Tova O'Brien: Politically Simon Bridges is a dead man walking

It's nearly impossible to see National leader Simon Bridges holding onto the leadership with Newshub's latest poll numbers - his MPs have been agitated and agitating since COVID-19 and were waiting, impatiently, for this moment.

Having been frozen out of seeing their own internal party polling for months and not trusting Labour's polling company, this was the moment National's caucus had been waiting for. The impetus and excuse they've needed to sharpen the knives.

Bridges has struggled to get any airtime with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern sucking up all the oxygen during the COVID-19 response and on the few occasions he has made headlines, it's been for all the wrong reasons.

Things will likely level off a bit more ahead of the election.

The latest Newshub-Reid Research Poll takes into account the COVID-19 response and half of it was done after the Budget so it also reflects a $50 billion Budget-bump.

But it is in line with the polling we saw after the Christchurch attacks - Jacinda Ardern is a great leader in a crisis. The polls reacted similarly with John Key after the Christchurch earthquakes.

These are the people New Zealanders trust to lead - and Simon Bridges isn't among them.

Bridges has done some really good work on the COVID-19 Epidemic Response Committee but it's not been enough for his MPs. Their jobs are on the line - list MPs, marginal electorate seat MPs - they're likely out of Parliament on these numbers so they will be making moves.

It used to be that National MPs would speak to Newshub on the quiet, anonymously, as protected sources. By the end of last week MPs were brazenly, openly discussing Bridges' leadership in our office in front of everyone - sometimes strangers to them - publicly undermining him.

One MP said - in front of a room of five journalists - that Bridges' future hinges on the next public poll. It used to be that if National got anything under 40 percent MPs would consider making moves but now they're saying under 36-37 percent.

Well 30.6 percent - even with those shifted goal posts - is fatal. Politically Bridges is a dead man walking.

He's saved only by the prospect of no one stepping forward - no one wanting to be the sacrificial lamb, no one game enough to go into battle against Ardern. To lose and then themselves be rolled as leader, missing out on that once in a lifetime shot to be leader and Prime Minister.

Any contenders will be weighing that up against the hope that if they can improve the numbers for the party they might just be able to hold onto the job even if they lose the election. This will be especially appealing with leadership hopeful Christopher Luxon likely stepping into the frame, assuming a Botany win.

Bridges is a fighter, and he's also a politician, which comes with it a special helping of arrogance. He won't give up the leadership easily. He suffered through the Jami-Lee Ross debacle and like some kind of masochistic Lazarus, he rose again and came back for more.

But the upshot is that even if, by some miracle, Bridges does stay on, he does so as a lame duck leader whose MPs are openly ridiculing him to the media. He has very little respect from his divided caucus or the public. There comes a point when you've gotta ask yourself, is it worth it?

The latest Newshub-Reid Research Poll was conducted between 8-16 May with half of the responses taken after the Budget. The poll has a maximum sample error of +/- 3.1 percent.