National Party leader Simon Bridges will have to deliver the defence of the century to hold on to his job at a midday leadership vote today after a second catastrophic poll on the eve of that challenge by MP Todd Muller.
National was at just 29 per cent in the 1 News Colmar Brunton poll last night.
That was half of Labour's support of 59 per cent in a poll which saw the Jacinda Juggernaut steamroll almost every party in Parliament.
Neither the Green Party (4.7 per cent) or NZ First (3 per cent) would make it into Parliament on the poll results.
But it is particularly grim news for Bridges as the 55 National Party MPs prepare to meet at noon at Parliament for that closed ballot on the leadership between Bridges and Muller.
Yesterday, neither the Bridges nor the Muller camp seemed certain they had the 28 votes needed, but both claimed to have strong numbers and one MP involved said it was looking "very, very close."
The poll result may have changed that for MPs still wavering.
Muller's camp said the poll results showed there was an urgent need for a change in leadership to reclaim that lost ground – and even Bridges' own supporters acknowledged the poll would make it a lot harder for Bridges.
Political commentator Bryce Edwards said after the latest poll results, a lot of people in the National camp are drifting away from him.
He told NewstalkB this morning it would be too tough for him to survive.
Edwards believes the difference in two political polls may have revealed shaky ground for National's economic mantra.
He said Muller will have to re-recreate the National party front bench, bring in his own supporters and try to win over his opponents.
In terms of a deputy, Edwards said Muller and Nikki Kaye are the best political duo to represent National at this year's election.
He said National desperately needs Muller - because he's more politically centrist than Bridges, and will pull National towards the middle. National has become too socially conservative under Bridges and Paula Bennett.
He said Kaye has the ability to bring voters back to the blue side - because of her urban and social liberal political style.
The Colmar Brunton poll was taken soon after last week's Budget and amidst the triple whammy of the Government's Covid-19 Budget honeymoon, National's leadership turbulence and massive public endorsement of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's handling of the Covid-19 crisis.
Bridges pointed to those factors in his defence, saying the leadership rumble was an added distraction that had contributed, as well as the likely flow-on effect from the earlier poll.
However, Bridges' ratings as preferred Prime Minister also halved from 11 per cent to just five per cent while Ardern was at 63 per cent – the highest ratings in the poll's history.
Muller himself was at 0.3 per cent as preferred Prime Minister in the poll – his challenge came at the tail end of the polling period.
Many MPs were keeping their decisions on the leadership vote to themselves.
Of those that are known, Bridges' supporters are deputy leader Paula Bennett, Michael Woodhouse, Todd McClay and Paul Goldsmith. MPs Brett Hudson and Sarah Dowie have also publicly backed Bridges.
Bridges is also understood to have Mark Mitchell's support. Mitchell was considered a potential candidate himself, but has since ruled that out and committed his vote to Bridges.
Mitchell would not comment, saying he wanted to respect the caucus process.
Muller's core supporters include Chris Bishop, Amy Adams, and Nicola Willis as well as Kaye. He will also likely benefit strongly from the group of MPs whose seats are in danger from a low poll, such as lower-ranked List MPs and those in marginal electorates.
Mitchell's vote and that of Judith Collins could be critical if their decision also tips the votes of their own supporters the same way.
Collins has refused to say who she will support and said any discussions with the two candidates were confidential.
Bridges and Muller will set out their case to caucus before the vote.
Bridges will highlight National's earlier healthy polling under his watch, and emphasise that Ardern's Covid-19 honeymoon is likely to end as the focus switches to the economic impact of Covid-19, where National can push its advantage.
Muller is also likely to highlight the latter point, but say it is clear that the public dislike of Bridges is too entrenched to make him an effective leader for the party.
There is disquiet among MPs about the way the challenge has unfolded.
One MP in the Bridges' camp said it has been "messy and untidy" and while they were aware of the desire for a change, " it is not like this, and not now."
There was also some disgruntlement about the way news of the likely challenge had leaked to media, forcing the issue.