New Zealand’s Labour party has seen a boost in its popularity after the resignation of Jacinda Ardern, according to two new polls, in some of the party’s best results in a year.
The polls, released on Monday night, are the first to be taken in the wake of Ardern’s shock exit, and show a rise in support for both the party and the new prime minister Chris Hipkins, who assumed office last week and immediately faced catastrophic flooding in New Zealand’s biggest city.
In the 1 News Kantar poll, the Labour party gained five percentage points, polling at 38% – one point ahead of the centre-right National party, and Labour’s best result since January 2022. Another poll, conducted by Newshub-Reid Research also showed Labour on 38%, up 5.7 points.
The polls were conducted before the flooding in Auckland and therefore do not capture New Zealanders’ assessment of the government handling of the crisis. A state of emergency remains in place in Auckland, where the flood waters have killed at least four people, displaced hundreds, and seen homes carried off their foundations or destroyed by landslides.
A “honeymoon bump” of a few points is reasonably common for new political leaders in New Zealand, and the news of Ardern’s resignation and replacement guaranteed Hipkins high levels of media coverage and name recognition.
The Newshub-Reid Research poll, however, indicated that Hipkins – known to New Zealanders as the face of the country’s Covid response – has also won a level of trust that his opponent, ex-business executive Christopher Luxon, struggled to match.
Asked whether they trusted both the major party leaders, 52.9% of voters said they trust Hipkins, while 26.9% didn’t trust him. Just 36.9% said they trusted Luxon, compared with 43.8% who said they didn’t. Kantar’s poll also placed Hipkins ahead of his opponent on overall approval. The prime minister’s approval rating was 46%, compared with disapproval rate of 10%. Luxon’s approval rating was 43%, but he faced far higher disapproval, at 34%.
Hipkins told Newshub that trust “matters an enormous amount to me”.
“I’ve always tried to be upfront with New Zealanders and I’ve always found a good level of support comes from that.”
Luxon said the result was “not unexpected – a new leader gets a bounce in the polls.”
“My job over the next year is to make sure people understand they can trust me,” he said.
Hipkins’ promise to “refocus” the government on the economy and the cost of living crisis may also have moved the needle. While economic confidence remains low, voters were more optimistic about New Zealand’s economic outlook than they were at the end of last year, with 28% saying they believed the economy would improve in the next 12 months, compared with 18% in late 2022.
However, even with the most recent boost in polling, Labour would face a narrow pathway to re-election, and the latest results predict an extremely tight vote in October. With the right-wing libertarian Act party polling at about 10%, and the left Green party at 7-8%, the traditional right bloc would sit at about 47%, and the left at 46% – leaving the balance of power with the Māori party.