NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's popularity has nosedived to its lowest level since she took on the top job, with voter support collapsing over her harsh Covid agenda and the nation's cost of living crisis.
Support for Ardern fell by three points to just 30 per cent as preferred PM, marking her worst approval rating since coming into office in 2017.
The shocking result indicates Ardern's Labour government will have an uphill battle ahead of the next election which will be held before January 2024.
Ardern has been in damage control after her controversial handling of the pandemic has led to large-scale protests across the country as Kiwis severely impacted by government policies left struggling to make ends meet in the resulting cost of living crisis.
Outraged New Zealanders are planning major anti-government protests in coming weeks in response to the Ardern government's handling of the pandemic, which after two long years of drastic policies, failed to keep the virus out, with the public now feeling the economic fallout.
Ardern has long enjoyed the adoration of the global mainstream press, which reported glowingly on her response to Covid-19 early in the pandemic, portraying her and New Zealand as a role model for the world.
Journalists and academics praised Ardern for her empathetic nature and 'trust-building' during daily briefings to the public, with The Guardian last year gushing over her handling of the pandemic, reporting:
Over the past year, those briefings became a subject of study for researchers examining how political communication can fuel trust and mobilise populations. They are, researchers say, just part of the answer to why trust levels in New Zealand have remained high – even as in some countries trust in governments and other institutions has slumped.
“It became kind of a cultural phenomenon,” says science communication expert Rebecca Priestley, of Victoria University’s Centre for Science in Society. “We were getting information directly from the prime minister and from the director general of health and other representatives in a way that’s quite unusual.”
While the press were busy fawning over Ardern's leadership style, critics flagged concern with her approach as the nation's 'single source of truth'.
“We will continue to be your single source of truth. Unless you hear it from us it is not the truth,” Ardern told New Zealanders early in the crisis.
Left-wing outlets, however, continued to deflect and run interference for the PM:
New Zealand’s embrace of elimination rankled some overseas commentators, who accused the country’s government of “nannying its population into isolation and quiescence”. But experts say that trust and social capital could prove crucial to countries emerging from the pandemic – as well as boosting their chances of solving myriad other social problems," reported The Guardian.
Recently Ardern caused a stir when she was photographed in a crowd of more than 100 people without a face mask - just days after calling for Kiwis to wear them.
Covid-19 has become the equal leading cause of death in New Zealand for the first time despite the country having some of the strictest lockdown conditions under a tough 'Zero Covid' regime.
Despite the nation's high vaccination levels and widespread mask adoption, Covid-19 deaths made up almost 15% of deaths overall, referring to data analysis by the New Zealand Herald which also flagged the figures may even be under-reported as some people would have died of Covid-19 without being tested.
The nation's cost of living pressures with soaring inflation pushing up the price of essentials such as food and fuel have been a harsh reality-check for Labour with its approval down 10 percentage points from where it was this time last year.