Jacindamania helped NZ's global influence, index reveals

Jacinda Ardern attracted international attention when she wore a korowai to Buckingham Palace.
Jacinda Ardern attracted international attention when she wore a korowai to Buckingham Palace. Photo credit: Getty

New Zealand has maintained our global influence in the last 12 months largely thanks to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's popularity, according to an annual report.

The Soft Power 30 Index, published by UK consultancy firm Portland, ranked New Zealand in 18th place out of the 30 countries that wield the greatest global influence.

'Soft power' refers to diplomatic tactics such as international engagement and leadership, rather than coercive 'hard powers' like military force and economic sanctions.

The rankings have been published annually since 2015. New Zealand fell from 16th to 18th position in 2017 (thanks to the end of our brief spell on the United Nations Security Council) and has maintained that position this year.

The report says it would be wrong to assume this meant the country had experienced an uneventful year, citing the 'Jacindamania' phenomenon of 2017 as a major factor behind our international power.

"Jacinda Ardern's optimistic and youthful spirit reflects a small but ambitious nation that punches well above its demographic weight, and her appeal continues both at home and abroad," it reads.

Portland mentions the Prime Minister's April appearance at Buckingham Palace, when she wore a traditional Māori korowai, as a major boost to the country's overseas appeal - as well as her pregnancy while in office.

"Not only can she take credit for boosting the country's international appeal, Ardern has no doubt contributed to New Zealand's strong performance in the Government sub-index," the report reads.

It also praises the 'off the map' campaign by Tourism NZ which features Ms Ardern and comedian Rhys Darby bemoaning the fact that New Zealand gets left off many world maps.

"This is a step in the right direction in boosting New Zealand's performance in the Culture sub-index, attracting more international visitors, and stepping further away from Australia's cultural shadow," Portland says.

The firm also praises Ms Ardern's success in injecting "new life" into Kiwi politics - "a tough ask given the popularity of the country's two previous prime ministers".

When it comes to the country's disadvantages in climbing the ladder of power, our small population and geographical location are the main weaknesses. Portland says we're making progress thanks to Foreign Minister Winston Peters boosting the foreign aid budget in the Pacific.

The report says Ms Ardern should use her popularity to increase environmental protection and make New Zealand a major voice on the issue.

"Improved environmental policies will also protect New Zealand's stunning natural beauty - critical if the nation wants to continue attracting international visitors."

Australia has dropped from sixth place to 10th since 2015, while the United States fell from the number one spot to fourth place since the election of Donald Trump in 2016.