Pandemic Politics: The Contrast Between Elections in New Zealand and the United States

On October 7, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was re-elected for a second term in a landslide victory, garnering nearly twice as many votes as her Labour Party’s nearest rival, and half of the country’s total ballots.

Amaia Garay, Owen Hite, and Sean Donlan

While the United States wraps up its election year in a historic and controversial fashion, electoral races across the globe are similarly making history. On October 7, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was re-elected for a second term in a landslide victory, garnering nearly twice as many votes as her Labour Party’s nearest rival, and half of the country’s total ballots.

In direct contrast to the lengthy conclusion of America’s presidential race, Ardern’s win was a swift and decisive one, with preliminary results of the general election being announced on the same day. This feat―characterized by the presence of election-day norms of in-person voting and same-day tallies absent in America’s race―was helped in part by the Prime Minister’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The ability to handle the pandemic has been a marker for great and inept leaders alike and has left people questioning their country’s response plans. Eric Mendes, a junior, weighed in on The U.S.’s response to the pandemic.

“I think that America’s response wasn’t ideal. Not all governors issued mask mandates. Obviously America didn’t do a good job,” said Mendes.

America and New Zealand’s responses to the pandemic couldn’t have been more different from each other. America entered a pseudo lockdown for a few weeks, and then started to open up 

non-essential businesses and events again. New Zealand went into a complete lockdown until the only cases remaining were in one quarantine facility. This form of lockdown led to there being no new local cases in the country, with the only people still in quarantine being those coming back to New Zealand from other countries. 

Although New Zealand’s success has been noticed around the world, some people believe that the U.S. shouldn’t enter a full quarantine like the island nation. Kyle

 Rainey, a senior, contributed his perspective on lockdown mandates.

“A lockdown puts our safety at more importance than our freedom, and that’s a dangerous game. A lockdown takes away people’s right to peacefully assemble. Our voices are silenced because of safety,” said Rainey.

While both New Zealand and the United States aimed to protect the nations’ wellbeing with their lockdowns, the former’s success―a minimal case count and return to a maskless society―comes as a result of its strategy to eliminate rather than mitigate the virus. New Zealand, under guidance from Ardern, has successfully curbed two waves of the outbreak by mandating weeks of shutdown in each case. Nonetheless, lockdowns in both countries have led to economic downturns and mental health declines, topics that Rainey believes are a better measure of successful handling of the pandemic. 

“Looking at low case counts is a flawed way of looking at the pandemic,” said Rainey. “It’s not about the amount of people getting sick, it’s about the amount of people dying in relation to case rate. If we look purely at case rate, it would appear that they are doing very well, but the solution to the pandemic can’t be worse than the pandemic itself. We are seeing cases of mental illness or suicidal thoughts/actions skyrocket when people are locked up in self-declared cages.”

Along with her policy, many people credit Prime Minister Ardern’s ability to handle the pandemic with her re-election success. Similarly, in the United States, many people are crediting the Biden-Harris administration with their win of the presidential election to their future pandemic plans. Because of the major difference between the way the pandemic was handled, the two countries are at very different stages in recovery. Todd Siders, a history teacher, gave his input on the handling of the global pandemic in the United States.

“I feel that we have lacked a coherent national strategy to deal with the pandemic,” Siders said. “Official denial and downplaying by the Trump Administration made things worse, but also the inability for the U.S. to come together and realize that our safety is collective has also been problematic.”

It is known that there are any number of things at play during a presidential or prime ministerial election in any country, but with the pandemic heavy on everyone’s minds it can also be said that that played a huge role in this year’s voting. Siders said, “I do think that if Trump took the epidemic more seriously, and our incidence and death count were lower, he might have been re-elected, but that’s just speculation.” 

With a major change in United States administration, and a consistency in the politics and ethics in New Zealand, the world is beginning to see where citizens lie concerning their own health and safety.