Exclusive election poll: Judith Collins’ displays of Christian religiousness – will it woo voters?

New Zealand voters are agnostic about National leader Judith Collins’ public displays of faith, a new NZ Herald-Kantar Vote 2020 poll shows, with a majority saying it was unlikely to change their vote.

Collins has brought up her Christian faith during the campaign, and was photographed praying in a church. Poll participants were asked how her public statements about being a religious person would influence their vote.

Most – 63 per cent – said it makes no difference to them.

Twenty-seven per cent said it would make them less likely to vote for National, compared to 8 per cent, who said they’d be more likely to support her party.

More men said they were more likely to vote for Collins because of her public statements about her faith (10 per cent, compared to 6 per cent of women).

Single New Zealanders were more likely to be put off – 36 per cent said it made them less likely to vote National.

The poll did not break down respondents by the party they were likely to support.

Collins said the results showed “for all the recent commentary about my faith, the big issues on most New Zealanders’ minds right now are actually the looming economic crisis and whether or not they will have a job at the end of it”.

The National leader said “my religious beliefs are part of who I am, but not all that I am”, and as a Prime Minister she’d focus on stimulating the economy, including by delivering tax cuts.

Associate Professor Jennifer Lees-Marshment, a political marketing and leadership academic at the University of Auckland, said the NZ Herald-Kantar Vote 2020 poll showed Collins’ displays of faith would make no difference to most voters.

Those who said it would put them off National may already be unlikely to support the party, anyway.

“Random tactical marketing to narrow segments of voters is unlikely to make a difference – it is the overall brand that counts.”

The Covid-19 pandemic and economic recovery would be much more front-of-mind for most people when they cast their vote, Lees-Marshment said.

“National and Collins should focus on acknowledging Ardern’s effective handling of the Covid-19 health crisis, but then arguing we need new ideas and solutions to recover from the economic crisis, and then making clear what they will offer.”

Collins’ faith has become a topic of discussion this election campaign, after she referenced it on several occasions, and was photographed praying at St Thomas Tāmaki in Auckland, before casting an early vote.

That led to media questions about whether she was politicising her faith. Collins has denied that, telling Mike Hosking during her leaders’ breakfast interview that she’d been a lifelong Christian.

“The minister said, ‘Oh would you like to pop in and have a prayer service?’ And I said, ‘Yes, I would’. I didn’t ask the media in, but I turned around and there they were all happily taking shots. So, I thought well I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing.”

Some political and media commentators have speculated the public displays of faith are a bid to shore up support among religious voters, including those who might have drifted to the New Conservative Party, which has polled around 1-2 per cent.

“This is obviously designed to win over votes,” said Newstalk ZB’s Heather du Plessis-Allan, speaking on a recent episode of the Front Bench Podcast.

“[But] for National this runs the risk of spooking the liberal, secular voters. Already the Nats are heavily stacked with Christian MPs.”

The NZ Herald-Kantar Vote 2020 poll of people aged 18 and over was carried out from October 7-10 and had a sample size of 1000, post-weighted by age, gender and region to match the underlying population. The margin of error was 3.1 per cent.

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