The Northern Advocate
Poll reveals majority of Kiwis consider country more divided
Most New Zealanders feel society has become more divided in the past few years, new polling shows.
The findings were gathered across two NZ Heraldcommissioned polls conducted by Dynata, which ran between November 17 and 28.
In the f i rst, 1000 people nationally were asked whether they believed certain issues had united or divided New Zealanders.
Sixty-four per cent believed New Zealand as a society had become more divided in the past few years, confirming the sense that division is currently more prominent in New Zealand.
And 16 per cent felt the nation had become more united while 20 per cent said it had remained about the same.
Division related to the Covid response was widely discussed, however, Kiwis identified more division from the access to housing and the distribution of wealth.
Asked if they thought New Zealand’s Covid-19 response had brought us closer together or pushed us further apart, 51 per cent said it had divided us and 37 per cent said it was unifying.
Kiwis responded to the issues of access to housing and wealth distribution comparably: a large majority felt these two issues were divisive but their assessments of the issue were consistent.
Seventy per cent said access to housing — and 74 per cent said the distribution of wealth — had pushed us further apart.
Meanwhile, 37 per cent said a farming-based economy had driven us further apart.
The Herald wanted to understand whether, while many of us can see a prominent issue such as New Zealand’s response to Covid had been divisive, this perception affected our views on the issue?
The second poll sampled another 1000 people and asked how much they agreed or disagreed with statements about the same set of issues. Respondents were given a choice of five answers, ranging from strongly agree to strongly disagree.
When asked how they felt about the statement “our response to Covid has been well-judged and appropriate”, 57 per cent agreed.
Only 21 per cent agreed with the statement “our access to housing is fair and good for the country”, 24 per cent agreed “our distribution of wealth is fair and good for the country”.
Meanwhile, most respondents (70 per cent) agreed that “a farming-based economy is good for the future of the country”.
While the perception of social division after two turbulent years was perhaps unsurprising, academics said the poll results also indicated a sense of cohesion among New Zealanders. Research fellow at The Disinformation Project, Sanjana Hattotuwa, who studies mis- and disinformation, and hateful and violent rhetoric on social media, thought the percentage of Kiwis who felt society had become more divided would have been higher than 64 per cent.
“I’m, in a way, glad it’s not as high as I would’ve thought, which I think is a testimony to the residual social glue that binds the country together, loosely captured by what the [Prime Minister] said and the ‘team of five million’.
“Even if you don’t take the PM’s word for it, I think [that] is what makes Aotearoa so special.”
However, he said that “glue” or social cohesion was “not just being increasingly tested, it is eroding at pace”. “That is a significant worry.”
After the terrorist attack in Christchurch on March 15, 2019, Hattotuwa studied representations of the attack on Twitter as part of his doctoral research.
He found people had united. Twitter was defined by “social binds and bonds” that made for an eye-watering story demonstrating how a country can and should respond after a mass casualty terrorist event, Hattotuwa said.
Since then, Covid-19 happened and mis- and disinformation grew inexorably.
“The long and short of it is that I can’t recognise our Aotearoa from what I studied then.
Kiwis’ ability to access a house has been a longstanding issue and 60 per cent did not think access to housing was fair and good.
Senior research fellow with the University of Otago’s He Kāinga Oranga Housing and Health Research Programme, Dr Lucy TelfarBarnard, said this result in itself showed a degree of cohesiveness.
“Even though we may agree that as a population, our access to housing is not equally distributed, the majority of people don’t think that’s fair and that is a cohesiveness on its own.
Kiwibank economist Mary Jo Vergara said much of New Zealanders’ wealth was tied up in property and the wealth gap between those who own a home, and those who don’t, had widened.
She was surprised by the seeming inconsistency of the wealth distribution polling results, expecting the two polls to yield similar responses.
Federated Farmers president Andrew Hoggard was pleased with the 70 per cent proportion who backed a farming-based economy as “good for the future”.