Newshub poll: If this is the winter of Bridge's discontent, he can't be too discontented

I'm shocked I tell you. Shocked... Shocked that anyone would be surprised by tonight's Newshub-Reid Research poll. The seasons of politics are turning as expected. The complicating factor is Judith Collins.

The headlines cry crisis for National and Simon Bridges. The latest Newshub Reid Research poll has landed a series of blows on Bridges and his party – National is down, Bridges is down and Collins is up. Wham, bam and thank you Ma'am.

It's a blow to Bridges, especially at a time when New Zealand enjoys only two public polls (Newshub and TVNZ). The splash of instability around National since Jami-Lee Ross's destructive scandal combined with the pinch of mediocrity in Bridges' public performances is a recipe for a loss of voter confidence. For a public little focused on politics amidst a long, hot summer it simply starts to colour in the rough outline of an underwhelming leadership.

Some of those headlines talk of knives, fretful meetings and calamity. Yet the poll was as inevitable as it is unsurprising. It's hard to imagine too many in National will be wanting to burn their Bridges quite yet.

This poll speaks to the power of incumbency and stability. And it suggest that for all her little slips and slops, Jacinda Ardern's ability to project positivity here and something tov be proud of on the world stage remains a potent combination. 

The poll has National down 3.5 percent to 41.6. Labour is up 4.4 percent to 47.5, the first time it has been ahead in the Newshub-Reid Research poll in 12 years. That's just the Newshub poll however; the TVNZ-Colmar Brunton has told a different story, which suggests public sentiment has been quite volatile. It's worth remembering Labour leapt ahead of National in that poll even before the last election and was ahead last year too, before dropping behind late in the year.

That National has stayed in touch or even ahead is the much more dramatic polling story of the past 12 months. A dip was inevitable after the loss of John Key, Bill English and then the election. Follow that with Bridges' listening tour and the party's yet-to-be-seen policy work, his hardly inspirational manner and the Ross saga and, well, a poll drop is as surprising as autumn coming after summer.

Politics has its own seasons and this is National's autumn. Or its winter. It's too soon to say which, except if 41.6 percent is winter, heck, National can hardly complain.

The problem for Bridges is his own preferred Prime Minister polling down to five percent flat. And it is flat. Newshub reminds us that the last leader to poll that low was Phil Goff back in 2010.

But it's worth National pondering how Labour responded to that and what happened to it over the next seven years. It was a party divided and lacking both purpose and identity. It went through four leaders before, frankly, lucking out thanks to Andrew Little's resignation and Ardern's late, inspired run.

The odds were always that National and Bridges would slump and need to rebuild. Arguably, National will be in real trouble down the track if it doesn't refresh and rethink at this stage; staying in the 40s offers up a siren song begging it to change little, carry on, merely slap a fresh coat on the house that Key, English and Joyce built. The party must fight hard to ignore that and instead embrace renewal. 

The odds were always that Bridges would play the Goff role and that he will, one day, be rolled. The odds are that Bridges is not the next National Prime Minister. The odds are that Labour wins a second term regardless who leads National.

So, this poll? Inevitable. Unsurprising. And a long way until the next election.

The complicating factor is Judith Collins. She sits there ahead of Bridges, on 6.2 percent. It's hardly a momentous number in itself and not a number from which you'd launch a coup. Not yet anyway. But just ask Andrew Little what it's like to have a colleague more popular than you as leader. It does get people talking. And balls rolling. Of course it can be overcome; Jim Bolger spent chunks of his Prime Ministerial career less popular than some of his MPs and survived. But nothing Bridges has done so far suggests he has Bolger's talents for survival and leadership.

OK, so it's inevitable the Collins question will be posed. My question is whether National will then ask the next, critical question. After tonight's poll we know Bridges' floor; at least, we know he can go so low that it doesn't really matter. But the next question is: What is Collins' ceiling? It's all very well to get six, 12, even 18 percent of New Zealanders excited. But can you imagine her on 41.8 percent, as Ardern is today? Or the 40+ percent Key so consistently achieved? Can she generate the popularity of a John Key or win over a coalition partner? There's the rub.

Or, put another way: Would she be some goddess bringing a new spring or Jack Frost, dragging winter on and on and on?

This is a poll that will put bounce into Ardern's speech as she finally begins the parliamentary year. She is growing the sort of armour plate that got Key the nickname Teflon John. But it leaves Bridges where he always was – needing to lift his game significantly to cause the kind of once in a lifetime upset he needs to be the next Prime Minister.