In politics, they say, the trend is your friend. That would make the next election Labour's to lose on today's Fairfax Media-Ipsos political poll.
OPINION: It confirms a trend of Labour slowly positioning itself to lead the next government.
But that tells only half the story.
Because National's vote, if you use the 2008 election as your yardstick, appears largely undented. At 44.9 per cent, its leader, John Key, is still more popular than any other politician. And more people would still prefer to have him, rather than Labour leader David Shearer, in power.
MMP has not yet delivered a result that installed a party with fewer votes than its opponents in government. But today's poll comes close to doing just that.
Under some scenarios it would deliver a tie - and in others, it would deliver Mr Shearer the prime ministerial suite on the 9th floor of the Beehive.
That explains Mr Key's aggressive start to the year. He launched it with a ministerial shake-up, which included axing poorly performing ministers, and put an iron fist, in the form of Mr Fixit Steven Joyce, in charge of the Novopay mess. He also stole into Labour territory, making a politically savvy announcement on apprenticeships.
His only misstep may have been standing by Education Minister Hekia Parata, who has gone the way of some of her predecessors in the education portfolio and become the minister the public most love to hate.
But if his intention was to catch Labour napping, it worked.
Mr Shearer's first speech of the year failed to spark, and a plan to stamp his authority on the caucus with a front-bench reshuffle hinges on an audit office report clearing Shane Jones.
If there is a story behind the poll numbers it is that many of the undecided vote appear to be soft National voters who have started peeling away, perhaps disillusioned that after four years they are feeling no better off.
But when pushed, many still lean toward National. So Labour still has a long way to go.
- Fairfax Media
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