The prime minister, Jacinda Ardern (Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)
The prime minister, Jacinda Ardern (Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

PoliticsJune 23, 2020

Exclusive: Poll reveals public impact of failures in NZ Covid quarantine system

The prime minister, Jacinda Ardern (Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)
The prime minister, Jacinda Ardern (Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

A new survey by Stickybeak for The Spinoff shows the popular assessment of the government response to the Covid-19 crisis at its lowest level yet.

A week that saw the government on the back foot in its Covid-19 response, with the prime minister acknowledging failures in the self-isolation and quarantining system and calling in the military to oversee the process, has led to a marked, if hardly cataclysmic, drop in the popular backing for the government response to the pandemic.

The sixth in a series of demographically weighted polls by Stickybeak for The Spinoff conducted over recent months sees overall support for the government response fall just shy of 75%. That’s a drop of 10% from our previous poll, which was completed at the start of last week. Across five previous polls, beginning in late March, the average total backing for the government response was 84%, and this is the first time it has dropped under 80%.

A week ago, we reported 74% of respondents judging the response “excellent”; today that number is 53%.

Given the kind of week it was (a “fiasco”, in the words of Neale Jones, former chief of staff to Jacinda Ardern), and the excoriating tenor of commentary over the weekend, the Labour-led government can draw some relief from a result showing three in four New Zealanders continue to back the response. So long, that is, as they can arrest the slide.

The revelation that two women, just a few days after arriving from the UK, had been allowed to exit managed isolation and drive from Auckland to Wellington under a compassionate exemption – without being tested – only to later test positive for Covid-19, dominated the news in New Zealand last week. Worse still, it emerged that one of the women had experienced symptoms, which she had put down to a pre-existing respiratory condition.

That was compounded further when the National opposition revealed that, contrary to information provided to and revealed by the director general of health, Ashley Bloomfield, the two women had met with friends after accidentally taking the northbound lane on to State Highway One from the Novotel Ellerslie.

Jacinda Ardern and the health secretary, David Clark, both diagnosed a failure in the system, with senior minister Stuart Nash going further, calling it “unforgivable” and the result of “ineptitude”. A string of other stories suggesting porousness in the border system followed, and the prime minister moved to bring in a senior military figure, Darryn Webb, to oversee the process, with Megan Woods given ministerial responsibility, an urgent audit commissioned and exemptions suspended.

The exposure of failures in the system appears to have engendered increased concern about a possible second wave of the virus. A week ago, 42% said they were concerned about the prospect; today that’s up to 50%. Respondents may be alert, too, to the global picture: as Siouxsie Wiles writes today, the pandemic continues to grow around the world, and every one of the nine cases that has cropped in New Zealand in the week since the run of zero numbers came to an end has involved an arrival from abroad.

The Stickybeak poll, undertaken from Friday night through to yesterday morning, revealed the depth of feeling on the performance of the quarantine and isolation system. While 37% said they were confident in the arrangements, 39% said they were not, with 24% on the fence. Of the five options, “not confident at all” was the most popular, selected by one in four respondents.

What of the “heads must roll” call? Some have demanded the resignation of the health minister, David Clark; a smaller number have suggested Bloomfield should go. We asked simply: should there be a senior resignation following the big revelation of last week? Just over 45% said yes, with 40% saying the opposite, and just shy of 15% noncommittal.

Some of the air seems to have come out of the international bubble clamour, too. As the state of Victoria experiences a spike in community transmission, we asked whether New Zealand should prioritise a border opening with Australia or the Pacific Islands or whether we “should not be thinking of bubbles at all” at this time, some 47% went for the latter. Enthusiasm for an Australian bubble edges out the Pacific option, but only by five points.

Confidence in the contact tracing system has taken an even greater hit than the overall assessment and the concern about a second wave; with the official system continuing to be sluggish in pickup and manual systems for visitors to premises all but abandoned, it’s down from 55% in our poll a week ago to 43%.

Finally, expectations of a negative personal financial impact have grown. Last week 41% said they expected their personal financial situation to be negatively affected by Covid-19. That has risen to 47% in the poll completed yesterday. That remains lower, however, than the figure from five weeks ago, when 51% said they expected to see a negative impact.

About the study

Respondents were self-selecting participants, recruited via Facebook and Instagram.

A total of n=700 sample was achieved of adults in New Zealand.

Results in this report are weighted by age, gender and region to statistics from the 2018 Census.

For a random sample of this size and after accounting for weighting the maximum sampling error (using 95% confidence) is approximately ±4%.

The study went into the field at 7pm Friday June 19 and was completed at midday Monday June 22.

About Stickybeak

Stickybeak is a New Zealand startup launched globally last June, that uses chatbots to make quantitative market research more conversational and therefore less boring and even fun for respondents. Unlike conventional research which uses panels of professional paid responders, Stickybeak recruits unique respondents fresh for each survey via social media.

Keep going!