Polls steady for a 'no change' flag vote

26/02/2016

Does John Key ever wish he hadn't thought about changing the flag? 

The prime minister would say no, he's giving people a choice, but as the voting papers go out next week he might wonder whether it was worth it.

The referendum runs from March 3-24, and if the polls are right it's a foregone conclusion.

Campaigners for change clutch at straws and cite some polls which show the gap has narrowed, but it would take a sea change in public opinion for the referendum to go Key's way.

Since he announced the flag referendum in March 2014, polls have consistently shown more than 60 per cent of voters don't want to change the current flag.

The two most recent polls, published on January 30 and February 1, both show 61 per cent opposed to change.

That doesn't mean the other 39 per cent will be ticking the alternative silver fern design on their ballot papers.

Some don't care, don't know or don't intend voting, or they don't like the chosen alternative.

Key wears the silver fern design on his lapel, having said from the start that he favours change.

But the campaign has been feeble compared with those run by "no change" advocates.

Key never intended the process to become politicised.

He wanted a rational, sensible debate around the symbol that represents New Zealand.

Any chance of that went out the window as soon as opposition parties became involved.

Labour's stance was the most egregious.

It's 2014 election manifesto states: "We believe that the time has come for a change and it is right for the issue to be put to the public. Labour will review the design of the New Zealand flag, involving flag design experts and with full public consultation."

So, presumably, if Labour had won the 2014 election and met its manifesto promise it would have organised a flag referendum.

When Key announced he was doing just that, Labour said the time wasn't right.

That conveniently allowed it to line up with a clear majority of voters who don't want change.

NZ First, unlike Labour, has always opposed changing the flag.

Winston Peters knows the demographics of his support base.

He's been around the country raging about the $26 million cost of the exercise and denouncing the government in front of RSA audiences and others.

Peters has even urged people to spoil their ballot papers by scrawling KOF across them - keep our flag.

While this was going on, the process for choosing an alternative design descended into chaos.

Four designs were chosen by the panel appointed to do the job and the Electoral Commission printed them so everyone could see what they looked like.

Then what was described as "a surge of support" for another design came about - a largely social media campaign and a petition signed by 50,000 people urging the government to include Red Peak.

The Greens seized an opportunity to grab publicity and drafted a bill.

NZ First blocked their attempt to get the bill into parliament, and after prevaricating for a few days Key decided the government should take it over.

The bill was passed and Red Peak became one of the alternatives.

"This whole thing is a colossal waste of taxpayers' time and money," said Labour's Clare Curran.

She got that right.

When the first referendum was held, Red Peak was third on first preference votes - 122,152 against the winning design's 559,587.

Peter Wilson/NZN 

source: data archive