Why is Jacinda Ardern cruising to reelection in New Zealand?

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern visits a NZ Labour Party South Auckland Get Out The Vote event on October 3, 2020

In recent months, New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has emerged as a global sensation, gracing the covers of Vogue and TIME and giving rise to a series of tweets about how great it would be to relocate to New Zealand.

And she's not just popular abroad. As New Zealanders head to the polls this week, her ruling Labour party has a double-digit lead. Ardern, the country's youngest living head of state, is all but assured to win a second term.

But it hasn't all been smooth sailing for Ardern in recent years. A closer look shows a society facing a number of serious challenges. So what accounts for Ardern's surging popularity? Why is she cruising to reelection?

Not all rosy. Before Ardern's effective handling of the pandemic boosted Labour's poll numbers, some analysts mused that Ardern, a darling-of the center- left, might be booted out of office after just one term.

That's because her government had failed to follow through on several key policy goals, including her flagship housing program, "KiwiBuild," intended to tackle the country's growing homelessness crisis. But after missing every single construction deadline, Ardern was forced to walk back her commitment, calling the plan "overly ambitious."

It was a massive setback for a prime minister who has sought to craft an image as a warrior for lower-income New Zealanders.

In the meantime, New Zealand's housing crisis has only gotten worse: Auckland, the most populous city, is one of the most expensive cities in the world to own a home, while a recent survey ranked all of New Zealand's major cities as "severely unaffordable."

Despite Ardern's efforts to tackle these bread and butter issues, the homelessness crisis has mostly deepened under her watch, while child poverty remains a persistent issue.

So why is Ardern so popular? During Ardern's relatively short time at the helm, New Zealand has faced a series of rare crises, including a rampage on two Christchurch mosques by a white supremacist that killed more than 50 people, as well as a string of natural disasters.

Now with the coronavirus onslaught, New Zealand's approach, which Ardern described as "go hard, go early," has been extremely effective at squashing the curve. (It included limits on domestic travel and early closures of school and non-essential businesses.) As a result, New Zealand's fatality rate is 0.5 per 100,000 population, compared with 66 in the US, and 4 in neighboring Australia.

Even beyond the success of her pandemic policies, Ardern has been widely praised for her compassionate and forthright leadership style. "There's a high level of trust and confidence in her [Ardern] because of that empathy," New Zealand's former prime minister Helen Clark recently told the Atlantic. This resonates beyond what might be considered her natural support base of social progressives.

The challenges ahead. While the victory of the Labour party is virtually assured at this point, New Zealand's incoming government will still face its share of significant challenges.

Economic recovery. New Zealand is currently suffering its worst recession since the 1980s. Between April and June alone, GDP shrank by more than 12 percent, largely because of lost income for the tourism industry, which generates $73.8 million (USD) per day. Steering the economic recovery while still waiting for a vaccine to be approved and distributed will not be an easy task.

China, China, China. Managing the relationship with Beijing has proven difficult for New Zealand's government in recent years. Ardern, a progressive and vocal human rights advocate, has sought to find a balance between condemning China (back in July, Wellington announced that it was suspending its extradition treaty with Hong Kong because of Beijing's draconian national security law) without ruining relations with a country that is New Zealand's top trading partner.

Still, Ardern has faced accusations of cowering in the face of Beijing's aggression, including on human rights issues, as well as in response to claims that China has meddled in New Zealand's own domestic affairs.

Looking ahead: Ardern's strong leadership during the pandemic has paved the way for her to win a second term. But will she be able to make progress on issues that have so far eluded her, while also addressing a once-in-a-lifetime economic crisis?

Building on more than 15 years of sustainability leadership, Walmart is doubling down on addressing the growing climate crisis by targeting zero emissions across the company's global operations by 2040. Walmart and the Walmart Foundation are also committing to help protect, manage or restore at least 50 million acres of land and one million square miles of ocean by 2030 to help combat the cascading loss of nature threatening the planet.

One of the world's most famous political dissidents may die in a Russian prison this week.

Alexei Navalny has been on a hunger strike since March 31 over the authorities' refusal to let his own medical team examine him after he developed signs of tuberculosis. Now, one of his aides says Navalny is "close to death."

