Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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The First-Class, the Familiar and the Forgettable: An analysis of Prime Ministerial performance in New Zealand

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Version 1 2021-12-07, 12:22
posted on 2021-12-07, 12:22 authored by Smith, Katherine

Within the literature associated with political leadership, scholarship directly focused upon political performance in office is thinly conducted, both in New Zealand and in other areas across the world. This thesis aims to greater understand political leadership and performance in New Zealand, and address the gaps in the literature correlated with Prime Ministerial performance. To do this, this thesis provides a current list of rankings of former Premiers and Prime Ministers in New Zealand and identifies the dimensions that one must fulfil to display exceptional performance in office. To undertake this research, this thesis uses a series of surveys – distributed to students at Victoria University of Wellington, and to other individuals with a professional interest in politics and history in New Zealand – to best assess public perceptions towards political performance. Building upon the path dependency created by former exercises of the same nature in New Zealand (conducted by Simon Sheppard in 1998, and by Jon Johansson and Stephen Levine in 2011), this thesis provides a snapshot of the current public perceptions of outstanding political performance. In a similar nature to the earlier studies, this thesis identifies the dimensions of longevity, death in office, and being a ‘big change’ or crisis Prime Minister as being directly correlated with elevated performance in office. Additionally, this thesis investigates whether a series of variables – namely time between exercises in New Zealand, and the appearance of a possible recency effect– provide any influence or change over results. Additionally, this thesis moves outside the scope of exercises conducted previously in New Zealand, by ranking Prime Ministerial performance using a series of different methodologies. In conjunction with a replication of the exercises already conducted in New Zealand, this survey also assesses Prime Ministerial performance by using a survey based upon the well-cited Schlesinger ranking studies in the United States, and a third survey aimed to assess political shifts and levels of knowledge and recall rates amongst university students. Regardless of such factors, the results of this thesis remain consistent with previous exercises, with Michael Savage, Richard Seddon, Helen Clark and Peter Fraser being regarded by the political and academic elite across all surveys as embodying the highest qualities of successful political leadership in New Zealand.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Political Science

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Arts

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code


Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of History, Philosophy, Political Science and International Relations


Levine, Stephen