Political scientist I'm not, but I don't believe the present government is as popular as recent polling would have us believe. That's not to say the polling's wrong. Confused? You're not Robinson Crusoe. Seems to me the electorate is confused, hence the polls being as they are.
From what I'm seeing and hearing, the present National government is not particularly popular. In fact, there is significant disquiet and dissatisfaction about much of what is happening and what has and hasn't happened over the last two and three quarter years. I also think there is growing discontent with John Key as PM. So why are the polls telling us differently? Because right now, a majority of New Zealanders don't see a viable alternative. Firstly, a great many people who were not natural National voters gave their support to National and it's too soon for them to admit to themselves that they were wrong. Secondly, it's too soon for Labour to have any credibility in their criticism of things they could have - and didn't - fix while they had the opportunity. Thirdly, and most importantly, they have no X factor.
If an opposition party approaches an election when the incumbent party has been in government for two or three terms, they may not need an "X factor", because there is a natural tendency for people to become tired of the same old government and yearn for a change. So what is an X factor? Simply, something that excites, and despite having come up with a viable alternative to National's unpopular asset sales strategy, they haven't excited anyone. So it comes down to personalities (or more correctly, a personality). Personally, I see Phil Goff as intelligent, sound, pleasant, and eloquent and I would be quite happy to have him as a PM. But that isn't going to get Labour across the line, and to be honest it isn't even going to get them into the stadium. They need a strong personality who'll capture the public imagination. A Norm Kirk. A David Lange. A Robert Muldoon (God forbid!).
It seems me that Phil Goff has seen the perceived success of John Key and tried to emulate his relaxed, blokey style, instead of setting himself apart and showing a bit of mongrel. Maybe that just isn't his style, but if he can't make himself a point of difference (read X factor), then despite his qualities he should go. Probably too late to change before the election, but then I suspect that after another term of National government, an X factor may not be needed.