[4/27/20] – PM Jacinda Ardern’s Leadership

Whether you are calling it COVID-19, the novel coronavirus, COVID, or coronavirus, the pandemic has, at this time on Sunday April 26, 2020 at 1:25pm CST, reached nearly 3 million cases. Over 200,000 people have died. Close to a million have recovered. Political systems are struggling to balance sovereignty with preserving what is left of the economy. For example, the United States has close to 30 million unemployed. States governments are concerned with reopening to provide work for their constituents. Federal entities are providing more confusion and disorientation than guidance and solace (e.g., injecting disinfectants into the bloodstream as a possible cure for COVID-19). True leadership is what is needed for any population at this time. One world leader is standing out from the rest for her empathic and strict approach to preventing infections and deaths for her fellow citizens. PM Jacinda Ardern orchestrated a campaign that did not flatten the curve for her country, it eliminated it. With a total of 17 deaths and only 2 reported positive tests as of Friday, New Zealand and PM Jacinda Ardern is leading the world in the fight against COVID-19. This week we close out the 2019-2020 Lecture Spark series by highlighting the role of politics in fighting COVID-19, sexism in politics as a barrier to progress, and the reopening of a country after a disaster.

Download the PowerPoint Lecture Spark for PM Jacinda Ardern’s Leadership

Learning Objectives

LO1: Explain the functional role politicians play in defining a crisis and leading the country through to survival.

LO2: Understand the interplay of gender and politics and how sexism can limit social progress.

LO3: Discuss the pros and cons of reopening the country after experiencing a pandemic.


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New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern has announced a plan to ease coronavirus lockdown laws as the country comes within a fighting chance of eliminating the disease. ‘We have done what very few countries have been able to do, she said. ‘We have stopped a wave of devastation.’ A move to level three restrictions would see more businesses opening and schools and day care centres operating. Social lives would largely be unchanged, Ardern said, with Kiwis still urged to remain at home unless taking exercise or fetching supplies

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Discussion Questions

From a functionalist perspective, what is the role of the federal government in preserving the integrity of a nation? Should their focus be more on saving lives or saving the economy? Is there a minimum threshold of deaths that would be inconsequential if we did reopen the country completely? Explain.

How has PM Ardern’s approach of “be strong and be kind” lead to her 80% approval rating? How might this message promote social solidarity as opposed to fear and confusion? Why might PM Ardern’s approach to governing with empathy be more successful at flattening the curve than the strategy of the United States government?

Why might PM Ardern’s communication style of care and concern be condemned as “soft” by conservatives? How does the social construction of gender influence the language used to describe people’s actions? How might this be amplified in the political arena? Why might Kiwis be resistant to the negative rhetoric, and choose to support their leader and follow her guidance?

Why might PM Ardern have opted to close New Zealand’s borders and effectively stop her economy entirely for a short period of time as opposed to attempting to navigate the pandemic while working with loose restrictions? Why might this approach be paying off, as New Zealand is now poised to reopen – albeit slowly – parts of the country to commerce and social interaction?

What are the pros and cons of reopening the United States? Why might people be so adamant about reopening the country to “normal” functioning? What parts of our functioning before having proven problematic now, and need to change? Why might the leadership of a country be a determining factor in the success or failure of a nation following a pandemic?


Sociologists would argue that critics of PM Jacinda Ardern who use gendered themes in an attempt to limit her prestige and status as an effective leader are _______ in their attacks.
a. Sexist
b. Racist
c. Classist
d. Womanist

From a _______ perspective, a sociologist would likely be interested in researching how social institutions like government and healthcare work together to return society to stability following a devastating crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic.
a. Functionalist
b. Social conflict
c. Interactionist
d. Marxist

From a _______, sociologists would likely be interested in learning what motivates individual citizens to respond with social solidarity in response to the empathic approach of PM Ardern.
a. Functionalist
b. Social conflict
c. Interactionist
d. Marxist


Photo credit: Mark Mitchell-Pool/Getty Images

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