Bryce Edwards: Jacindaphoria

Bryce Edwards: Jacindaphoria

The term “Jacindamania” – which was coined in an earlier Political Roundup column – is now everywhere. It’s been used in newspaper headlines everywhere, from the Guardian through to the Washington Post.

Future political commentary and political science will treat the last month of Jacindamania as a case study to illustrate many different elements of how politics works. The main lesson is the power of personality and how this can trump policy in elections. After all, the Labour Party didn’t really change that much in terms of policy on 1 August when Ardern took over, and yet the party’s support has nearly doubled.

But how real is Jacindamania? Is it really capturing hearts and minds? Or is it simply a “media invention”? This column looks at just how real and important Jacindamania has become, with excitement about Jacinda Ardern utterly changing the nature of the election campaign. A follow-up column will focus on the other side of the issue, which raises important questions about what Labour stands for under the new leader.

The phenomenal Jacinda neologisms

The huge focus on Jacinda Ardern is such that there are now plenty of other “Jacinda” phrases being liberally used. “The Jacinda Effect” is being used to explain the incredible leap in the polls for Labour – see the latest in Patrick Gower’s Newshub poll: National and Labour in one-on-one fight for power.

Now all sorts of suffixes are being added to Ardern’s first name. As Adam Dudding says, “Pundits have swooned. A cottage industry of neologism-coinage has sprung up: Jacindamania. The Jacinda Effect. Jacinderella. Jacinda-Nick-of-Time” – see: Jacinda Ardern: I didn’t want to work for Tony Blair.

It seems that the levels of Jacindamania have escalated to the point that we can probably now talk about “Jacindaphoria”, given the euphoria that is being reported upon from the campaign trail.

There seems to be real momentum that is still building, and it’s not clear it’s about to dissipate. In the weekend, The Guardian newspaper published Kate Shuttleworth’s article, Jacindamania: rocketing rise of New Zealand Labour’s fresh political hope. In this, I’m asked how long Jacindamania might play out, to which I replied: “Nine years? I don’t see it subsiding anytime soon. She’s got such huge momentum. And for those on the left, who have suffered being electorally unpopular for so long, she really is a hero.” I’m also quoted saying, “That [latest] poll really showed that she’s magic.”

New Zealand Herald political editor Audrey Young also emphasises the huge impact of Ardern on the political landscape, likening it to a “Brexit-style political quake” – see: With 28 days to go, National waits for ‘stardust’ to settle.

Young says: “people haven’t stopped talking about her, her leadership style, her charisma, her effect on the campaign, the polls, the long lines for selfies with her, and her ability to draw the sort of crowds to a campaign launch that hasn’t been seen since Rob Muldoon attracted mobs to the Wiri woolstores. The violent swing in Labour’s mood from near despair a month ago to near euphoria was initially a source of fascination.”

The theme of a “seismic shift” is also shared by Stuff political editor Tracy Watkins, who says in the weekend, “The earth has moved under New Zealand politics so completely that the scene is set for a stunning and unprecedented Labour victory. Jacinda Ardern has already done something no Labour leader since Helen Clark has managed and that is to look prime ministerial” – see: Is Jacinda Ardern unstoppable?

RNZ’s Tim Watkin says Ardern’s new leadership is perfectly timed for Labour: “She comes in at an intense time when emotion, presentation and discipline under fire matter at least as much as policy and consistency. It’s short enough that ‘the Jacinda Effect’ might not have time to wear off. And short enough that there may not be time to truly test her abilities in the leaders’ role” – see: Timing is everything for Ardern & Labour.

The sense of euphoria is hugely advantageous to Labour, according to Watkins: “her failings or her strengths will get little exposure in the frenetic mood of a campaign. Many voters will decide on a feeling or a short-term impression. People like to vote for someone they like and who’s liked by others.”

Jacindamaniacs on the campaign trail

There are now numerous accounts of Jacindamania on the campaign trail. Perhaps the most succinct and colourful is this tweet from TVNZ’s Katie Bradford (@katieabradford): “Student at Uni waiting in a massive scrum to meet Ardern “I don’t know what I’m going to do if I meet her. I might die. I love her so much’.”

Such a rapturous welcome was particularly in evidence when Labour recently held its election campaign launch. Claire Trevett reported it with biblical allusions: “Theologians wanting to see if the Rapture was real should have made a study of Labour’s campaign launch on Sunday. The Auckland Town Hall was the scene and the cause was the Jassiah – as Jacinda Ardern has been dubbed courtesy of her reincarnation effect on the Labour Party” – see: Rapture for Labour as Jacinda Ardern delivers them hope.


Trevett stresses that the euphoria was almost unconditional: “Ardern did not say anything new in the way of policy. She did not need to. She could have sung Mary had a Little Lamb and they would have been happy.”

Patrick Gower noted, “It’s really quite weird because nothing has changed in Labour except for the leader. For Labour, Jacinda Ardern means one thing: hope. She’s Labour’s new hope” – see: Jacinda Ardern is Labour’s ‘new hope’.

