The week of many plans. Image: Tina Tiller

Was last week Judith Collins’ best yet? These numbers say yes

Hot on the heels of John Key and Act publishing their ideas for a Covid response, the National Party released its plan a week ago. Data on media coverage suggests it was Judith Collins’ most effective few days as leader.

You couldn’t move last week for all the alternative plans for New Zealand’s Covid response. It began in op-ed fashion, with former prime minister Sir John Key’s ideas published in near-identical form across four different media outlets.

Then came the Act Party’s “3.0” blueprint, followed by the National Party’s plan, “Opening Up: National’s plan to tackle Covid-19, end lockdowns and reopen to the world”.

The government’s own plan, “Reconnecting New Zealanders to the World”, was unveiled just a couple of days before delta lit the tinderbox in New Zealand. That outbreak prompted Jacinda Ardern to announce at the start of this week that the plan was being “accelerated”.

We were curious to see how all of the alt-plans played in the media. Did John Key get more attention that Judith Collins’ effort? How did David Seymour fare? Wellington-based number lovers Dot Loves Data came to our aid, measuring the political “noise” created within the media by the three party leaders and Key.

Here’s how the month looked:

For very obvious reasons, the prime minister gets the lion’s share of coverage, but Key does spring to the top of the pile on the Sunday-of-the-many-op-eds. The most interesting trend here, however, is that for Judith Collins. The National Party plan attracted both plaudits and reservations, but it was a substantial piece of work, traversing everything from testing and vaccination to quarantine facilities and immigration settings.

Collins’ recent gravitation towards distraction and outburst has promoted talk of imminent leadership challenges. That made her “Labour’s best asset”, according to the Herald’s Mood of the Boardroom survey. The National plan suggested she might have found that focus.

“It is rare that there are two days or more in a row where there are more unique articles about an opposition leader than the prime minister,” said Dot Loves Data co-founder Paul Bracewell. The last time Collins hit that mark was the week after the election in October last year. Last week it was four successive days.

“In terms of political intervention, Key’s move was highly effective because it lifted Collins up, placed additional pressure and questioning on the government’s Covid response and helped change the media and public narrative,” Bracewell reckoned.

This is not a poll, and the data above does not measure sentiment; it could be, for example, that a figure leaps up in the number of articles in which they’re mentioned owing to some ignominious action or outburst. In this case, however, the volume of coverage for National and Collins was clearly for the most part a result of grabbing the initiative with a substantial policy position, rather than any speculation around coups. After a tumultuous time as leader (and almost exactly a year to the day since that excruciating walk down Ponsonby Road) last week was probably Judith Collins’ best as National leader yet.

Here’s another way to look at it, as a steamgraph:




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