For political nerds and tragics the 2020 election was about as boring as it could get with no race to be seen and an inevitable landslide victory for Labour. Monday night’s polls show 2023 will be a return to MMP – a race down to the wire and the result determined by coalition talks.

There is nothing more exciting nine months from an election than having absolutely no idea who will be in government at the end of the vote counting.

Monday night’s double-poll delight has taken the wind out of National’s pre-Christmas sails, where Christopher Luxon’s party with ACT were able to comfortably govern on the results of both the 1News-Kantar Public poll and Newshub Reid Research’s.

Latest numbers, just a week after Chris Hipkins was announced the new Labour Party leader and Prime Minister, has the governing party back in the race, up five points in both polls to 38 percentage points while National is down to 37.

On Monday’s numbers National has two more seats than Labour but neither can govern with their respective partners, ACT and the Greens.

If Te Pāti Māori were to swing in behind Labour and the Greens, it would give the centre-left bloc the two seats it needs to be neck and neck with National and ACT.

But, it would still be a hung Parliament with both blocs securing just 60 seats – one short on the 61 needed to form a government.

They are nightmare polls for forming a government but dream results for Labour and its new leader after it continued to lose support steadily over the course of last year under Jacinda Ardern.

It seems Kiwis are yet to connect with the Luxon brand and are now more trusting of Hipkins despite him only being in the job five minutes.

The polls not only capture Hipkins’ early days in the job, but in the case of 1News it also takes into account his handling of Auckland’s state of emergency flooding at the weekend with polling not closing until Sunday night.

Hipkins being on the ground in Auckland as quickly as flights allowed was an important first step.

While the city’s Mayor, Wayne Brown, is taking a hammering for his handling of the response in the first hours, Hipkins had the advantage of having a bit more time to get his response sorted, given the initial flooding was squarely in the domain of local government.

Hipkins knows the ins and outs of a crisis having been at the forefront of the Covid-19 pandemic response and while the over-exposure of Ardern started to negatively impact the then-prime minister, for the most part Hipkins seems to be seen as a safe pair of hands and someone with his head screwed on to make tough decisions under pressure.

While National will be disappointed to lose its leading spot in the polls, the bigger concern for the Opposition is Hipkins beating Luxon in the preferred Prime Minister polling, approval ratings, and on the matter of trust in leadership.

While 52.9 percent said they trusted Hipkins, just 36.9 percent said the same for Luxon in the Newshub poll.

Likewise, when it came to approval ratings in the 1News poll, Hipkins had an approval of 46 percent and disapproval of 10 percent while Luxon’s approval was 42 percent, and his disapproval was only slightly behind on 34 percent.

Heading into the summer break, Luxon already knew he needed to work on his personal polling after Ardern continued to beat him in the preferred Prime Minister stakes despite Labour’s party polling slipping.

It seems Kiwis are yet to connect with the Luxon brand and are now more trusting of Hipkins despite him only being in the job five minutes.

Te Pāti Māori is very much lining itself up to be the deciding factor come election day on October 14 and Labour may have helped it out already with Speaker Adrian Rurawhe announcing he’s not contesting the Māori seat of Te Tai Hauāuru.

With no incumbent MP, the seat is opened wide up and Te Pāti Māori co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer has been putting in the hard yards in the electorate the past two years.

Te Pāti Māori looks set to be in the position of deciding who is in power after October 14 and for both Labour and National that might mean a significant shift in policy from where they are today.

National’s promise to scrap Three Waters and the Māori Health Authority in particular have not sat well with Te Pāti Māori, nor has the Opposition’s determination to push co-governance as separatism. And its partnership with ACT is even more unhelpful if it comes to trying to form a coalition with the two parties.

While Labour is arguably in the easier position, given it already holds six of the seven Māori seats, it knows too well how easily that electorate can disappear if taken for granted.

With Hipkins set to make some tough decisions on co-governance and water rights, doing a u-turn to appease disgruntled swing voters now has to be balanced against the possibility of it costing Labour a third term.

Jo Moir is Newsroom's political editor.

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