We've got the latest polls all mixed up together and come up with some thoughts on Winston Peters and a bunch of questions for you to discuss. So off you go...
You'll notice on the left hand side of the homepage that, after the latest round of polls, we've updated Pundit's own poll of polls, which track the country's five biggest surveys. And it's noteworthy to see the trend lines have turned a smidgen.
In the first part of the year the slight swing was towards the left, with a sense amongst many that holes were appearing in National after years of impenetrability. That stopped after a reassuring Budget and swung back to National. But now the upward line for the Nats has turned flat, which offers some relief for both Labour and the Greens. After being neck-and-neck with National they had seemed to lose their heads – Labour with internal efforts to destabilise David Shearer and the Greens seeming to over-reach and lose the discipline of recent years.
Both parties toyed with unpopular policy ideas – the "man ban" and quantitative easing. Both dumped them when it was clear the political price was too high.
Instead, they've found surer ground in the housing market – around foreign ownership – and arguing about spies and government intrusion.
The question now is that, with the trend towards National having stilled for a moment, which way the line will turn next.
What's clear from the numbers we see in this data – and what's been clear for some months now – is that Labour needs New Zealand First. National could get by with either a coalition or Peters on the cross-benches. It might yet be able to continue with the arrangement it has now. But if Labour hopes to lead a government in 2014 it will need New Zealand First alongside the Greens.
So when they're angsting about leadership they might want to ask Winston who he prefers, because it could be crucial. What motivates Peters will be a vital question heading into next year's campaign. The New zealand First leader's personal dislike of Key seems genuine and Key's personal rejection andcondescension for two straight elections can't be ignored.
But might Peters swallow that pride for the sake of, well... of what? For the sake of a continued National government?
There are two lines of logic around Peters, what floats his boat and what he may decide. First, if Peters' policies mean anything to him, he has to go with Labour and the Greens. Labour's policy barring foreigners from buying homes here was as much about coalitions as houses and voters. Labour, the Greens and New Zealand First are now united on most things Peters has most wanted, such Reserve Bank reform, a lower dollar, and a local manufacturing boost. He could even get compulsory super.
On that same line, how could he join a government that still contains Peter Dunne and/or John Banks, who he has so eagerly sought to destroy?
And finally, why would he join a fading political force in its third and – judging by today's polls and history – final term? Would he want to climb on board a sinking ship? Or could he even be used as an excuse for an early election, given this is the man who has a reputation for never retaining his ministerial status for an entire government?
The other line of logic, however, is to ask why he'd choose to be third wheel in a coalition when he could be second? Would his ego allow him to play third wheel behind Russel Norman? Or could Labour come up with a post that satisfies 'the look'? A lot might ride on just what job Peters wants and which party can give it to him.
And what about Shearer? Would Peters side with the Labour leader if Shearer doesn't look stronger by election time and hasn't performed well in the campaign and debates which aren't expected to be a Shearer strength? Would he risk a one-term government and a leader who has such competition within his own caucus?
Perhaps most crucially of all, how could that most astute of political minds back a party with 30-something percent support over a party with 40-something percent? Of course as I've written before it would be entirely right and proper, but the public backlash would be immense. And with voters so dubious of such a coalition, would he be willing to carry much of the blame? It could become a defining mark on his party.
The questions around the other minor parties remain unchanged. Can ACT and United Future find a path to survival? John Key was at an ACT meeting recently showing solidarity and Dunne has been careful not to burn off National altogether even as his partner rode roughshod over his privacy. But ultimately both of their future's depend on National, and any decision by National will depend on the polls.
Could the Maori Party yet be a kingmaker with even two seats? That's depend on the left's ability to find those missing few percent.
And finally there remains the Conservatives. Can they crack five percent? Can they take enough from National and New Zealand First in the next year to be ready to launch in the campaign (where their money will count)? Will National rue not lowering the threshold to four percent? Or will a cup of tea in Rodney suffice?
These are all pivotal questions worth remembering over the next 18 months. But as is so often the case, the biggest and most vital questions still centre around Winston Peters and exactly what he wants.