WELLINGTON: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s success containing coronavirus has driven an extraordinary popularity surge that has put the youthful leader on course for a landslide win in September’s national election.
Ardern’s centre-left Labour Party was up 14 points at 56.5%, a Newshub-Reid Research poll published Monday found, with her rating as preferred prime minister surging 20.8 points to 59.5%.
The survey also indicated an overwhelming 91.6% backing for Ardern’s Covid-19 response, which involved a strict seven-week lockdown that appears to have the virus under control.
Support for the conservative National opposition slumped 12.7 points to 30.6% in the poll, with its leader Simon Bridges on 4.5% as preferred Prime Minister – down 6.1 points.
The figures mirror leaked research from Labour’s own pollster, UMR, last month which had Ardern’s party on 55% support and National at 29%.
Ardern, who won office on a wave of “Jacinda-mania” in 2017, said she was making no assumptions about the Sept 19 election.
“I’m taking nothing for granted,” the 39-year-old told Newshub.
“The fact that I’m making no assumptions about what will be the end outcome will be on election day should be a nod to that.”
Ardern’s personal approval rating is comparable to the 65% some polls gave former centre-right leader John Key, who won three elections before stepping down in 2016.
The support for Labour will be even more heartening for Ardern, giving the party the chance to govern in its own right for the first time since a German-style proportional voting system was introduced in 1996.
Ardern took Labour from the doldrums in the 2017 election, lifting its vote by almost 13 points to 36.9%.
But she still needed support from minor parties to form office and National attracted the most support of any single party with 44.4%.
Ardern gained international acclaim for her empathetic response to last year’s Christchurch mosques massacre, when a lone gunman murdered 51 Muslim worshippers.
But it was not reflected in polling and before the pandemic, indications were that Labour’s support had plateaued, with Ardern set to struggle in the September election because voters were turning away from her coalition partners.
Whether the latest jump in support can be maintained will depend on the long-term success of Ardern’s “go fast-go hard” coronavirus strategy.
It appears to be working so far, with New Zealand recording only 21 Covid-19 deaths in a population of five million.