Two weeks ago, New Zealand's general election was on track to be anything but exciting. The National Party, led now by Prime Minister Bill English, has shepherded the country through eight years of steady, uneventful post-crisis growth. And two weeks ago it appeared certain Kiwis would hand stodgy-but-safe National another mandate. The party was polling a full 20 points ahead of the opposition Labour Party.
Then on July 31, Labour leader Andrew Little announced he was resigning and leaving the party in the hands of Jacinda Ardern, making the 37-year-old MP the party's youngest leader ever. The sudden change so close to election day -- coupled with Ardern's youth, charisma and reputation for authenticity -- turned a boring race thrilling overnight.
Ardern's ascension has generated a sustained surge in digital momentum for Labour. The party leapt ahead of National in Predata's digital campaign scores -- a measure of how strongly engagement with one party's social and collaborative media output correlates with the overall conversation about the election in the digital realm.
Jacinda's takeover has galvanized online interest in not only the leader herself, but in other Labour politicians as well. Since July 31, the Wikipedia pages for several Labour MPs have received abnormally high page-view totals. This heightened attention to other party members suggests the sensation surrounding Ardern is generating buzz for Labour across the board.
The Jacinda Effect has triggered a surge in donations and volunteers for Labour. The party still trails in opinion polls but gained nine points the day Ardern became leader. Whether Labour can sustain that momentum -- both digital and analog -- through to the ballot box remains to be seen.