I've learned the hard way: Craig

Colin Craig.
Colin Craig.
Conservative leader Colin Craig is confident he will be able to change people's minds about him after a Herald-DigiPoll survey showed one-third of respondents believed he was too extreme and 43 per cent had no view of him at all.

The survey was conducted in the aftermath of media attention on Mr Craig for refusing to rule out conspiracy theories about the moon landing, as well as comments by Prime Minister John Key that the Conservatives were a potential coalition partner.

A quarter of the 750 people questioned said he was a welcome addition to political debates while 33 per cent said his views were "too extreme". The remaining 43 per cent said they did not know.

Mr Craig's approach to politics appealed to men more than women - 30 per cent of the men said he was a welcome addition, compared with 18 per cent of women.

Half the women polled said they did not know.

Mr Craig said he had learned lessons from the media focus on the more unusual aspects of his comments and political stance, and expected to be more focused this year.

"I've learned as the year has gone by and I won't be as casual. It's an election year and we are going to have to be on message, and I will be. It's going to be a fun year. And we will keep it interesting. People like a story, they need a story and we don't want an election that's all about a cup of tea."

While he did regret his moon landing comments, his public recognition now was much higher than at the last election when the new party secured 2.65 per cent of the vote. Since then, Mr Craig has become more high-profile, largely over comments on issues such as provocative women and the moon landing, as well as more controversial Conservative policies such as repeal of the anti-smacking legislation.

He has attracted some opprobrium on social media, but Mr Craig said that while some people he met did not agree with his views, all were polite and interested.

"When I was in Wellington, people just stopped for a photo and they want to chat, like they know me, like I'm their long-lost friend. And that's a totally new experience to me."

Mr Craig said he stood by most of his comments, but did regret being so "casual" when RadioLive asked about the moon landing and in hindsight he would have stuck with saying he had always believed man did land on the moon. He had learned the hard way "but isn't that a great way to learn?"

"I haven't made any enormously tragic mistakes and I don't think I will. I'd be surprised if 33 per cent going into the election genuinely think I'm too extreme."

Mr Key has indicated Mr Craig will be given a clear run in an electorate, or helped to nudge the Conservatives over the 5 per cent mark to give National more options, although Mr Craig insists he does not need the help.

His higher profile has not yet had an impact in the polls - in the December Herald-DigiPoll survey, the Conservatives polled at 0.7 per cent - their lowest result in 18 months.

The poll of 750 voters was taken between December 9 and 17 and has a margin of error of 3.6 per cent.

- Claire Trevett of the New Zealand Herald

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