Labour has plumbed new depths in our latest poll as the election takes an ugly turn after a day rocked by allegations of blackmail, dirty politics and pushing and shoving on the campaign trail.
The Stuff.co.nz/Ipsos Political Poll has National on 55.1 per cent, virtually unchanged from July, while Labour has sunk to 22.5, down 2.4 percentage points.
Labour leader David Cunliffe was reluctant to talk on the poll figures this afternoon, choosing not to believe the figures.
"I'm not actually putting any weight at all on that particular poll, it's completely out of line with others that we've taken and other recently published polls, and I feel that there have been a very positive couple of weeks for Labour and I'll be keen to see what comes out in future."
Cunliffe said once voters had wrapped their heads around the content of Hager's book, they would desert National "in droves".
"I would imagine it would probably shift hundreds of thousands but that is a matter for New Zealanders. This is a crossroad for New Zealanders. Is this what we want our country to become?
"I think New Zealanders are getting their heads around a bunch of issues that are important to them - the need for better jobs, better wages, the need for better education policies, better access to healthcare and opportunities for all our families.
"If New Zealanders get their head around this stuff, it'll turn them off [National] in droves. It's the sort of thing that you don't even want to talk about because it is just so disgusting."
The poll, which surveyed at least 1000 New Zealand residents who are eligible to vote, is a kick in the guts to Labour, which has steadily bled support since this time last year. On today’s numbers it would lose five MPs to just 29, putting even some senior front bench MPs at risk.
National would comfortably govern alone with 72 seats. The Greens are on 11.3 per cent while Internet-Mana’s higher profile has lifted its support to 2.1 per cent. A surprise mover are the Conservatives, which have jumped to 3.4 per cent, level pegging with NZ First.
But instead of celebrating, National is likely to spend its day regrouping after being blindsided by allegations in a new book by author Nicky Hager that staff in the prime minister’s ninth floor office conspired with blogger Cameron Slater to run dirty political campaigns against National’s opponents.
Claiming to have thousands of leaked emails from Slater's computer, Hager names staffer Jason Ede as the pointsman for some smear campaigns run through the Whale Oil blog.
Now working out of National Party headquarters, Ede was previously employed by Ministerial Services for work which included ''communication advice and support to the prime minister''.
Hager’s book set a grenade under the campaign yesterday, sparking angry denials from Key in Dunedin, while in Hamilton, NZ First leader Winston Peters hit out at "filth and sleaze".
Peters had earlier got into a jostling match with a heckler he shoved off the stage.
But despite the Government’s denials that there is any smoking gun, Hager's book will set the tone for the rest of the campaign, which had already turned ugly after an effigy of Key was burnt.
Both sides are now threatening to go to the police, with the Greens and Labour saying they may complain about allegations Slater and Ede accessed a Labour party website for personal membership details. Slater said he would consider legal action forcing Hager to name the source of the leaked emails.
Key stood by his staffer and Justice Minister Judith Collins, whose emails also featured in Hager's book, and accused Hager and his opponents of conspiring to run a smear campaign against him.
Today's poll shows a high proportion of undecided voters still, at 15.4 per cent.
Key is at 54.3 per cent as preferred prime minister, compared with Labour leader David Cunliffe on 12 per cent.
The poll was taken from August 9 to August 13 and has a margin of error of 3.1 per cent.