As Auckland endures lockdown week 10 and the Delta strain of Covid creeps further south, renowned British politician and master of polling, Lord Michael Ashcroft, asks are New Zealanders still Living the Kiwi Dream?
The philanthropist's poll of 5000 Kiwis comes in the same week Lonely Planet announces Tāmaki Makaurau is the best city in the world and Sir Russell Coutts says we are living in a dictatorship.
How does the everyday New Zealander feel?
Culture and society
Is New Zealand a land of opportunity?
According to respondents (especially National party and ACT supporters), it is. Respondents agreed there were always opportunities in New Zealand for those willing to work hard. Green voters were the only political group who thought opportunities here were limited to a select few.
Most New Zealanders tended to agree that their success in life was down to them and their own efforts, rather than it being out of their hands.
However, nearly three in 10 of those aged 18-24 and nearly a quarter of 25-34s took the latter view.
Māori voters were more likely to lean towards feeling that whether or not they were successful was out of their hands (32 per cent) than Pacific (24 per cent), white (15 per cent) or Asian background voters (26 per cent).
Is the grass greener than 30 years ago?
New Zealanders were almost evenly split as to whether life in the country was now better than it was decades ago.
This was also true of voters for the major parties, though Labour and Green voters leaned more to the view that things were better, while Act and NZ First voters tended more to the opposing view.
White voters were evenly split, Asian-background voters were more likely to think things had improved, while Māori voters leaned in the other direction.
The youngest and oldest people polled were the age groups most likely to say life in New Zealand was better than it was 30 years ago.
Best place in the world:
In a separate question, the great majority of respondents said New Zealand was one of the best places to live in the world.
More than 7 out of 10 18-24s took this view, rising to 90 per cent of those aged 65 or over.
White voters were slightly more likely to think this (83 per cent) than Māori (74 per cent) and Asian-background voters (72 per cent)
So what are we worried about?
Housing costs were the biggest concern across all groups.
Many worried they or their children may never be able to afford their own home.
People said they already felt demoralised and some were considering a move to Australia.
Growing inequality between homeowners and others was another worrying consequence.
"The population has grown so fast. They let all these skilled workers in because we need
them, but it's caused so many problems. I wish we could train our own people that are
living here first, and then if we're short, look overseas," said one.
"We'd like to believe we're an equal society, we're all the same, we've got equal opportunity, but in the last few years we've realised that's a fallacy. If you're in the housing market you'll probably be okay, but our kids are not going to be okay."
Even respondents with well-paying jobs felt they could be shut out of the housing market.
"It's 100 per cent beyond my control. We have reasonable jobs, but we're probably never going to get onto the housing market if it continues at this rate. The Kiwi dream that I grew up with, with kids, a quarter acre in the city, none of that is possible any more."
Housing - or more importantly the cost of - topped the list of the 18 options given to those polled.
It was the only issue named in the top three by more than half those polled.
This compared to 40 per cent who chose dealing with the Covid pandemic and 33 per cent who chose healthcare as the most important issue the country faced.
Friendly and tolerant
Despite the housing crisis, most polled felt fortunate to live here and valued what they described as an open and tolerant society.
"I find that younger people are more accepting of other people, other ways of living," said one.
Another said: "Things are getting tougher but there are still opportunities around. You just need to go looking for them. People still take care of each other and look out for each other here."
All groups however, felt that it was harder to get on and achieve the "Kiwi dream" than it had once been because of the rising cost of living, and of housing in particular.
Not all roses
Most people still feel lucky to be in what they believe is still one of the best places in the world to live – but other pressures are crowding in.
The cost of living was spiralling, people said and healthcare was not what it should be.
A number of respondents said they were upset Starship Children's Hospital was having to screen TV ads to fundraise for new intensive care beds.
The lack of transport and infrastructure was also raised and many said crime was becoming a frightening feature of daily life in what people had always considered an unusually safe and peaceful country.
Crime and Punishment
New Zealanders were divided when faced with the complexities of law and order.
