Home > The Body Politic > The slow dismantling of a populist prime minister

The slow dismantling of a populist prime minister


john Key smile and wave


It’s been a source of frustration and a mystery akin to flying saucers, Loch Ness Monster, Yeti, Bermuda Triangle, etc. I refer, of course, to the unfeasibly high popularity of our esteemed Dear Leader, John Key.

Every time a scandal strikes this government (and there have been so many, I’ve lost count); every time it implements unpopular policies such as asset sales or expanding the powers of the GCSB; every time it fails to balance the budget despite numerous promises; every time it breaks election promises such as not raising GST, not interfering with Kiwisaver, bringing agriculture into the ETS, raising wages comparable to Australia; and as  housing  becomes an ulcerated sore in our cities – Key’s popularity apparently remains undented.

Recently, over a period of months, he was even found to have been assaulting a female staff member at an Auckland cafe;


EXCLUSIVE The Prime Minister and the Waitress - ponytail pulling - Amanda Bailey - John Key


– and he survived that humiliating experience, his political career apparently intact. His apolitical “blokeyness” seems to have pulled his backside out of the fire, yet again.

But is his popularity as consistently high as we think it is?

Actually – no.

Since 2009, when Key’s “Preferred Prime Minister” (PPM) rating stood at 55.8% on 3News-Reid Research polling, it has been trending down ever since;

Oct/Nov 08: 36.4%


Feb 2009: 52.1%

April 2009: 51.1%

Aug 2009: 51.6%

Oct 2009: 55.8%

Feb 2010: 49.4%

April 2010: 49.0%

June 2010: 49.6%

Jul/Aug 2010: 48.7%

Sept/Oct 2010: 50.6%

Nov/Dec 2010: 54.1%

Feb 2011: 49.1%

April 2011: 52.4%

May 2011: 48.2%

Jun/Jul 2011: 50.5%

Aug 2011: 53.3%

Sept 2011: 54.5%

Oct 2011: 52.7%

1-8 Nov 2011: 50.0%

9-16 Nov 2011: 49.4%

16-23 Nov 2011: 48.9%

Feb 2012: 45.8%

April 2012: 44.2%

May/Jun 2012: 40.5%

July: 43.2%


Feb 2013: 41.0%

April 2013: 38.0%

May 2013: 41.0%

Jul 2013: 42.0%

Nov 2013: 40.9%

Jan 2014: 38.9%

Mar 2014: 42.6%

May 2014: 43.1%

Jun 2014: 46.7%

Jul 2014: 43.8%

5-3 Aug 2014: 44.1%

19-25 Aug 2014: 41.4%

26 Aug-1 Sept 2014: 45.1%

2-8 Sept 2014: 45.3%

9-15 Sept 2014: 44.1%

Jan 2015: 44.0%

May 2015: 39.4%


From the insane heights of 2009 (55.8%), Key has lost 16.4 percentage points in the PPM contest by May of this year.

Key’s leadership is safe. The only contenders are careerist politicians – most of whom would make National unelectable as a government;

  • Steven Joyce – far to arrogant. Looks down at people. Has a tendency to rant at political opponants who he finds threatening. Also not averse to threatening people who piss him off, in a sober, Aaron Gilmore kind of way.
  • Judith Collins – accident prone. Too many skeletons in her closet. Links to far right-wing bloggers; Oravida; and mis-use of her ministerial powers show her to be untrustworthy. Probably the dodgiest of all National MPs.
  • Nick Smith – tends to be sacked from ministerial portfolios more often than Winston Peters. Fast becoming identified with New Zealand’s critical housing problem. Has a fall-back career as a bus tour-driver.
  • Anne Tolley – Would be hopelessly out of her depth. Is beginning to stuff up her Social Welfare portfolio, and recent appearance on ‘Q+A‘ was cringeworthy.
  • Gerry Brownlee – the second-best of the bunch, but also tends to exhibit arrogance and a dismissive attitude to laws. Rules evidently don’t apply to him, as they do to us mere peasants.
  • Hekia Parata – (Joke entrant. Zero probabability.)
  • Paula Bennett – She’s the one. Zombified conservative voters love her for “dealing to the lazy benes”. Has a casual, “relaxed” air about her similar to Key’s. The only one who could possibly take over from Key and not consign National to the Opposition benches for the next ten years.

Except that Key’s leadership is fairly safe for the foreseeable future. Key has de-politicised politics and lulled the peasantry into a hypnotic state that would make Andrew Newton jealous.

But make no mistake, Key’s teflon has been gradually stripped away with scandal after scandal, and Andrew Little’s “Cut the Crap” remark in Parliament on 26 November last year showed that Key can be called out on his bullshit.

If an Opposition Leader can continue to highlight to the public that Key is in fact bullshitting them – it’s game over. Key will be forced to do Real Politics – and that is not his  forté.

One thing that the above polling shows with considerable clarity is that Key’s “dream run” has concluded.


A Wikipedia page of various polls also presents PPM data, but the TV3-Reid Research polls reach back to 2008, giving a more overall picture of the rise-and-dip of Key’s leadership.


A TV1-Colmar Brunton Poll on 19 July reports that John Key’s popularity as PPM has dropped 4 percentage points since May, to 40%.





The Daily Blog: The Prime Minister and the Waitress

3News: Opinion Poll – April 13-20 2010

3News: Opinion Poll – 210 October 2012

Reid Research: TV3 Poll Results

NZ Herald: Minister to students – ‘keep your heads down’

Radio NZ: Collins defends giving details to blogger

TVNZ Q+A: Revolutionary changes in store for social services

Radio NZ: ‘Cut the crap’ and say sorry, Little tells PM

Wikipedia: Opinion polling for the New Zealand general election, 2014




John Key radio live teflon coated


This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 13 July 2015.



= fs =

  1. hopeful
    19 July 2015 at 8:33 am

    Thanks for pointing this out, Frank. Hadn’t realised the slow attrition of PM’s “popularity”

    • 19 July 2015 at 10:34 am

      Indeed, Hopeful. It’ll be interesting to see if the decline continues…

    • 20 July 2015 at 6:47 pm

      Hi Hopeful…

      It was something that caught my attention with a news story. As with so many of these things, I dug around a bit, and came up with the data above. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone in the MSM picks up on what I’ve written, and writes their own story about it…

  1. 28 July 2015 at 5:46 am
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