SocietyMarch 28, 2020

How is the govt handling Covid-19? The first opinion poll since NZ locked down


As New Zealand entered national lockdown, The Spinoff commissioned social media polling company Stickybeak to measure the mood of the nation. Stickybeak co-founder David Brain reveals what the poll results show.

As soon as prime minister Jacinda Ardern made her Monday afternoon announcement that the country was going to alert level three and then to level four lockdown in response to Covid-19, it was clear that everything had changed. But how did the nation feel? Did we intend to obey the directives? Would we be panic buying? And how did we think the government was doing?

We went into the field two hours after she left the press conference with a nationally representative survey (more on our methodology at the end of the this post) and this is what we learned:

How concerned are you about the health effects of Covid-19 for you personally?

61% say they are concerned about their personal health. More surprisingly perhaps, 22% of New Zealanders are unconcerned or not at all concerned about the health threats.

And how concerned are you about the effect of the pandemic on your personal financial situation?

We appear to be slightly more concerned about our financial wellbeing than we are our health wellbeing.

Local and global financial news and the actions (or expected actions) of our employers will be driving this, and the fiscal stimulus and financial support packages announced by the government probably the reason the numbers are not even bleaker. It may well be that people think they have more control over the health effects than economic effects now we’re in lockdown.

Overall, the government’s response to Covid-19 has been:

Traditional wisdom is that governments tend to poll well in a crisis, or at least at the beginning of them. President Donald Trump currently has a 53% job approval rating and 49% approve of the way in which he has handled Covid-19, despite the US now being the unambiguous epicentre of the global crisis. Still, an 80% positive score for the New Zealand government’s response is remarkable.

Have you stocked up on supplies, or shopped more heavily than normal? 

Sometimes when we ask questions that people think cast them in a less than perfect light, we get flattering responses that we know don’t match the real-world experience. In this, case people seem to have been refreshingly honest, as 38% admit to having stocked up or shopped more heavily than normal, accounting for the lines we’ve seen outside supermarkets and the empty shelves. Well over a third of the population shopping more heavily over a short period represents an enormous strain on supply chains and retail outlets.

The government has now said that we all need to stay at home; not go to school or work; not travel or socialise with people outside our home for at least 4 weeks. Do you plan to comply?

In one sense the most remarkable finding is that 9% of respondents claim they will defy the lockdown. That’s potentially hundreds of thousands of virus carriers out in our communities, despite the warnings and appeals to personal and family safety – and to people’s better nature and the national cause.

Some, of course, may have no permanent or settled home and thus compliance may not be easy or even possible. Others will have their own reasons, mostly idiotic and self-centred and it would be easy to focus on them. However, a 91% compliance rate to never-before-seen restrictions on the way we all live and work is probably the more remarkable number, and may well be enough, when coupled with police enforcement, to suggest the lockdown will achieve its goals.

The government has said it will enforce this quarantine and those that break it may be arrested and prosecuted. Do you agree this is necessary?

That said, 80% of us would be happy to see that 9% of ‘refuseniks’ arrested and prosecuted.

In the immediate future, the Covid-19 pandemic is more likely to make New Zealanders:    

On a happier note, as a nation we overwhelmingly believe that this experience is more likely to bring New Zealanders together. 62% say we will become more united and supportive of each other, with just 16% believing it will be a divisive moment for the nation.

How do you think that four weeks at home will affect your mental health? 

On mental health, 42% of us think the psychological experiment of an (at least) month-long home detention will result in us feeling better or much better. Half as many (21%) say they will feel worse or much worse. Hopefully, we can ask this question again after we have all been locked in our bubbles for a few more weeks. I wonder then if the response will be quite so positive?

How often are you seeking updates and information on the virus and its spread?

Finally, all crises make newshounds of all of us, but a quarter of the population checking for updates hourly or even constantly is probably a record (sporting events notwithstanding). It speaks to the nature of the virus as a news story – global, fast-moving, with immense consequences stretching across health, the economy, our social lives and more.

Which three of the following media channels do you most rely on most for information on Covid-19?

Where we go for that information has changed somewhat from the normal order of things. The government’s daily media briefings and the impact the content of these have on all our lockdown daily lives has given a boost to TV news. If we can’t make the live 1pm briefing, over half of us are catching up with it and other Covid-19 news via the traditional TV news shows. As many of us now have an hourly and even constant need for updates, TV news is followed pretty closely by online news and social media.

The media channel losers are radio (we just aren’t in our cars enough) and printed newspapers and magazines as deliveries have stopped and our trips to the dairy are now rationed and focused on more important things perhaps.

We’re hopeful we can repeat this study fortnightly over the crisis but we’re looking for a sponsor that wants to help Stickybeak and The Spinoff keep a conversational finger on the pulse of the nation at this extraordinary time. If you’re able to help, please email

About the study

  • Respondents were self-selecting participants, recruited via Facebook and Instagram.
  • A total of n=600 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 ±4.8%.
  • The study went into the field at 5pm Monday 23 March (just after the PM’s announcement of level 3 and 4 restrictions and was completed at midday Friday 27 March)

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.

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