OPINION: He was Labour's accidental leader and now David Shearer seems to be on a glide path that could see him anointed the accidental prime minister.
Not that there was anything especially cheering for him in the first Fairfax Media/Ipsos political poll.
He has clearly made little impact on a big chunk of the population and his profile-lifting endeavours, including his scene-setting speeches this year and coverage of his impressive personal history, have left about one in four still saying they don't know him well enough to form a view.
For another large slice of the electorate - including some within his own support base - he is yet to prove he has the selling skills or personal strength to lead them to victory and the country in tough economic times.
In a close election campaign, which will again be presidential in tone, how he squares off against John Key will be crucial.
The latest poll had some good news for him there. Among those who have bothered to form a view, many find him likeable and driven by the best motives.
While Mr Key remains well-respected as a leader, the first undercurrents are starting to emerge that eventually undermine most strong leaders; a negative narrative is appearing.
As always, it is perceived strengths that sow the seeds of weakness as the voters (as they do) tire of a prime minister.
What was smart becomes smart-alecky; what was confident becomes arrogant; what was funny becomes glib. It happened to Helen Clark, David Lange and - going back a few decades - Rob Muldoon.
That shift in mood has not yet buffeted party support data, although even there the erosion is starting to take effect and a clear trend is emerging.
THE gap between National and Labour has closed from almost 20 per cent on election night to just over 12 percentage points now.
In terms of seats, the governing bloc could still rule (if the Maori Party stays loyal) on the latest numbers.
But the reality is somewhat blurred by NZ First's fall below the 5 per cent threshold.
Tote up the Government v Opposition parties' support numbers and the pendulum is just leaning away from National.
Of course the differences are tiny, and are little more than noise within the poll's margin of error. But the trend is still Mr Shearer's friend.
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