Who is Jacinda Ardern 1

New Zealand: Why Jacinda Ardern Is So Successful As Prime Minister

Jacinda Ardern has recently become the most popular Prime Minister there has ever been in recent New Zealand history - or at least since the first systematic opinion polls took place in the country, i.e. since the 1970s. It is certainly true that it won the hearts and minds of many New Zealanders after the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. In the international media, she has often been praised as an inspiring head of state - in the country itself, however, her personal popularity and that of her moderate left Labor Party before Covid-19 were more restrained.

63 percent support Ardern

According to a Colmar-Brunton survey from November 2019, Ardern's approval ratings as Prime Minister were significantly higher than those of her direct opponent (36 percent versus 10 percent). Support for the Labor Party was 39 percent, only two percentage points above the 2017 election result. The opposition, the moderate right-wing national party, was 46 percent. This hardly changed until February 2020: Ardern's personal popularity rose by six percentage points and Labor gained two points, but support for the opposition remained high. Commentators have already said that the parliamentary elections in September 2020 could be close.

Between March and May, however, the picture changed with the global Covid-19 chaos. Colmar Brunton's first poll during the pandemic hit the headlines with a tectonic shift in the political landscape: support for Labor rose 18 percentage points to 59 percent, while that for the National Party fell 17 points to 29 percent. 63 percent of those surveyed named Jacinda Ardern their preferred prime minister. That figure was above the 59 percent that the popular former Prime Minister John Key of the National Party had achieved in September 2011.

The Prime Minister sets the tone

A week later, according to an IPSOS poll, the Labor Party was named among 1,000 respondents as the party best placed to tackle the country's most pressing challenges. The main concerns were the economy, unemployment, housing, health, poverty and inflation, and in each of these areas (and nine others) Labor was able to improve its fitness scores.

At least in part, this positive assessment can be attributed to the government's handling of Covid-19. This applies not only to the political decisions, but also to the way in which Jacinda Ardern communicated the need for a New Zealand lockdown: Her rhetorical approach was characterized by a warm, calm and sometimes funny determination with which she the New Zealanders called for people to be kind, to "unite," "stay home and safe," and to create a "bubble" of loved ones to prevent the transmission of the disease. Together with the Director General for Health, she announced these messages formally on a daily basis in the news media, and in a more relaxed tone on Facebook and Instagram. And almost every day, hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders tuned in to hear their latest announcements.

With baby in the UN General Assembly

However, if you focus on Ardern's Covid-19 policy in New Zealand, you run the risk of overlooking her previous services as prime minister. The extent of the challenges that it had to overcome compared to its predecessors also plays a role here. In particular, in 2017 she set up a coalition with both a populist conservative party and the Greens for her second-placed party - which was completely new in the New Zealand version of the German personalized proportional representation system. It is an unusual political constellation, but one that actually survived.

In 2018, Ardern became the second woman in the world to have a child during her tenure as Prime Minister, refuting some male commentators who opposed a combination of motherhood and political leadership. After that, she was the first politician to take her baby to the United Nations General Assembly. And in 2019 she responded to the terrorist attacks on mosques in Christchurch and the deadly volcanic eruption on Whakaari (the White Island) with determination and compassion.

Reduction of child poverty enshrined in law

During all this time she stressed in her speeches the importance of kindness and dedication for the present and future generations - both in the government process and in the results achieved. She made sure that child poverty reduction was enshrined in law; it has authorized its Treasury Secretary to base New Zealand budget spending on wellbeing rather than traditional growth figures; and it has enabled its coalition partners to implement political initiatives in regional development and against climate change.

Originally there was a lot of talk about "change". But Ardern's government has not reinvented social democracy for the 21st century - the restrictions of a coalition government and the need to be seen as “budgetary” made it impossible. Consistently low values ​​for entrepreneurial trust and a conservative approach to urgently needed improvements in social benefits and fair wage agreements meant that a second term in office for the government was by no means in sight at the beginning of 2020.

Govern and communicate with determination

But then came Covid-19, and Ardern's previous experience in crisis management paid off - as did her innate ability to communicate and govern with calm determination. So this country with five million inhabitants was able to unite around the decision of its government to isolate itself and then slowly and gradually return to a kind of normality.

The National Party has swapped leadership to win back some of Ardern's supporters, but with little success. The right-wing trolls continue their anti-Ardern campaign and their jealous hashtags on social media, releasing their horror that a progressive young woman is seen as a beacon of hope.

Despite their popularity, New Zealanders are unlikely to secure a majority government in Ardern in the September elections. Many citizens split their votes between two parties to ensure some control over the executive branch. In addition, the latest OECD projections suggest that the economic consequences of the New Zealand lockdown measures could be severe and permanent. With unemployment expected to rise over the next few months, support for Labor could prove fragile. On the other hand, as part of its May 2020 budget, the government has launched a 50 billion New Zealand dollar response and recovery fund against Covid-19. A significant proportion of the 30 billion that has already been approved for this will go into physical infrastructure projects and training places in the retail sector.

Seen in this light, the government led by Ardern is somewhat reminiscent of old-time social democracy - a party that represents the goals of working-class men. So it is not surprising that some voices loudly advocated the allocation of the remaining 20 billion dollars with the help of gender-political glasses. Women's rights groups are increasingly demanding that Jacinda Ardern should use her political capital to significantly improve the material prosperity of women after Covid-19. In the past, winning the votes of women has been important to Labour's success.

With less than a hundred days to go to the election and a security cushion of around ten percent, Ardern appears to be in a strong position to regain government after September 19. In fact, the Labor Party is now the favorite in this election. It remains to be seen whether their victory can give New Zealand a more progressive and inclusive social democratic image.

Published on June 18 in the IPG-Journal.