Jacinda Ardern: New Zealand’s Most Popular Prime Minister

Tallying the results of recent polls, it has become clear that Jacinda Ardern is New Zealand’s most successful prime minister in a century. Ardern’s Labour Party jumped 14 points to 56.5 per cent in the first poll since the coronavirus outbreak – the highest of any party throughout New Zealand’s history. Ardern’s popularity sat at 59.5 per cent. This is up 20.8 points on the previous poll and the highest score for any leader in the history of the Newshub-Reid Research poll. “It speaks to the work we’ve jointly done,” Ardern told Newshub. “I just happen to have had the humble and privileged opportunity to be leading at this time.” Ardern has continuously been a model for true leadership throughout this pandemic. During a press conference on May 11th, she thanked her “team of five million” for their great efforts and the sacrifices they had made to protect the country’s most vulnerable. New Zealanders coined the phrase “Jacinda-mania”. This is in light of Ardern’s rise to becoming the country’s youngest prime minister and third woman to hold office. Therefore, it is important for other nations to put New Zealand under a microscope and evaluate what components Ardern and her nation have used to achieve safety and success during the first wave of COVID-19.

It can be argued that Ardern’s tactics for the country were similar to that of the All Blacks rugby team: “We go hard, we go early.” On March 21st, Boris Johnson was still resisting a lockdown, and Donald Trump had been sending an array of mixed messages about schooling, science and even hand-shakes. New Zealand saw this as a prime example of what not to do. Ardern, in an address to the nation, referred to this period as their “window of opportunity”. Ardern is particularly praised for the level of simplicity she used in her address. She explained in a detailed yet clear way the four-level Alert System, and what each would require of the government and of the nation’s citizens. Leaving few questions unanswered, it gave her country and its people concise guidelines on how to behave. Ardern chose humanity over the economy, using both as focal points when guiding the country through each Alert phase. Ardern never lost sight of realism within her direction through this unprecedented time. Admitting she was demanding “the most significant restriction of movement in modern history.” She set out how schools, bars, restaurants, cafes, pools, playgrounds and all non-essential businesses would close. What she provided was immediate clarity to numerous situations whilst other countries found themselves in a haze for far too long. For example, she spelled out exactly who were essential workers and exactly what kind of testing that they aimed to achieve. When asked if she was scared, her response can be described as nothing but solidifying immense comfort to her people. “No,” she said, “because we have a plan.”

New Zealand is in Alert Level 2 whilst continuing to enforce strict social distancing measures, with businesses such as shopping centres, cafes and cinemas reopening in recent weeks. Ardern’s latest proposal was made during a Facebook Live interview. She believes that a four-day work week could be successful, citing that it may boost work productivity and help to rebuild the country after COVID-19. “I hear lots of people suggesting we should have a four-day work week. Ultimately that really sits between employers and employees,” said Ardern. “But as I’ve said there’s just so much we’ve learnt about COVID and that flexibility of people working from home, the productivity that can be driven out of that.”

There has been a swift decline in New Zealand’s coronavirus cases, with 1,499 infected in total and 21 dead. It is worth noting the somewhat privileged position New Zealand found itself in. With a population of five million, it has the advantage of closing its borders. Additionally, unlike New York or London, cities are not as densely packed. Yet, this cannot deduct from Ardern’s prosperity. She has maintained a connectivity to the people of New Zealand in a way other countries should strive to emulate. Ardern is the only one who seems to be smiling as much in the crisis as she does in what might be termed ‘normal times’. Her infectious positivity and drive are primary factors for her country’s unwavering faith in her leadership.

Ruth Foran