Incidentally, one Dunedin artist has taken up this theme of Ardern as Labour’s “New Hope”, and given the leader a Star Wars-style makeover – see Hamish McNeilly’s Princess Leia, Wonder Woman and… Jacinda Ardern. Apparently, “Sales of the Ardern prints had ‘gone bananas’ and he was fielding sales request from all over the country. The Princess Leia piece was easily his most popular artwork.”

Patrick Gower also evaluated Ardern’s key phrase to come out of the campaign launch: “Jacinda Ardern delivered one simply exceptional line in her speech today, calling the fight against climate change ‘my generation’s nuclear-free moment’. It is catchy, credible and has cut-through. It is a great line. It is an absolute banger of a line” – see: Jacinda Ardern’s climate change line an absolute banger.

On the campaign trail Jo Moir reports the “mayhem” of selfies and hugs with Ardern, saying “Everyone wants to touch her, get a photo with her, speak to her, ask a question of her – you name it, they want a piece of it” – see:  ‘Jacinda effect’ becomes a tsunami in South Auckland.

According to Moir, “Ardern’s in a league of her own when it comes to children – being a young woman who oozes warmth makes her a magnet for the younger generation and none of them are afraid to squeeze her as if she was one of the extended family. Parents vote with their children in mind and when they see Ardern relate to their own it’s campaign gold.”

This theme is elaborated on in a very interesting piece from Simon Wilson, who witnessed the same phenomenon: “Doing a selfie with Jacinda means you get right inside her personal space. No one just stands next to her, they snuggle up. Even the men, and quite a few men take the opportunity. But it’s women she appeals to most. All ages, from the elderly right down to little girls, and all ethnicities. She connects, it cannot be denied” – see: Jacinda Ardern storms the markets of South Auckland.

Wilson likens Ardern’s ability to connect with the public to that of John Key: “National had a leader once who confounded all analysis, all attempts to get the better of him, because his connection to voters was deeper and more direct than rational explanation allowed. But John Key’s gone now and Labour has found one of its own. It’s not a tsunami, but it’s definitely a storm.” See also, the Herald’s Selfies and hugs as Jacinda Ardern campaigns in Auckland.

Growing acknowledgement of the power of Jacindamania

John Key can see the parallels between himself and Ardern. He is reported as saying, “The camera likes Jacinda. Paul Holmes once said to me ‘on TV they see your heart’ – she responds well to that so that works really well for her”, and “She’s been on TV a lot, she communicates pretty well and in the end people want to vote for people they like – that helps them a lot” – see Jo Moir’s Former Prime Minister John Key says Labour did the right thing making Jacinda Ardern leader.

Key’s official biographer, John Roughan also has high praise for Ardern, saying in his weekend column that “she is good. Extremely good”, reporting on seeing her talk to a school hall where she was “warm, sparkling, vivacious” – see: Time feels right for change Ardern represents.

Roughan adds: “She’s an assured public speaker in that modest, natural way New Zealanders like. She puts on no airs and can laugh at herself. And she is young enough to represent a generational change. Part of me feels it is time for one.”

Duncan Garner said some similar things in the weekend: “Ardern in that first debate was fresh, positive and always smiling. Voters are finding her catchy, warm and engaging” – see: Hey Jacinda Ardern, what’s your secret tax plan? And he reports on the euphoria: “Labour diehards with a long memory are starting to whisper the name David Lange and the year 1984. That’s the last time they truly felt this buzz and momentum for a leader who went on to be the PM.”

This is clearly having an impact on the ground, too, with more activists getting involved in Labour’s campaign. For example, the Dunedin North branch of the party reports a flood of new campaigners since Ardern was made leader. A local organiser says “We had an initial goal of adding 100 new volunteers, which we have already exceeded. We’ve now signed up 260 new volunteers and contributors” – see Joel MacManus’ The ‘Jacinda Effect’ Causes Spike in Campaign Volunteers – and Not Just for Labour.

And there are plenty of commentators on the right who now believe Labour is likely to win the election. Former Act Party leader, Richard Prebble, says “Occasionally New Zealand elections produce a tidal wave. I witnessed the tidal wave that swept the Lange government to power. The pre-conditions are in place” – see: Jacinda tsunami is looking very hard to halt.

Prebble adds: “First the tide goes out for the minor parties as it has for the Greens, United Future and Maori Party. New Zealand First is also losing votes to Labour. Then the wave sweeps in. Anecdotal evidence is urban ‘John Key’ women voters are switching to Jacinda Ardern. Each poll shows the wave is gaining momentum.” Similarly, according to Newshub, Don Brash thinks Labour will win election.

Even some on the “far left” seem to be excited about the new leader. Although socialists might be expected to be rather more critical, the International Socialist Organisation says: “Jacindamania is an expression of working-class hope and is to be welcomed by all socialists. People want National out; we want National out. People want the reforms Labour are offering; we want them too. The new mood is one that can be tapped by revolutionaries as well as the Labour reformists” – see: Jacindamania!

Finally, with Ardern replacing Andrew Little, Labour have had to create a TV commercial focusing on the new leader. And, helpfully, Toby Manhire adds subtitles – see: Let’s do a new ad, fast. The Jacindamania commercial, explained.