People were asked if they preferred rehabilitation or more jail time for criminals.
Those who voted for the National Party or Act in 2020 placed themselves well to
the "more jail time" end of the spectrum, while Green and Māori Party voters put themselves even further towards the "more about rehabilitation" end of the scale.
Labour voters were close to the centre and women were marginally closer to the first statement than men.
Crime was mentioned as an issue of growing concern by many focus groups, whatever their political background.
Many believed violent crime was rising, and many had local examples to illustrate the
point. The groups believed that drugs, gangs and guns had become much more prevalent in New Zealand in recent months and years.
Several cited the Christchurch mosque shootings as a prompt to reconsider the
idea that New Zealand was an unusually peaceful and orderly society.
"The sentences you get for crimes are quite ridiculous...There was a case recently where a 27-year-old bashed an 82-year-old and all he got was community service," said one.
"The Christchurch attack took another thing off the list, that New Zealand is no longer
special. We're not immune to these problems...I'm hopeful about New Zealand, but we need to get more realistic about our society."
Many in the focus groups saw positivity in the effort to promote the rights and interests
of indigenous people, especially in recognising the place of the te reo Māori language.
Respondents believed there had been a broader understanding of the country's history and heritage, and addressing inequalities in terms of health, education and opportunity.
"We actively promote multiculturalism in New Zealand, we do a really good job of that.
That's one reason it's a really nice place to come and be. I think we really do embrace the
melting pot," said one.
Another said: "I'm Māori but I grew up in a very Pākehā world, and when I went to school learning Māori wasn't even an option. So I'm encouraged by the resurgence of te reo Māori and the true learning and understanding of our history."
Some detected an attempt to disown the European element of the country's history,
or felt they were being blamed for historical injustices for which they were not themselves responsible.
Others disliked what they saw as an emphasis on points of difference between New Zealand's various people and cultures, which they thought would be more likely to stoke division than promote unity.
"I'm a big fan of inclusivity and equity, but I feel like the push for te reo has been quite intense. Working in a public sector agency, I don't know whether I'd have got my job if I'd applied today because it's so heavily focused on the need to know te reo."
Green, Māori and Pacific voters felt the most strongly that the government needed to do more to recognise indigenous and Māori rights, while National and (especially) ACT voters were equally far to the other end of the spectrum.
Women were more in favour of greater recognition of Māori rights than men.
On whether there should be a new Māori Health Authority, New Zealanders were nearly twice as likely to oppose the idea as to support it.
Those who supported the proposal said Māori and indigenous people are more predisposed to certain health conditions than other parts of the population and are less inclined to seek help through the system's existing structures.
"There's a lot of unspoken racism inside the system as it is. And they're just a bit shy
to ask for help, or it's not in their cultural ways to ask, so they need better navigation
through the system," one said.
Many of the New Zealanders polled said being "accepting" was an important part of the national character, and several cited the country's support for openly transgender weightlifter Laurel Hubbard as part of the New Zealand women's Olympic team as an example.
The groups tended to see the issue as a private or social matter rather than one of public policy or political debate.
"You have to be mindful. I think if you address someone and it's incorrect, then the common thing is to say 'okay, sure' and address them that way and move on. I would feel bad for people to have to hide who they really are for fear of being embarrassed or persecuted," one said.
Another said: "We had that weightlifter, Laurel Hubbard, and it wasn't a big issue... I mean, she was ridiculed by the world, but New Zealand has just accepted her."
Others were proud New Zealand society had undergone huge change and "taken it on the chin".
"In a lot of countries, like America, no-one can agree on anything, but here it's just sort of 'oh, okay'."
Ashcroft said the fact New Zealanders rated housing as the biggest issue - even ahead of the global pandemic - was significant in the question: Are we still Living the Kiwi Dream?
It pointed to a nagging doubt as to whether the kind of life New Zealanders aspire to was now only attainable for the most fortunate.
Despite this, most still feel lucky to be in what they believe is still one of the best
places in the world to live - but other pressures are crowding in.