Prime minister Jacinda Ardern’s chances of re-election are looking shakier, with new polling indicating that the country’s right leaning coalition has enough support to form government.
The latest 1 News/Kantar poll, taken as the cost of living soars in New Zealand, marked Ardern’s worst result in the preferred prime minister stakes since her tenure as leader began. Despite falling three points as preferred PM, however, she is still ahead of National’s Chris Luxon, 30% to 22%.
The centre-right National party remained ahead of the Ardern-led Labour party, at 37% to 33%. If National joined forces with its traditional partner, the libertarian-right Act party, on 11%, the two would have enough seats to form a government.
The Labour party, meanwhile, if it combined with traditional partners the Greens, at 9%, would fall short of government. Its other potential coalition partner, Te Pāti Māori, held 2% of the vote – not enough to push the left over the edge.
Those results are an improvement for the right bloc, driven by a four-percentage-point rise for Act. Previous Kantar polls had Te Pāti Māori – which has ruled out working with a National-Act coalition – holding the balance of power.
Those poll results represent a remarkable fall from Labour’s last election, where the party, buoyed up by the success of its pandemic management and Ardern’s popularity, won enough support to govern alone.
The poll comes with an election still more than a year away, and with time for Ardern’s government to rise in popularity again, but continue a months-long trend of slumping support for the incumbent government, as the cost of living rises and New Zealanders feel increasingly gloomy about the country’s economic outlook.
Ardern told TVNZ that the results reflected tough economic times both in New Zealand and abroad.
“But New Zealand has advantages as well. I do look to those causes of optimism – low unemployment, low relative debt, and the fact that we have our borders, tourism coming back. Those things will give a boost – a much-needed boost to us – going forward,” she said.
It’s likely that the government’s low polling has economic drivers. The Kantar poll also found New Zealanders were broadly pessimistic about the economy, with 49% believing it would worsen in the next 12 months, compared with 26% who thought it would improve and 25% who thought it would remain the same.
New Zealand is experiencing inflation rates of 7.3%, a 32-year high. The country’s stratospherically high house prices have been falling – which hurts some homeowners – but rising mortgage interest rates and high costs of building materials mean new buyers are still struggling to get into the market.
Rents, too, are rising: Statistics New Zealand figures in May showed new leases were up 6.9%, with rents across the board up 3.9%. Those factors mean that even with low unemployment, many New Zealanders are feeling the squeeze, and struggling to deal with rising day-to-day expenses.