The latest Roy Morgan poll, released on Friday, shows National’s lead continuing to fall and economic concerns dominating all others.
But deeper down in the figures is something far more interesting, and in a way surprising: the gap between rich and poor is worrying more and more New Zealanders, and now bothers twice as many people as it did a year ago.
Roy Morgan’s figures show that around 18 months ago, in November 2010, just 3% of the population said that “poverty, the gap between rich and poor, and/or imbalance of wealth” was the most important issue we face as a country.
By April this year, that figure had hit 10%; it’s now at 8%. So despite a slight fall-off, or poll wobble, twice as many people now have inequality in the front of their minds.
That’s surprising in a sense, because after a barrage of columns, debates and newspaper articles on inequality last year, media attention seemed to me to have diminished this year, as the continuing world crisis focused minds on more basic issues, such as where on earth economic growth is coming to come from now.
But of course coverage doesn’t always reflect reality. And the figures may show a growing realisation that people on low and average incomes are just still struggling, with little hope in sight, while others seem insulated from the economic malaise.
The last round of tax cuts, after all, gave someone on $150,000 an extra $135 a week, but just an extra $35 a week to someone on an average wage. So those tax cuts, which are now just starting to be felt, have increased the gap between rich and poor by $100 a week.
People may have registered, too, that CEOs are still doing extremely well (albeit their pay increases have stalled), without always an obvious justification. Telecom’s Paul Reynolds is getting a $1.75 million severance package, for example.
They may also have twigged that asset sales, whatever your view of their general merits, stand a good chance of transferring collective wealth into a relatively small number of hands, given that most people will struggle to spare the cash needed to buy them.
The key annual report on inequality, Household Incomes in New Zealand, is slated to appear in August. If that shows a widening gap between rich and poor (after last year’s slight narrowing thanks to poor stockmarket returns for the rich), we can expect the chorus of concern to grow even louder.