The fate of Vladimir Putin's most prominent critic — who was poisoned last summer, allegedly by state officials, treated in Germany, and then jailed upon his return to Russia — is being closely watched both inside and outside the country.

More Show less

How bad is the climate crisis? Every year, the UN's Emissions Gap Report shows a large gap between the trajectory we're on and the trajectory we ought to be on, explains climate journalist Elizabeth Kolbert. "Every decade now is warmer than the decade before. And we're seeing the damage pile up," says Kolbert, whose latest book is Under A White Sky: The Nature of the Future. "We saw the tremendous wildfire season in California last fall. The hurricane season in the Gulf. These are all connected to climate change, and we're just going to keep seeing more of that." She spoke with Ian Bremmer on GZERO World, airing on US public television stations starting April 16. Check local listings.

Watch the episode: Can we fix the planet the same way we broke it?

Ian Bremmer and Bill Maher discussed the global leadership of the United States compared to that of China on a recent episode of Real Time. "The level of corruption in China, the level of corruption in China, even the buildings and the rails you talk about - the average building the Chinese build lasts for 20, 25 years. In the United States, it lasts for 40 to 50. There's a reason why we are still the world's most powerful country," Ian argued. "I'm just saying China's not eating our lunch - that's all."

More Show less

As the price of Bitcoin has skyrocketed in recent months, so has the amount of energy that procuring it hogs. Research shows that Bitcoin "mining" now uses 80 percent more energy than at the start of 2020. Billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates recently sounded the alarm on crypto, saying that he would not invest in Bitcoin because mining for the digital currency requires huge amounts of energy, much of which is powered by fossil fuels that harm the environment. So where does Bitcoin rank in electricity consumption compared to nations?

Even if the US, Europe, China, and India reduce carbon emissions at the rate they've promised, much climate damage has already been done. That shouldn't stop these and other countries from doing all they can to meet their net-zero emissions targets, but they also better start preparing for a world of people on the move.

Climate change will displace an unprecedented number of people in coming years, creating not just a series of humanitarian crises in many parts of the world, but lasting political, economic, and social upheaval as those of us who live on higher ground try to find a sustainable place for these climate refugees to live.

More Show less

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody, Ian Bremmer here, kicking off your beautiful spring week from New York City. A little Quick Take. I thought I'd talk today about Russia, going to be in the news this week. Putin doesn't like it when they're out of the news for too long, certainly plenty going on between the US and Russia right now.

I'd say, first of all, to start off, the relationship is in the toilet. We know this. It is the worst it's been since the early '80s. That was true even under Trump. Trump and Putin personally had a pretty good relationship, but Trump wasn't able to get anything really done for the Russians, because both the Republicans in Congress, key members of cabinet under Trump, massive amount of constraints on what Trump could actually do, whether it's trying to bring Russia back into the G7 or recognize Crimea as a part of Russia, or remove or reduce sanctions. None of that actually got done. In fact, the relationship deteriorated over the four years.

But now we've got Biden and the focus is of course, more on human rights. The focus is more on climate change, which means that Russia as a massive energy exporter and particularly in terms of their influence on Eastern Europe and Western Europe on the downstream for gas delivery, for example, something that Biden is much more focused on. So a lot more pressure on the Russians, and the Russians don't care. Their willingness to hit back and show that the Americans are not willing to take any significant risks to constrain the Russians is also fairly significant. And this is playing out in a number of ways.

More Show less

Pakistani radicals vs French cartoons: It's been a tumultuous week in Lahore, Pakistan's second largest city. After widespread protests broke out across the Muslim world late last year after Paris defended French publications' rights to publish satirical images of the Prophet Mohammad, the radical Pakistani Islamist group Tehrik-i-Labaik Pakistan (TLP), gave Pakistan's government until April 20 to expel the French ambassador, when it had planned nationwide demonstrations. When Prime Minister Imran Khan refused to meet their demands, more violence erupted across the country and authorities arrested the TLP leader — prompting TLP supporters to hit back by kidnapping six state security personnel in Lahore this past weekend. Authorities have now banned the TLP outright and are bracing for more violence in the coming days. France, meanwhile, has urged all of its citizens to leave Pakistan.

More Show less

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter, Signal

The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.


Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal

The climate crisis: how screwed are we?

GZERO World Clips