Labour has taken a big hit in the latest Fairfax-Ipsos poll, raising fresh questions about whether David Shearer can lead them to victory.
Halfway through its second term, Prime Minister John Key's National is riding high on 49.1 per cent support, up 4.5 percentage points since February, and would be able to govern alone.
Over the same period Labour had shed 4.4 per cent to 31.9 per cent, with respondents pointing to Mr Shearer as weak and negative, Ipsos pollster Duncan Stuart said.
It marks a sharp reversal from our February poll when the Left and Right were neck and neck.
The survey, taken in the days after the May 16 Budget, suggests an improving economic mood has lifted National's poll ratings.
The Government has confirmed a return to surplus next year, unemployment fell to 6.2 per cent in the March quarter and an improving housing market in Auckland and Christchurch is providing a feel-good factor.
That is supported by a big shift in the mood of the country, with 59.2 per cent thinking things are heading in the right direction, up from 52.2 per cent in February, against 40.4 per cent who think it is on the wrong track, down from 47.8 per cent three months ago.
John Key and National will be very satisfied with this poll, which shows a significant upswing in support since February. In contrast, it will be a bitter disappointment to David Shearer and Labour. Once again, it suggests that the Labour-Green NZ Power policy is not the circuit-breaker that the parties of the Left hoped that it would be.
Where does Labour go now? David Shearer has thrown his lot in with the Greens, and to back away from that now would be an about-face with huge implications for his and Labour's credibility. Tracy Watkins asks the big question:
How long before Labour asks whether David Shearer is the solution or the problem?
If the results of today's Fairfax Media-Ipsos poll are a precursor to the next election, the news is all bad for Labour - and not just because the poll has it shedding support, though that is bad enough.
But because it reverses a trend that had Labour slowly clawing into contention.
What changed? To lean on a cliche, the economy, stupid.
The poll shows a sudden surge in people who think the country is on the right track - a combination of the wealth effect of a rise in house prices, particularly in Auckland, a drop in the number of jobless, better growth figures and a feeling that there is light at the end of the tunnel for the economy.
There are plenty of niggles with the Government but they are just that - niggles.
None has taken on the tsunami- like proportions of the nanny state backlash that swept Labour out of office.
And with optimism on the rebound, National's message at the election in 2014 looks like an increasingly potent one - we've taken our medicine, done the hard yards, and we're starting to reap the gains. Why put that all at risk?
But something else may also be changing. Mr Shearer may be morphing from Mr Invisible to something worse in voters' eyes. Mr Negative.
Labour has taken bold steps in policy, including its affordable housing plan, reforming the power market, a capital gains tax and raising the pension age.
Admittedly, there is a reason why policies like the capital gains tax and raising the pension age haven't been tried before. They are deeply unpopular. But if the gambit was to make Labour look like a government in waiting, it has not worked.
Labour MPs' sights are not trained on Mr Shearer yet.
But there is always a tipping point. And if the trend continues, Labour MPs must be wondering what to do when they reach it.
We suspect that there will be some interesting meetings in Grant Robertson's office over the next few weeks. And who will be the first MP to refer to David Shearer by the new nickname that he will be wishing that Tracy Watkins hadn’t bestowed upon him?