Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern under fire for spending $250,000 on COVID-19 polls

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is under fire for spending more than $250,000 on polling to find out how Kiwis feel about the United Against COVID-19 campaign. 

In an answer to written parliamentary questions from ACT, Ardern said the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet spent $252,945 on opinion polls and focus groups to find out how the COVID-19 response was being received. 

"This is a Prime Minister who likes to be liked. She's a poll-driven Prime Minister who puts political popularity ahead of doing the right thing," ACT leader David Seymour says. 

"Jacinda Ardern now needs to answer whether she kept the trans-Tasman bubble closed for six months longer than necessary due to scientific advice or polling advice?"

Polling released earlier this month by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet showed the majority of New Zealanders - 75 percent - felt the country was heading in the right direction on COVID-19. 

The research, undertaken in May, also found that more than half - 53 percent - were worried about opening up quarantine-free travel beyond Australia and the Cook Islands.

Seymour is concerned Ardern is driving policy on quarantine-free travel bubbles based on polling rather than research, as the surveying shows Kiwis fear opening up. 

"Will future decision-making, like when to reconnect with the rest of the world, be driven by focus groups or scientific advice?"

With more than half of Australians now in lockdown, and the travel bubble paused for New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, it's safe to say the sentiment towards quarantine-free travel will have slipped. 

ACT leader David Seymour.
ACT leader David Seymour. Photo credit: Getty

At the time of the May polling, nearly 85 percent of Kiwis didn't mind stopping travel from high-risk countries, and a similar amount planned to travel within New Zealand instead of travelling overseas. 

The polling also found that Kiwis accept COVID-19 restrictions as a part of life going forward, with more than 90 percent not expecting a return to normal life even after they are vaccinated. 

The country's willingness to embrace Ardern's COVID-19 elimination strategy is reflected not only in Labour winning a huge majority at the election, but also with its continuing success in the polls. 

The latest UMR poll showed Ardern riding well above all contenders on 55 percent as preferred Prime Minister, including 15 percent of National voters. Labour itself was polling on 48 percent. 

But while Ardern's popularity remains high, Seymour is making gains. He was on 12 percent as preferred Prime Minister in the UMR poll, ahead of Opposition leader Judith Collins on 10 percent. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Photo credit: Getty

Seymour, who has not shied away from controversial opinions on how to approach the pandemic - from criticising lockdown rules to calling for smarter borders to allow for more international travel - wants the Government to be more transparent in its decision-making. 

"One has to ask, is the real reason we do not have a plan to get our way of life back is that the Government is still focus-grouping it?

"It's time to start treating New Zealanders like adults. Let us know what's going on in a timely way. Be up-front with us as issues arise instead of relying on polls and focus groups. Our COVID response is more important than Jacinda Ardern's popularity."