Every time there is a new Covid outbreak and an accompanying lockdown, National Party’s poll plummets to a new low, as if voters become more adamant to punish National, than reward Jacinda Ardern’s Labour Party.
The latest poll by New Zealand Taxpayers' Union (NZTU) puts National at a shocking 21.2 percent, marginally ahead of its worst-ever electoral performance of 20.4 percent in 2002. The Labour on the other hand has a slight bump of 2.3 percent from its last poll results taking it to 45.9 percent.
It will remind National of the mayhem after the first lockdown last year when it came crashing down from high 40s to low 30s starting a journey steep downward.
So why do lockdowns bring National down?
The party will be delusional if it continues to believe that this is just because of the wall-to-wall coverage of the government when the opposition gets minimal attention.
The rise and rise of David Seymour’s ACT Party, the other opposition party has consistently defied that logic and has prospered significantly under the Covid.
Currently, ACT is snapping at National’s heels at 14.9 percent threatening its position as the major opposition party.
The voters, it seems, have sensed that National is clueless about what New Zealanders feel about the Covid-scare.
Covid has presented a tricky question in front of the governments all around the world whereby threatening critical aspects of our modern lives – freedom of unrestricted travel, mobility, connectivity, and socialization.
Several countries, especially those which have not shown Covid the respect that it demands, have either struggled or succumbed to the trickiness of the virus at some stage, demonstrating that no one was infallible or had all the answers immediately.
A pause to most human activities that required any form of contact outside the household, has become the most effective response to Covid’s challenge while scientists, researchers, and medical firms raced to find vaccination.
The fact that the most primitive form of human response of “slowing down” and hunkering down in the face of any incomprehensible challenge has emerged as the most potent and scientifically substantiated tool of managing the Covid pandemic points to the fact that Covid deserves some respect.
Against this backdrop, National, it seems, has refused to push a “pause” button on its broad worldview to reflect upon the enormity of the challenge presented in front of New Zealanders.
It has continued to come across as a party that believed that “pause” was not an option, and too detrimental to New Zealand’s economy and broader interests.
Although not completely inaccurate, except that New Zealanders seem to not mind the “pause” option, in lieu of saving lives, and have fully supported the government’s strategy of lockdowns so far.
In politics, parties that best capture public moods and societal attitudes or have a charismatic leader who can change and mould differing views, according to what they believe is the greater good, generally get a tick from voters.
In absence of the latter, National’s best bet would have been to capture the public mood accurately, however, that has not happened.
A lot of this, it seems, is rooted in the hard-wired “status-quo approach” that many centre-right parties around the world often reflect and as visible in the Covid management approaches in their respective countries.
The status quo is not just in terms of how National’s assessment about Covid and the kind of challenges it poses to our modern way of life, but also how it broadly plays the game of politics.
From the very beginning when Covid first arrived on our shores after having ravaged many countries of Europe and other parts of the world, National has failed to treat Covid as a source of major disruption and rather intended to carry on with a business-as-usual approach.
It is this business-as-usual approach that seems to have irked Kiwi voters and not trust them in the government.
Rolling the leader in the middle of the greatest public health scare that New Zealanders have seen in the last hundred years was the most awkward display of its business-as-usual thinking in a world that has drastically changed after Covid.
When most Kiwis were worried about the safety of their lives, for reasons right or wrong, the National caucus was perceived as sorting their own political safety.
It remains to be seen how the National caucus would eventually respond after Lockdown 2.0 and the accompanying fall in polls. Rolling over Judith Collins might once again emphasise the business as usual approach of the National caucus.
On the other hand, even when the National caucus had come up with some good policies for managing the Covid public health pandemic, it failed miserably in getting the right messaging across and get due credit.
Some of the policies that were eventually adopted by the government in Covid management such as pre-departure testing, charging MIQ fees from returning Kiwis came up from the National’s camp, however, it failed to capitalize, amidst largely due to its own house in disarray.
Another failure has been losing the battle of narratives around Covid management.
The government has been successful in shaping the narrative around covid-management as “health-casualty” versus “economic-casualty” while boldly emphasizing its claim on the former.
National has walked sheepishly into the trap and awkwardly perceived as worrying only for “economic-casualty” whereby leaving the Labour alone bolster its ownership of “health-casualty”.
Being a party that claims central focus on the economy, businesses, entrepreneurship, and personal responsibility is one thing, but that commitment needed a course correction in the middle of Covid-scare.
This may explain why a large chunk of voters, traditionally at the centre who have been supporting National in the previous decade had left the flock to nest in Labour’s lap immediately after the first Alert Level 4 lockdown.
Successive polls have shown that those voters may have started drifting away from Labour, but not returning to National’s fold, with the majority going to David Seymour’s ACT Party.
To expect that this will change for good, without National making any course correction in its response to Covid-virus would only be wishful thinking.
A change of leader would be least helpful unless the new incumbent comes up with an altogether new vision around Covid management.
The caucus should listen more keenly to their colleagues who are raring to mount a challenge to Judith about what they have to say about managing two key goals health and economic casualty, without compromising either of them.
Till then they have to live with what they have got.