Just across the water, consumed by the full swing of election campaigning, New Zealand is gripped by an astonishing political fever. What has been coined by local media as “Jacinda-mania” has sparked interest around the world. So what exactly is it, and how will it impact the fast-approaching elections on the 23 September?
Just two months before the General Election in New Zealand, 37-year-old Jacinda Arden, member for Mount Albert, took the reins of the Labour party. Since that day, her fervent public engagement during the campaign, and her widespread popularity have been attributed to Labour’s rebound in the polls. In the short space of time since her ascension to leader, the Colmar Bunton poll has shown a 20% swing to Labour. This has been an astonishing reversal of fortune, placing Labour at 43%, not only back in the race but ahead of the incumbent National Party (on 39%).
With Labour having looked set for a crushing defeat, Andrew Little, Leader of the Labour Party since 2014, stepped down from the role on the 1st of August. Labour had been experiencing a downward spiral in the polls, hitting as low as 23%. This, despite Little’s continued popularity within the party, ultimately led to his resignation. This prompted Jacinda Arden, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party since March, to be elected unanimously as Party Leader.
Born in 1980, Jacinda was elected as an MP to a List Seat for the Labour Party in 2008, making her the youngest sitting MP in the New Zealand Parliament. She was re-elected on the Party List in subsequent 2011, 2014, and 2017 elections. However, on 25 February of this year she resigned her List seat and successfully contested the safe Labour seat of Mount Albert in a by-election, coming away with 77.4% of the vote. Only two weeks later she was elected Deputy Leader following the retirement of Annette King. Only five months later she became Leader of a flailing Labour Party. The mania began the next day.
Within two days, the New Zealand Labour Party had received more than $200, 000 NZD in political donations. Polls regarding the public voting intentions dramatically changed, as did those relating to the preferred Prime Minister.
While former Leader of the Labour Party, Andrew Little, could only muster 6%, in a Colmar Brunton poll from the 22-26 July regarding preferred Prime Minister, current Prime Minister and Leader of the National Party, Bill English, sat well ahead on 28%. However, in the first poll by Colmar Brunton following Labour’s leadership change (conducted from 12-16 August) Jacinda Arden polled on par with English at 30%. The latest poll conducted from 2-6 September showed her breaking-away, amassing 35% to English’s 31%.
Party voter intention has followed this trend, with Labour taking the lead from the National Party for the first time since they entered opposition in 2008. In a recent poll (Colmar Brunton 2-6 September) saw Labour drawing in 43%, against 39% for National, 9% New Zealand First, and 5% for the Green Party. This suggests that the swing of voter intentions toward the Labour Party have mostly been drawn from the National Party and the Green Party.
So what is it about Jacinda Arden that has drawn so many people to her so quickly? Many political commentators have attributed a large amount of her popularity to her positivity, charisma, and her connection on a personal level with the public. The campaign trail has been continuously punctuated by hugs and selfies, demonstrating Jacinda’s openness to interact with the vast public who want to engage, not only with her but the political system.
Furthermore, she is credited with excellent communication skills in front of the cameras and the seemingly effortless ability to think on her feet. This could not have been any more obvious than in her first radio interview the day after becoming Leader of the Opposition. When questioned on the AM Show by host Mark Richardson over plans to have children she hit back in no uncertain terms, stating that it is “unacceptable in 2017” to question women over maternity plans when entering a job, as this should not determine their employment.
Her election campaign has been characterised by her “relentless positivity” and even embracing criticism by English that she was just stardust soon to settle, immediately rolling out the campaign slogan “This Stardust won’t settle, because none of us should settle.” It should be noted however that polling has normalised recently, with Reid Research showing a National lead and a slowdown in Labour’s rise in the polls.
Will she come to be credited with reinvigorating the politically disengaged and disenchanted, as Canada and France’s youthful leaders Trudeau and Macron have done? Winning this election, will not only rely on polling, but the ability to mobilise supporters to come out and vote. This is something that has proven difficult in the past, as voting in non-compulsory in New Zealand. However, she is expected to attract and engage younger voters, who in the last New Zealand General Election had the lowest turnout of around 62% (for those aged 18-29), compared to the overall participation of 76.77%.
Already polls have shown a strong support amongst those enrolled to vote on the Maori List. Currently in New Zealand there are seven Maori electorates. Those of Maori decent can enrol to vote on the General or Maori list. A poll of conducted by Maori Television-Reid Research of voters enrolled on the Maori list indicate a strong backing for Jacinda Arden, especially since the appoint of Maori Deputy Leader Kelvin Davis, with 42.2% as preferred Prime Minister, far ahead of New Zealand First’s Winston Peters on 17.5% and the National’s Bill English on 5.5%.
Based on the most recent polling by Colmar Brunton, the Labour party would win 53 seats, the National Party 48, New Zealand First 11, and the Green Party 6 seats. Other polling has been less optimistic; the Labour Party is still in a strong position to win the election, especially considering the timeline Jacinda had. This would mean no party would have the governing majority of 61 seats outright, and a coalition would need to be formed. Unlike a few weeks ago, before the mania hit like a shower of stardust, after nine years out of office the Labour Party is glowing at the very real possibility of forming the next government of New Zealand. We may just see the second youngest Prime Minister of New Zealand since Edward Stafford in 1856, and the third female Prime Minister ever to take up office.
Words By Samantha Goerling
The New Zealand General elections will be held on the 23rd September 2017 and advance voting began on Monday the 11th of September 2017.