Paula Bennett 'really confident' she and Simon Bridges will survive leadership challenge

Paula Bennett is "really confident" she and Simon Bridges will hold off a leadership challenge from Todd Muller and Nikki Kaye this Friday.

The latest Newshub-Reid Research poll put National on 30.6 percent, down a whopping 12.7 percent. Bridges only scored 4.5 percent in the preferred Prime Minister stakes, well behind Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's 59.5 percent. 

While there have long been rumours of discontent in the party's ranks, the shocking poll result - just four months out from the election - appears to have triggered the hail mary move.

"The game is on, the contest is happening, there is a coup that's underway - but it's not clear that he has the numbers," political scientist Bryce Edwards told The AM Show on Monday. "This is going to be a really closely-fought contest."

Bennett appeared on TVNZ's Breakfast on Thursday morning, keen to change the subject, but said she was "really confident" she and Bridges would prevail.

She said the bad poll wasn't a surprise, praising Ardern's handling of the COVID-19 response, which saw New Zealand emerge from the first wave of the pandemic relatively unscathed compared to the likes of the UK, US and Europe.

"We've had seven or eight weeks that have been pretty extraordinary and a Prime Minister that's stepped up and got us through a real health crisis. But as we move into an economic one, it looks a bit different."

The latest poll results.
The latest poll results. Photo credit: Newshub.

Bennett is also the party's campaign manager. She wouldn't say if she'd remain in that role should Muller and Kaye take the reins, saying it would be up to whoever's in charge after Friday's vote.

"We're a big party that is actually a family, and sometimes that family has an argument... We will get through the next couple of days then I have every confidence we'll get on message." 

Todd Muller.
Todd Muller. Photo credit: Getty

While National faces an uphill battle to win in September, the current Government is the proof it can be done. Four months ahead of the 2017 election, Labour were on 26.4 percent in the Newshub-Reid Research poll, 21 points behind National. With help from New Zealand First and the Greens - and a last-minute leadership change - they went on to win. 

"Four months ago the polls were saying National would lead the next Government," said Bennett. "And in four months' time, we plan on that happening again." 

Four months ago while the polls generally had National slightly ahead of Labour, they didn't have a viable path to victory, with ACT not bringing in enough MPs to forge a majority for the centre-right.