat threshold. Labour would get 41, but even with the Greens' 12 and Te Pāti Māori's two, it would be unsuccessful in forming government. 

ACT, led by David Seymour, has had more than one MP this term for the first time in years. It was up 3.6 points in the poll to 10 percent.

The party's produced a steady stream of policy documents, proposing ideas on everything from COVID-19 to law and order to co-governance.

They've sparked conversations about what ACT policies a potential future government with National could support. There's also been speculation about who could be the Finance Minister if the two parties do enter office - a role Seymour might have an eye on "if the policy is right".

ACT leader David Seymour said he might have his eye on Finance Minister if the policy is right.
ACT leader David Seymour said he might have his eye on Finance Minister if the policy is right. Photo credit: Getty Images.

Prof Shaw said the Government's proposed hate speech changes that Justice Minister Kiri Allan has promised to have in law by the election will be an "absolute gift for David Seymour and his people". They've vowed to repeal it.

Meanwhile, the Green Party - which has a cooperation agreement with Labour - has been trying to showcase its 'wins' from over the past term. 

From alcohol law reform, to public transport ideas, deep sea mining and foreign policy, the party has been keen to point out in its press releases that Government actions have followed pressure from Green MPs.

But the party has also had some internal politics in the headlines. Co-leader James Shaw was booted from his role briefly after a vote by party members. While some MPs openly voiced interest in taking over, they soon backed away and Shaw was back in

In the Newshub-Reid Research poll, the Greens were on 9.5 percent, up 1.1 percent. 

James Shaw remains co-leader of the Greens alongside Marama Davidson.
James Shaw remains co-leader of the Greens alongside Marama Davidson. Photo credit: Newshub.

Dr Greaves said one area to watch at the next election is the Māori seats.

"Te Tai Hauāuru has always had a few thousand votes in it in recent years," Dr Greaves said. "Debbie Ngarewa Packer has been quite vocal and been getting a fair bit of media attention and [current MP] Adrian Rurawhe, as Speaker, is unlikely to stand there."

"So Labour will have a lesser-known candidate there up against Debbie Ngarewa Packer. So then it is likely Te Pāti Māori will win that electorate."

The party, which re-entered Parliament in 2020 off the back of Rawiri Waititi's victory in Waiariki, has challenged the status quo in the House and given a new voice to Māori issues after three years in the political wilderness.

While it isn't in the boxseat in the latest Newshub poll, Te Pāti Māori has ruled out working with ACT based on the right-wing party's current policies if it had the power to choose post-election.

Another party fighting for attention will be The Opportunities Party, which recently released a full tax switch plan and is standing a candidate in the Hamilton West by-election

There's also the question of New Zealand First, which held the balance of power in 2017, but was kicked out in 2020 when it didn't make the 5 percent threshold. 

Leader Winston Peters has been trying to garner attention with near-daily tweets lambasting the Government on various issues.

While Peters likes to point out the large crowds turning up to his speeches, Dr Greaves is unsure his party has got momentum. It again came in under 5 percent in Newshub's poll, though the 3.3 percent result was up 1.6 points from May.

"It doesn't look like National or Labour would cut a deal with them in an electorate… and it doesn't look like there is any one electorate where they could win.

"So they are going to have to get to 5 percent of the party vote, which was 146,000 votes last time around. And it's hard to really believe that they're going to get to that point."

Will New Zealand First return to Parliament in 2023?
Will New Zealand First return to Parliament in 2023? Photo credit: Newshub.

Prof Shaw expects NZ First might "hoover up a few slivers of points worth of support" that would have otherwise gone to a more fringe party.

There are a number of so-called freedom parties looking at contesting the election, but Prof Shaw doubts they will be able to coalesce behind a single one. 

He believes issues often described as part of the "culture wars" or identity politics will have an influence on the way the election plays out, with some groups also attempting to take advantage of backlash to COVID-19 measures.

"They're more significant here than they were in 2020 and in large measure because of the backlash to vaccine mandates and mask mandates and so on. So I think some of those non-economic issues are going to be quite significant."

Cost of living is top of mind for many voters.
Cost of living is top of mind for many voters. Photo credit: Getty Images.

Cost of living

Countless ram raids and a recent string of horrific incidents in hospital emergency departments mean law and order and health have been two hot political issues this year.

They're almost certainly also going to be talking points at the 2023 election, but experts believe the cost of living - and how politicians propose to ease the pain - will be top of mind for families. 

"It affects people so directly and so much across the board at the moment that it will have widespread implications," Infometrics principal economist Brad Olsen told Newshub. 

The September quarter Consumer Price Index had annual inflation at 7.2 percent and is forecast by the Reserve Bank to stay around 4-5 percent throughout 2023, higher than the 1-3 percent target range.

Olsen said there are concerns inflation "will remain consistently hotter for longer".

"By this point, we were expecting/hoping that inflation was below 7 percent, but it is still stubbornly at 7.2 percent. All else being equal, it'll be harder to get that one down next year and you could envisage certainly at the start of the year you'd still see annual inflation running above 6 percent."

The Government has blamed international factors like global supply chain issues from COVID-19 and Russia's invasion of Ukraine for high inflation. National and ACT, however, argue Government spending has exacerbated it. 

"The average voter doesn't care where inflation has come from," said Olsen. "They just care that it's there and hurting. I think there will be a lot of focus on less who's doing it and more on who's got an idea of what to do about it."

"It's incredibly uncomfortable, particularly for those who aren't necessarily seeing those wage increases. So they'll be looking for, what do I get out of this, rather than who's categorically right or not."

Reserve Bank Governor Adrian Orr has just been reappointed for another term.
Reserve Bank Governor Adrian Orr has just been reappointed for another term. Photo credit: Getty Images.

The Official Cash Rate is also at its highest level in years at 3.5 percent and is likely to surpass 4 percent by the end of the year, ratcheting mortgage rates up even further.

The Reserve Bank's Financial Stability report showed 2 percent of the housing stock is in negative equity currently - meaning the owner's mortgage is worth more than the market value of the property - and that could rise considerably if house prices keep falling. 

"I think you will see an increasing number of people who are being challenged to actually repay their home loans, particularly young people who might have brought at the peak of the market in 2021," Olsen said. 

"As we get into an election year, the question then is you're going to have some people whose houses are worth less than what they paid for them, their mortgages are going to be substantially higher that even the baked beans diet doesn't quite cover off. There will be some pain and certainly some discomfort for many."

But Tony Alexander, an independent economist and former chief economist at BNZ, said people shouldn't panic. 

He said the market, which is already down about 11 percent from the November 2021 peak, is correcting itself after a significant increase over the pandemic. 

Alexander said house prices are likely to "bottom out" next year and New Zealand won't see the large number of people in negative equity that the Reserve Bank threatened could happen. 

While there are dark clouds circling, the Government's repeatedly been telling Kiwis to be "optimistic" due to strong exports, the return of tourism and historically low unemployment. The Reserve Bank also said New Zealand's financial system is resilient to global shocks. 

Alexander said New Zealand is a good place to weather a storm. He tempers any discussion of a recession by saying that even if one did happen - which it currently isn't projected to - it wouldn't be similar to the Global Financial Crisis due to our historically low unemployment