The public believe that Annette King should take the reins of the Labour Party if Phil Goff were no longer the leader, a Herald poll shows.

But the Herald-DigiPoll survey - involving 750 respondents and done just before Christmas - also shows David Cunliffe nipping at her heels, and some recognition for Andrew Little, who is the party president and will stand for Parliament for the first time this year in the New Plymouth seat.

Asked who would be the best leader if Mr Goff was not available, 18 per cent opted for Ms King, who is the deputy leader. Mr Cunliffe had the backing of 15 per cent of respondents.

Shane Jones is right behind him on 12 per cent - reasonably high for someone caught watching pornographic movies on the public purse - a bill he later paid.

Mr Jones was demoted to the back benches for misusing his ministerial credit card but is tipped to be promoted again this year.

Mr Little's 9 per cent is surprisingly high given that he is yet to enter Parliament.

Nearly half of the respondents did not endorse any of the candidates: 36 per cent said they did not know or refused to answer and 12 per cent opted for "none of the above".

Not surprisingly, Ms King was most popular among women voters, with more than one in five giving her their vote.

But among men voters she trailed Mr Cunliffe (18 per cent) and Mr Jones (16 per cent).

Mr Cunliffe also polled much better than his male counterparts among women voters, with 12 per cent support as opposed to 8 per cent for Mr Jones and 7 per cent for Mr Little.

The three men have all been tipped as possible future leaders. Ms King did not return calls yesterday.