A final Dispatch

April 30th, 2010 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

In my final Dispatch from St Johnnysburg (from May are only running blogs from staff)  I focus on St Johnny himself:

However it is the qualities of the Prime Minister I want to explore. Why is he so popular, despite New Zealand having gone through a serious recession?

To put ’s popularity into context, I have looked both at historic polls within NZ, and ratings for other current national leaders.

Colmar Brunton for One News have been asking Preferred Prime Minister questions since 1984. Lange never made 40%, Palmer, Moore and Shipley gravitated between 20% and 30%. Jim Bolger fluctuated from 10% to 30%. Clark spent most of her nine years at between 30% and 40%, and dipped over 50% just once in June 2002.

Key has averaged 50.6% in his first 18 months of office.

But even more interesting is the approve vs disapprove ratings:

His approval rating is even higher. The latest TV3 poll has 69% of voters saying he is doing a good job, and only 16% (less than one in six) saying he is doing a poor job. Compare this to other national leaders:

  • John Key – 69% approve v 16% disapprove = +53% net approval
  • Angela Merkel – 55% approve v 44% disapprove = +11% net approval
  • Kevin Rudd – 50% approve v 41% disapprove = +9% net approval
  • Barack Obama – 48% approve v 46% disapprove = +2% net approval
  • Stephen Harper – 33% approve v 52% disapprove = -19% net disapproval
  • Gordon Brown – 33% approve v 61% disapprove = -28 net disapproval
  • Nicolas Sarkozy – 32% approve v 65% disapprove = -33 net disapproval
  • Brian Cowen – 27% approve v 69% disapprove = -42% net disapproval
  • Yukio Hatoyama – 21% approve v 64% disapprove -43% net disapproval

Key’s popularity soars above other national leaders – both long serving ones, and also those relatively new to office. His disapproval rating is between one third and one quarter of all the other leaders.

It was only in writing the column that I searched for the approval ratings for the leaders of Germany, Australia, US, Canada, UK, France, Ireland and Japan. I was surprised by the huge gap (especially in disapprovals) between Key and his counterparts.

As for why I think Key is so popular – well I explain that in full at NBR. However here’s one thing I don’t think it is about:

This is not some fluke or coincidence. There is a reason, or reasons for it.

Some point to policy reasons – the fact he has run a reasonably moderate policy regime. I am sure this has helped, but being moderate in itself does not make you popular. It is more a pre-condition (except in times of crisis) than a cause.

My thanks to NBR for the platform for the last two to three years.

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32 Responses to “A final Dispatch”

  1. radar (319 comments) says:

    I think a bit of it has to do with fatigue from nine years of Helen Clark. People got sick of the snarling, the arogance, the “haters” and “wreckers” language, calling Don Brash “cancerous”, the control freak etc etc.

    John Key is much more personable, much more likeable, and despite his personal wealth is seen as being more down to earth than Helen, who was nothing more than a politician for most of her adult life.

    John Key, if he stays at the helm of the National Party, will win at least two more elections, while the Labour Party will probably go through two or three leaders in that time.

    [DPF: You must have read my column, or we think alike. I place a lot of it on the fact that the PM almost never attacks his critics]

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  2. Pete George (23,564 comments) says:

    Interesting.

    It’s also interesting that the “disapprove” minority seem to be overrepresented on Kiwiblog – at least those who express opinions about John Key’s performance.

    I think quite a few who rant here about what John Key and National are doing (and not doing) are quite unrealistic about what they should expect from governments. Imagining that a not-Labour government would immediately cater for all sorts of extreme wishes seems to be behind all the noise.

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  3. eszett (2,408 comments) says:

    It would be interesting to conduct a Kiwiblog poll on John Key’s approval rating and compare it with the general public.
    John Key’s approval ratings must also come form the left, from people that actually did not vote for him.

    It would also be interesting to dissect the disapproval ratings. Most likely it will be a combination of the far left and the far right. But I am just guessing here

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  4. Murray (8,847 comments) says:

    Yes we are unrealistic in expecting a government to behave in a manner that is consistant with their pre-election retoric. We are simply foolish to expect a government to not ignore the vast majority and pass laws based on an agenda that that is strongly opposed.

    Silly voters.

    Cept he works at our pleasure, nut the other way round. His “popularity” is a fiction based on a lack of valid alternatives. Phil Goff? Please.

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  5. kevin_mcm (152 comments) says:

    while I would like to have seen a more structured & open aproach to our financial position and the actions required to correct, I accept that the bulk of people do not want to hear any bad news, so Key’s approach has been very smart – pre-release all the bad news then adjust accordingly, nothing really sacred, keep a positive approach. I sense that this is not something he puts on as a political face, so he appears to be a natural – and as radar above has mentioned, the contrast with Helen works in his favour.

