Labour laughed at Simon Bridges and Todd Muller, but are taking Judith Collins seriously - expert

The National Party, struggling in the polls and on their third leader in two months, "have got their mojo back" under Judith Collins, a political scientist has claimed.

Collins, who failed to win over her caucus in prior leadership voters, took the reins on Tuesday after Todd Muller quit just 53 days into the job.

Despite one of her own caucus calling her a "placeholder" leader for an election they expect to lose, Collins told Newshub Nation at the weekend she has "no intention of losing" and cracking 40 percent in the party vote is "not going to be a problem".

Victoria University politics professor Bryce Edwards told The AM Show on Monday she's off to a good start, and hasn't been "that outrageously right-wing yet", which would put off swing voters.

"She's been competent, she's had very good announcements... the reshuffle has been impressive for most people, I think. I've just never seen so much positive coverage of a National Party leader in many, many years - going back to the [John] Key days. 

"And even the negative stuff, where her opponents and critics - especially from the left - are criticising her, it's not in the way that they [criticised] Simon Bridges. Under Simon Bridges, Todd Muller, they were kind of laughing at him. Whereas at least the left are taking her seriously. They're scared of her, if anything. I think she'll love that. National loves that. They have got their mojo back."

Collins is seen as more to the right of the party than previous leadership duo Muller and Nikki Kaye. While this might energise the diehards, Dr Edwards said it "could be difficult for her" to win over undecideds.

"She's kind of shoring up that base at the moment, but at some stage she's going to have to shift back towards the centre."

Even if National enjoys the kind of swing Labour had in 2017 when Jacinda Ardern took over just before the election, the party will likely need coalition partners. Under Key's leadership, that was ACT, United Future and the Māori Party. While ACT is looking like it'll bring in more than one MP for the first time since 2008, the Māori Party is struggling and United Future no longer exists.

That leaves New Zealand First, which the party has in recent years ruled out working with. Collins at the weekend said that remained the case, but Dr Edwards said he suspects she'll buckle if NZ First holds the balance of power after the votes are counted on September 19. 

Bryce Edwards.
Bryce Edwards. Photo credit: The AM Show

But he doesn't think NZ First will make it back into Parliament - and Collins might be to blame (or thank, depending on your views). 

"With a resurgent National Party under Collins that's got their mojo back, those more conservative voters have got somewhere to go."