National closes a torrid year on a high, with its support barely dented since the election.
But today's latest Fairfax Media-Ipsos poll shows Labour leader David Shearer will also be buoyed, after the poll revealed a showdown with rival David Cunliffe boosted his standing among voters, who applauded his new-found steel.
Of 1062 voters we questioned, 34.7 per cent said they felt more positive about him than a year ago, and many cited the way he stared down the leadership challenge from Mr Cunliffe as the reason.
But he still has a long way to go - in a contest between him and Prime Minister John Key, Mr Key is rated more statesman-like, focused, energetic and impressive by most voters. On a scale of zero to 10, Mr Shearer failed to get a pass mark for his performance over the last 12 months, rating 4.8 on average.
The poll puts National on 46.2 per cent support, up 1.3 points on our last poll in August. Labour is on 34.4 per cent, up 1.8. Its rise is largely at the expense of the Greens, who drop to 10.5 per cent.
Of the others, only NZ First on 3.8 per cent comes close to reaching the 5 per cent threshold to win seats in Parliament, and the others will have to win electorate seats to survive.
It has not been an easy year for Mr Shearer or Mr Key. There has been little letup for Mr Shearer in attacks over his leadership style, while National has endured a string of blunders, bad economic data and scandal.
Mr Key acknowledged: "It's been a pretty tough year [and] I don't think next year is going to be easier . . . or the year after."
The Government has been buffeted by the Dotcom saga, the resignation of former ACC Minister Nick Smith for intervening in Bronwyn Pullar's ACC claim, the fallout over Pike River, which claimed the scalp of Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson, bungled education policy, public service leaks, and a legal challenge which stalled its asset sales.
Voters have responded by giving it a marginal fail for its performance this year - on a scale of zero to 10, the average score was 4.9 per cent.
Mr Key's standing has also suffered, with 40 per cent of voters saying their opinion of him had got worse over the past year, compared with just over 2 per cent, who said their opinion had got better.
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