Simon Bridges has revealed National MPs are talking to one another about their shockingly bad result in a recent poll, but says he hasn't personally been questioning Judith Collins' leadership.
A poll carried out by Curia for the Taxpayers' Union, released this week, had the party on just 21.8 percent - well below their election result last year, the party's worst in almost two decades.
Unlike with some other polls, the party couldn't completely dismiss it - Curia is run by National-aligned blogger David Farrar, whom former National leader and Prime Minister Sir John Key once called "the best pollster in New Zealand".
"We accept it's not a good poll, and we've got to own that," Bridges told The AM Show on Friday.
"But what's also true is it's one poll. I don't think anyone would be doing anything off the back of a poll."
Bridges once led the party, but was rolled after a series of bad polls in May last year. RNZ's Mediawatch ran the headline 'Bridges rolled after polls pile on the pressure', and in the week leading up to his demotion Newshub ran a poll which saw National drop 12.7 percentage points.
Bridges said like then, the country was in lockdown.
"We know from our experience that in the age of COVID, with lockdowns, there tends to be a rallying around the Government. Our focus right now has to be on the issues."
AM Show host Ryan Bridge said the party's leader, Collins, appears to be focused on anything but the issues - getting sidetracked into things like debating the weight of a prominent scientist.
"Are you aware of any National Party's MPs speaking to each other in the past week disapproving of Judtihs' performance?" the host asked.
"It's inevitable when you have a poll that's not good that people want to talk about that and what that means," Bridges replied. "But I can be categorical with you - I'm not having those conversations. I'm not talking with people about those things that you've mentioned."
There has been speculation Bridges could return to the leadership.
"Are you the booster shot that National's looking for, Simon?" joked Labour's David Parker, appearing on The AM Show alongside the MP for Tauranga.
"How long did you practise that one for, David?" Bridges laughed.
Bridge - the host - asked Bridges - the MP - if perhaps the party should wait until next year to roll Collins.
"I don't know what you're talking about," Bridges said. "What I do think is true… is National shouldn't overreact to a poll. That's not something a large, responsible political party should do when New Zealnders have issues we should be focused on."
More shocking details from the Curia poll were revealed on Friday morning by National-aligned political commentator and operative Matthew Hooton. Writing for the NZ Herald, he said the Taxpayers' Union sent out more findings from the poll on Thursday night - including that National has only 15 percent support in voters aged under 40, fourth behind Labour, the Greens and ACT.
Another demoralising tidbit was Jacinda Ardern - Labour Prime Minister and former president of the International Union of Socialist Youth - was ranked as preferred Prime Minister by 7 percent of National voters, ahead of Bridges on 3 percent.
Collins is behind ACT Party leader David Seymour 17-14 amongst her own party's voters. Another name touted as a potential leader, former Air NZ boss Christopher Luxon, was picked by 11 percent.
"The headline poll numbers released this week by the Taxpayers' Union and those leaked by Talbot Mills' clients are horrifying for National," Hooton wrote, "but the fine-print is worse".
Asked for advice on how National could recover, Parker said he had none.
"It's true all parties suffer declines - this is a particularly large one, but I've been there in my political life. Our party's been down. It does take a long time to come back from something like this, but hope springs eternal."