5 May 2014


Political ructions in both New Zealand and Australia over the last few weeks as Ministers have been acting inappropriately, may be seen as reinforcing perceptions that many people have about the trustworthiness of politicians. Public opinion surveys always rate politicians poorly. Although the apparent closeness of two New Zealand Ministers to Chinese business interests has captured media attention, those circumstances appear much less damning than incidents with New South Wales politicians. First the Premier resigned, then the Minister of Police, and evidence of impropriety about others is being considered by the Independent  Commission Against Corruption.

The annual UMR New Zealand Mood of the Nation Survey, last published in January, includes results of a poll of confidence in institutions. This continues to show that New Zealanders have less confidence in Parliament than any of the other institutions. The poll, conducted in August 2013, shows 20% had a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in Parliament (and that had dropped from 29%, the highest in 12 years, only 15 months previously). By comparison, 35% had a great deal or a lot of confidence in the Public Service, and 47% responded that way about the military. Conforming to previous years, New Zealanders have more confidence in general practitioners as an institution (with 66% showing a great deal or a lot) followed by the Police (at 59%).

The ratings of occupations place politicians as the least respected at 4.5  (alongside real estate agents) while nurses rated highest at 8.8. Police were at 7.9 and Public servants at 6.5.  Politicians were the only occupation for whom respect diminished from the poll results the previous year.

This may reflect trends elsewhere.

Results of a United States poll published last week by the Institute of Politics at Harvard University show that the millennial generation is cynical about the political process and is increasingly distrustful of government institutions.

About 58% think politicians don’t share their priorities, and 62% felt politicians were motivated by selfish reasons.

This loss 0f trust among 19 – 29 year olds is more general in effect. Their trust in American institutions, such as the President, the military, and the Supreme Court, has also declined over the past year. In 2013, for example, 54% said they trusted the US military to do the right thing all or most of the time. That number dropped to 47 % in the new poll.