They are regularly ranked below used car salesmen as one of our least trusted professions. But the latest Fairfax Media-Ipsos poll sheds light on what we really think about our politicians - and even MPs are surprised by its findings.
The survey of 1062 people asked whether our politicians were mostly honest, hard-working and doing a good job and 47.2 per cent of people agreed. Just over 33 per cent disagreed, while 18.2 per cent of people had no opinion.
Asked whether politicians were mostly focused on themselves, rather than the real needs of New Zealanders, a sizeable 48.3 per cent disagreed, while 38.3 per cent agreed.
Given that most MPs would admit low expectations of public esteem, United Future leader Peter Dunne said he was "pleasantly surprised".
One reason might be that tough times bred higher expectations of politicians generally. But there had also been an improvement in MPs' behaviour overall - so much so he has stopped putting out his annual "bad behaviour" list.
"It's hugely better than it was 10 or 15 years ago."
Higher standards under Speaker Lockwood Smith, the televising of Parliament and social media were also factors.
"I think one of the things that politicians are acutely aware of is the fact they're on TV all the time. We used to have MPs who played up in the House knowing they could never be seen . . . and now people are tuning in."
MPs were also conscious of how quickly their words travelled on Twitter, Facebook and blogs, said Mr Dunne, who is an avid tweeter.
"You just watch during Question Time, flicking through Twitter, the number of people commenting about what's being said instantly . . . People suddenly realised how we are being watched and commented on."
Labour finance spokesman David Parker was also pleasantly surprised.
"Well it's true . . . politicians generally work pretty hard and are there for the right reasons."
Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce said he was relatively new to Parliament but "in my observation most MPs work pretty hard".
National voters were most supportive of politicians, with 64 per cent agreeing they were honest, hardworking and doing a good job.
Labour and Green supporters were more cynical, with NZ First voters by far the grumpiest about our politicians.
Former Green MP Sue Kedgley said she would have preferred to see voters asked about trust.
Overseas studies showed a loss of trust in political institutions as people felt governments were less relevant in their lives and felt a level of disengagement from the political process.
- The Dominion Post