Most likely, Jacinda Ardern will stumble to re-election with one or both of the Greens and NZ First.
Nevertheless, her Government's multiple policy failures are now eroding public confidence in her abilities.
While genuinely warm and caring, the day-to-day prime ministerial tasks of working with ministers and senior officials to establish a programme and priorities, then monitoring their performance and holding them to account, have turned out not to be her thing.
Sadly for all those with such high hopes two years ago, she is no Helen Clark or even John Key.
Meanwhile, National MPs have a spring in their step. Leadership tensions are subdued.
The long, dark winter of disastrous polls that might have propelled Judith Collins into the leadership has not eventuated. Amy Adams has announced her retirement and has been replaced as finance spokesperson by the more confident Paul Goldsmith. Todd Muller isn't ready for the top job.
The other one-time leadership possibility, Mark Mitchell, is the poorest performer on Simon Bridges' front bench.
However grudgingly, National MPs have reached near-unanimity that Bridges should lead them to the election.
For his part, Bridges has forged a team that looks credible as a Government.
Paula Bennett fits into the political strategy role Steven Joyce held for Key.
Goldsmith already seems more of a Finance Minister than Grant Robertson.
If Collins doesn't throw it all away on ill-advised leadership manoeuvres, she should expect to be the senior economic minister on housing, infrastructure and regulatory reform.
Elsewhere in the Shadow Cabinet, Gerry Brownlee could comfortably return as Foreign Minister and Todd McClay to trade. Nikki Kaye and Michael Woodhouse are well prepared for education and health reform.
Chris Bishop has the potential to succeed in transport if he moves out of the shadow of his mentors Brownlee and Joyce, and recognises the true magnitude and cost of preventing Auckland from becoming a basket case.
In climate change, Scott Simpson is as well regarded in green circles as Nick Smith, but with better relationship skills internally. Muller is ready-made to cajole farmers towards serious reform of Fonterra and champion new technologies to reduce methane and nitrous oxide emissions, and improve water quality.
The question, then, is what sort of Prime Minister would Bridges be?
Bill English's brief interregnum aside, New Zealand has been led by personality cults for most of the 21st century.
In dictatorships, personality cults lead to policy excess. In New Zealand, the problem has been the opposite: the entire policy and PR apparatus of government being focussed primarily on maintaining the cult.
As with Jim Bolger and the early Clark, Bridges' unpopularity means a cult is not an option. It also means there will always be some muttering over his position, as there was for Bolger throughout his time as Leader of the Opposition and his first and third terms as Prime Minister.
While making a virtue of necessity, it remains a virtue that Bridges has had to adopt a more traditional first among equals style.
Bridges' senior colleagues report that his leadership approach is the opposite of Key's command-and-control regime.
He has consciously tried to be consensual, pragmatic and inclusive. While clearly loyal to his chief lieutenants like McClay, promotions have mostly been based on merit.
As Prime Minister, Bridges can be expected to adopt the Bolger model of demanding his ministers take personal ownership of their portfolios rather than be micromanaged by officials and political handlers.
Like Bolger, Bridges' ambition is not just joining the prime ministerial club for its own sake, but to be one of the few to achieve genuine intergenerational change.
While some see him as conservative, which he is on a social issues, he has not been afraid to take risks to advance his ambitions.
Bolger appointed the likes of Ruth Richardson and Sir Douglas Graham as change agents, even when he was not personally comfortable with everything they planned, because he wanted his Government to be remembered as having made a difference. Something similar can be expected from Bridges.
This does not suggest free rein. The one Bridges character trait about which everyone agrees is ruthlessness. Like Bolger with Richardson and others, he will be prepared to publicly support politically risky agendas for so long, but also to sack ministers if he calculates his own survival requires it.
Having given ministers space to lead policy, he could do so without it looking like a personal backdown.
The implications for voters and those wanting to influence policy is that ministers would again become of primary relevance rather than the Prime Minister and his close cronies.
Most important, from the moment a Bridges Government was sworn in, it would be obvious its re-election depended not on its Prime Minister's ability to goof around with low-intelligence and low-information voters, but on genuine outcomes. This would be no bad thing.
After the unmet promise of Ardern's fairy-tale rise to power and a decade of Key's smile-and-wave schtick, voter sentiment may be moving back to demand greater seriousness from prospective leaders.
National is betting on it, especially with global recession looming. Monday's release of a 40-page economic discussion document a year from the election was highly unusual.
While not yet demonstrating sufficient differentiation from the Key years, it raises some serious long-term issues such as the retirement age, the urgent need for proper congestion charges in Auckland instead of crude petrol taxes and the repeal of productivity-shackling regulations.
More is needed after the consultation process, including a radical Lee Kuan Yew-style commitment to infrastructure development.
But, in contrast to Key and Ardern, Bridges has at least worked out that working group processes are best conducted before forming a government rather than after.
All this may come to nothing, of course. It may be that all voters want are wedding bells and selfies, in which case the incumbent has everything she needs for her second term.
- Matthew Hooton is an Auckland-based public relations consultant and lobbyist.