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UPDATED TUESDAY: ACT Party leader Don Brash conceded his party's public support is disappointing.
Asked on National Radio this morning whether he was happy with ACT's recent polling - the most recent poll had the party on 0.9%, a far cry from Dr Brash's promised 10-15% - Dr Brash said he was.
"OK, I accept that, but the key question is whether National will have a good centre right partner...and which party is the best party to provide that," he said.
With polling day now less than three weeks away, the issue of whether National leader John Key will give Epsom voters a nudge to vote for ACT candidate John Banks is becoming increasingly salient.
Mr Key was bailed up on a public walkabout in New Plymouth yesterday by a local ACT Party official and accused of reneging on a deal where ACT would not run in New Plymouth and National would not try very hard in Epsom.
Mr Key denied such a deal. However he did not rule out a public "cup of tea" with Mr Banks along the lines of previous public signals in the past two elections.
Mr Key has thus far declined all invitations to provide even a smidgeon of a hint to National’s Epsom supporters that they might have to swallow hard and vote for Mr Banks, as opposed to National candidate Paul Goldsmith.
Until now the message from the Prime Minister has been that people should give their party vote to National. The question about who they should give their electorate vote to is something Mr Key has steadfastly refused to give his views on.
This morning Mr Key began to shift his position.
In what might be called the MMP shuffle, Mr Key began tiptoeing towards endorsing Act.
“Act returning to Parliament is something I would like to see as opposed to something I wouldn't like to see,” he told a breakfast television programme.
Mr Key also said Act had been “very stable” – an observation which might surprise even the most casual observer of recent New Zealand politics.
But the important aspect of this morning’s comments is the shift in position, and that Mr Key has begun shuffling towards endorsing Mr Banks.
A recent UMR Insight poll, commissioned by The National Business Review, revealed most National voters planned to vote for Mr Goldsmith but also that most believed Mr Banks would win; and, crucially, that if Mr Key told them to, sufficient numbers would change their vote to put Mr Banks into Parliament.
The issue is crucial because of the risk of a wasted vote on the centre right: Act is unlikely, on current polling, to reach the 5% threshold on the list vote so it needs to win Epsom, won in the 2008 election by then-leader Rodney Hide.