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  6. big bruv (13,899 comments) says:

    “A final Dispatch”

    I can just see how the low life over at the EMPU and Labour party blog will spin this DPF.

    “FARRAR SACKED BY NBR”

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  7. RRM (9,924 comments) says:

    Key personally seems like just a genuine, sensible, straightforward good bastard, and his programme seems sensible too which gives comfort to us lefties (well me anyway – missus still hates and anticipates his imminent treachery :-P ).

    So if a pollster asked me I’d say I approve of him, even though I didn’t vote for him.

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  8. big bruv (13,899 comments) says:

    RRM

    I detest Key’s politics, however, I am amazed that the hard left keep trying to paint Key as anything other than a nice guy.

    The way to knock him off his perch is not by attacking him personally, that will only harden the support the public have for him.

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  9. gingercrush (153 comments) says:

    Perhaps you could do a NBR-like blog post here. The fact is you under-utilise your talent as it is. To me your most interesting blog posts are those you write yourself and where you don’t rely on c/p parts of a newspaper article etc.

    [DPF: I would like to do more of those. However when you are getting paid for it, it forces on you a discipline to set aside the time to do it justice]

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  10. starboard (2,537 comments) says:

    cater for all sorts of extreme wishes seems to be behind all the noise.

    ..whats extreme about not wanting race based favourtism/apartied policies in New Zealand ???

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  11. MikeNZ (3,234 comments) says:

    I’m surprised you got that name registered here gingercrush.

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  12. Pete George (23,564 comments) says:

    Anyone who listens to pre-election offerings and expects them to be followed to the letter doesn’t understand how coalition government works, nor do they seem to realise that a good government has to adapt to many changing influences. Remember that the election was right when the economic shit hit the fan worldwide, there was no way of knowing where that was going to end up and what would be required.

    To me John Key seems like a pretty good bloke doing a pretty good job. He seems to be pragmatic, he listens (maybe reacting a little too much sometimes), and he sticks by his decisions. I’m not happy about everything that is being done and everything being proposed but I accept that as part of real life politics.

    There is no one else that I can see that comes near him as a potential leader.

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  13. GPT1 (2,122 comments) says:

    I suspect a fair percentage of the disapprovals comes from the right of the NZ political spectrum.

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  14. tvb (4,422 comments) says:

    He is my ideal Prime Minister – the best by far we have had since Sir Keith Holyoake – who never mastered Television. You get the impression that he wants to be fair, though he will take the hard decisions if necessary but he is fair about it.

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  15. eszett (2,408 comments) says:

    His “popularity” is a fiction based on a lack of valid alternatives. Phil Goff? Please.

    You err here, Murray.

    Whether you approve or disapprove of John Key has nothing to do with the alternative.

    Also in preferred PM you do not have to vote for any of them. So again, while preferred PM may be more influenced by the alternative (prefer John over Phil), given your argument, you should then expect the preferred PM ratings to be higher than the approval ratings.

    But they are not.

    I’d say John Key’s popularity is genuine.

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  16. side show bob (3,660 comments) says:

    “He is my ideal prime minister”. So I guess a blow up woman would be your ideal lady.

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  17. bchapman (649 comments) says:

    What’s popularity got to do with good government? I’d argue- getting away from the margins the relationship is an inverse one. Berlesconi has always had high ratings- look at the mess Italy is in now, Tony Blair used to get derided by George W as Mr 69%- look at the mess he left his party in. Bob Hawke was the other mega-popularist leader of modern times, as soon his numbers went down he was sacked as PM- by his own party! Since then the Aussies have shied away from popularism- have a look at Howard, Keating and Rudd.

    Not saying they are mutually exclusive but its very hard to be effective and popular.

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  18. Pete George (23,564 comments) says:

    I agree bchapman. The way our politics seems operate is that we choose the cheerleader with the least boobs, instead of looking for a decent first five eight.

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  19. Bevan (3,924 comments) says:

    The reason Key is so popular is because there really is no viable alternative. When the only alternative is Goff (who is hardly viable!), then Key will be a shoe in.

    I’d still prefer the dog turd over either of them.

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  20. kowtow (8,478 comments) says:

    Good points bchapman. Like so much involving mass media ,politics has been dumbed down and simplified to personalities….just look at the UK election so much is image.

    Anyway I reckon much of the appeal is that Key is not Clark or Bradford…….a moderate centre rightist who won’t frighten the horses……..for the moment.

