America first? Yeah, nah, say Kiwis as many look to China for leadership

Donald Trump - 'unelectable" in New Zealand.

Donald Trump - 'unelectable" in New Zealand.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is on a flying visit to further relations with New Zealand - but a survey of nearly 40,000 Kiwis suggests they have no confidence in American President Donald Trump and are increasingly looking to China for leadership.

The online survey, conducted by Stuff and Massey University, released on the eve of Tillerson's visit, shows only 15.2 per cent who answered that question would have voted for Trump.

That confirms a Reid Research/Newshub poll last August which showed New Zealand voters rejected Trump's recipe during the run up to the US presidential elections, with an overwhelming majority favouring Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton and only 9 per cent saying they would vote for Trump.


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But more surprisingly the survey found that when asked to choose between building closer bilateral relations with the US, the UK and China only 15.6 per cent chose the US. China came out tops, with 42.5 per cent backing, while 42 per cent said the United Kingdom.


Associate professor Grant Duncan of Massey University said the survey of 39,644 respondents was a self-selecting online poll and so it should be treated with caution because it was not scientifically sampled.

However, the make up of the sample - which was heavily skewed towards men, and greatly under-represented Labour voters - suggested a weighted sample would likely have been even more unfavourable to Trump and the US.

"This particular survey is quite low on women and low on Labour supporters so I would think this possibly slightly overstates the support for Trump. He is unelectable in this country."

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It also showed New Zealanders' views about their relations with the world's great powers were shifting in favour of China.

Duncan said it was a "striking" finding.

"It really was the UK and China that stood out as people's perceived main priorities."

Duncan said he was not aware of any comparable surveys but if you had asked New Zealanders a few decades ago about building a closer relationship with China "they would have run a mile". He said it wasn't that long ago that China was very closed and perceived as a hostile nation.

"Now it's exactly the opposite."


New Zealand had a free trade agreement with China and that was much easier to reach than any free trade deal with the US and - now the US had pulled out of the TPP - New Zealand still didn't have a free trade deal with the US.

But "Trumpism" must have had something to do with the outcome of the survey.

"When you put the two things together; Trump's repugnant behaviour and his America First attitude, presumably it has had some influence on this result."

The Chinese were also deliberately using "soft power" to increase their influence in the Asia-Pacific region.

"This result shows you that they're succeeding."

He said Tillerson "had some thinking to do" when he comes to Wellington on Tuesday

He expected Prime Minister Bill English and Foreign Minister Gerry Brownlee would try to make the visit cordial.

But that jaundiced view of the US may be in the minds of ministers when thinking about their domestic audience.

The survey was taken before Trump this week formally withdrew the US from the Paris Climate Change accord, but it is likely the strong international condemnation of the move, and China's positive comments and continued support for the Paris accord and closer relations with the EU, can only boost that trend.

"That dropping of the ball by the US over climate change only adds to that perception."

Among those who took the survey there was strong support for action on climate change, with 51 per cent believing the Government was "not doing enough on climate change". About a third said the Government was taking the right approach.


The survey's under-representation of women and Labour voters suggested a more accurate portrayal of New Zealander's views would be even stronger towards doing more on climate change, Duncan said.

A partnership between Massey University and Stuff, the University Election Survey was designed to gauge the mood of the country as we head into the 2017 General Election. Its aim was to provide insights into the issues of importance to New Zealanders and to uncover any underlying concerns around leadership, trust and the political system. While the results are not scientific, a staggering 39,600 people took part. The survey findings will be the starting point for important conversations about the future of New Zealand, and we'll be running a series of stories based on the findings. Key issues will be put before political leaders at a series of election debates hosted by Massey, Stuff and the Wellington and Auckland Chambers of Commerce, to be held in August.

 - Stuff

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