Ardern still standing, but shaken by duo of poor polls
Two bad polls does not the death of Jacindamania make - but there are enough dark clouds at home and abroad for the Prime Minister to harbour real concerns ahead of the 2020 election.
On any normal day, the news that Elton John had named Jacinda Ardern as the living woman he’d most like to be would serve as grounds for tremendous prime ministerial cheer.
But with a second damaging poll in the space of 24 hours, Ardern may have cause to reflect on John’s famous duet with George Michael, Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me.
Is this the beginning of the end for Ardern’s own double act with Winston Peters? Such proclamations seem premature, albeit understandable in the wake of One News’ and Newshub’s double whammy of bad news.
Identifying statistically meaningful trends in New Zealand politics can be difficult, given the paucity of public polling, but after dramatically different results earlier this year both TV outlets are now consistent in showing an erosion of support for Labour and Ardern.
Monday’s One News Colmar Brunton poll will be far more alarming for the Beehive than its Newshub Reid Research equivalent the day before, given the former shows National able to govern with ACT while the latter still gives the current coalition a majority.
Even the One News result relies on New Zealand First holding below the five percent threshold, somewhat unlikely given the party’s tendency to outperform its polls on election day.
Simply put, Labour has more electoral friends than National, and barring a Maori Party resurgence or dramatic change of heart from Winston Peters it seems likely to stay that way.
But Ardern and her team still have sufficient cause for concern given the downwards trend.
Her preferred prime minister rating has dropped to its lowest point since Simon Bridges took charge of National (albeit still with a handy lead over the opposition leader), and the combined slump for both Ardern and her party suggests voters are increasingly unhappy with what they’re seeing.
One obvious culprit is Labour’s botched handling of sexual assault allegations made against a party staffer, with Ardern’s brand tainted by her officials’ actions and the prospect of worse to come.
But there are also problems on the policy front, with KiwiBuild beset by failure and broader concerns from left and right about the Government’s failure to invest in infrastructure and public services.
The innate messiness of coalition politics must also be an impediment, with any semblance of message discipline often undercut by the differing needs of the coalition members.
On that front, Ardern was hardly helped by self-proclaimed “provincial champion” Shane Jones, whose ability to cause political discomfort extends far beyond New Zealand’s regions.
Ardern’s limp response...served as a reminder that there often seems to be one standard for New Zealand First and another for the rest of the coalition.
Sent off on holiday to Asia with instructions to peruse the Cabinet Manual after his political exhortations during a ministerial appearance, Jones seemingly preferred shooting to reading - snapped with what one gun expert told the NZ Herald appeared to be an AR-15 of the type banned in New Zealand following the March 15 terror attack.
Jones is perfectly entitled to undertake whichever (legal) leisure activities he enjoys, but he must have known how the photos would be perceived back home.
Ardern’s limp response, that while she would not have done the same it was Jones’ “wholehearted” support for the gun ban which was most important, served as a reminder that there often seems to be one standard for New Zealand First and another for the rest of the coalition.
Jones has told the Herald he will tighten up on his ministerial appearances following Ardern’s ticking off - but that should be taken with more than a few grains of salt, given his pledge to the same outlet in June that he would try to “tone down my approach” following a similar discussion with the Prime Minister.
But at least these domestic affairs are relatively within her control - the same cannot be said for fears of a global economic slowdown.
In her first speech since becoming head of the International Monetary Fund, Kristalina Georgieva last week warned of a growing gap between the need for countries to cooperate and their willingness to do so.
While Grant Robertson continues to hold back fiscal firepower for a worst-case scenario, there may be little that New Zealand can do to mitigate the effects of a US-China trade war and other geopolitical fractures.
The argument from some in government is that voters care less about political scandals like the sexual assault claims and more about the issues that affected their daily lives.
An economic downturn would certainly fall in the latter camp - and it may not matter whether the incumbent is responsible if voters feel the financial pain before the election.