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  21. Nigel (514 comments) says:

    Fundamentally I think it’s because John Key appeals to the silent majority.

    He comes across as pragmatic as opposed to ideological & that I think combined with the fact his ego is not attached to being a politician make him a winner.

    The next question though is, how long can we keep him as PM, my guess is he’ll resign about 6 months before the end of his second term.

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  22. RKBee (1,344 comments) says:

    John Key had a high approval rating.. because the average Kiwi.. male and female can relate to him as a good Kiwi bloke.. not a Fred Dagg type.. but a sensible straight foreward Kiwi bloke they can relate too.
    Try doing that with Clarke or any Prime Minister from the past for that matter.. they all have been a bit strange in one way or another… not quite the full pictuure as Kiwi’s see a good Kiwi bloke… a well rounded leader they can identify with and be proud off as leader of their country… with out being loud… with a loud innocuous ego or a unassuming personality..
    John Key has the Kiwi X factor most Kiwi’s like and would like to have.

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  23. Rex Widerstrom (5,354 comments) says:

    from May NBR are only running blogs from NBR staff

    I smell an uneconomic pay wall, so to reduce costs they cut the fees of external contributors. A pity, because what we need is more voices in the national conversation, not less.

    The media barons still haven’t got the formula right, and I admit it’s a complex one. But common sense ought to tell them that no one will pay to read opinions, while they might pay to read information of value that they can’t get elsewhere (i.e. investigative journalism, an area particularly suited to NBR).

    In contrast, the opinions of people like DPF are the shiny geegaws you leave outside the pay wall to attract readers in.

    There you go, Barry, you can have that one for free.

    [OTOH I'd like to see some of the other newspapers, just for a while, put their opinion columnists behind individual pay walls. I suspect they'd be surprised at the fact that their readers wouldn't pay 20c for the inane repetitious posturing of some people to whom they pay thousands]

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  24. RKBee (1,344 comments) says:

    The next question though is, how long can we keep him as PM, my guess is he’ll resign about 6 months before the end of his second term.

    Yes you might be right .. but then who in his party will replace him… who can appeal to the silent majority.

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  25. RKBee (1,344 comments) says:

    [OTOH I'd like to see some of the other newspapers, just for a while, put their opinion columnists behind individual pay walls. I suspect they'd be surprised at the fact that their readers wouldn't pay 20c for the inane repetitious posturing of some people to whom they pay thousands]

    Thats right… the more people that thread the more DFP can attract paying advertisers.

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  26. Fletch (6,389 comments) says:

    I’d like to see a popularity poll after the indigenous persons fiasco, the ETS non-backdown, the foreshore and seabed probably being given to Maori, etc etc. Oh, he’ll be popular with Maori all right – he’s bending over for them, but the general public – I’m not so sure.

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  27. RKBee (1,344 comments) says:

    Fletch.. he’s done all that… and this is the after poll… 53% net approval ..

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  28. adam2314 (377 comments) says:

    ” Yes you might be right .. but then who in his party will replace him… who can appeal to the silent majority “.

    There are many in his party that will be able to replace him in 3 years time..

    Thank God that the Liabour Party has not a one to replace Goff…

    Useless.. Each and every one.. Long may it reign..

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  29. RKBee (1,344 comments) says:

    Not many if any will appeal like JK.

    And I believe a Andrew Little David Shearer lead labour party… will be a formidable combination.

    Tell me who these National party leaders will be from the bunch they have now… after JK moves on.

    I would go as far as to say if Andrew Little is labours next leader… he will be the next prime minister after JK.

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  30. Viking2 (11,471 comments) says:

    Nope it will either be Simon Power or Tony Ryall.
    Has been Tony’s goal since age 16 and when one looks at the task he is handling currently there has been no one better at it forever.
    Simon gets lots of cudos for the work he does and IMHO he is an impressive young man who will be a good leader as he matures.
    So probably Simon and Tony or Tony and Simon.

    P.S. Blenglish will only ever be acting while the boss is away.

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  31. Pete George (23,564 comments) says:

    It could be quite a while before the next leader gets a look in, a lot can happen in that time.

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  32. Nigel (514 comments) says:

    I am with RKBee, I don’t see the National successor, I do see a v. strong anchor in Bill English & a number of ministers developing strength. Though I don’t agree once JK leaves National will revert to rough parity with Labour, even with Little/Shearer, it just makes minimal sense for a bloke with JK’s skills to take on the PM role & not leave National alot stronger after he leaves than before he arrived & that includes a successor better than himself.
    The next major reshuffle will be revealing I suspect, though I do wish it was a 4 year parliamentary term in NZ.

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