She’s engaged, so why is the prime minister regularly appearing on a dating app? Zara Beauchamp investigates the strange case of Jacinda Ardern’s cameos on Tinder.
I have recently gone back on dating apps. Since I was last in this murky, selfie-filled world of flirtation and despair, several things have changed – not least, a global pandemic. Along with the Covid puns – “if Covid doesn’t take you out, can I?” – there is another new phenomenon: the use of the prime minister as what I can only bluntly describe as date bait.
She joins the ranks of more traditional ways to boost a profile: cute dogs, scenic overseas shots, pictures with a hotter friend. And now there is Jacinda, smiling up from the profiles of Tom, Dick and Harry. I am both impressed at her pulling power and at the sheer number of meet and greets she must be doing for this many people to have pictures with her. Are singles gathering in hopeful herds outside the Beehive waiting to nab one? I guess these days, your odds of nabbing a Jacinda pic are considerably higher than a picturesque overseas location.
I match with a guy who, alongside winsome shots in exotic locales, has a picture of himself chatting merrily to Jacinda. He still looks tall next to her, and knowing Jacinda is of reasonable stature, I take this as handy reassurance of his actual height – thank you, prime minister. We met for a drink. He is tall and looks like his pictures, hooray. I ask him about meeting JA herself.
“She was great, so amazing,” he gushes.
I don’t get much more detail out of him as he moves on to attempting to read my palm by candlelight. Apparently, I’m destined to have two great loves and a heart attack at 50. We meet a few more times and then it fizzles out and I worry that the Jacinda pics may be huge, Labour-red flags.
I go back to swiping and the Jacindas keep popping up. Snaps taken by parliament, out and about, in government offices. Then the boldest yet: a profile that just has her headshot as their main picture. Pure and beautiful. As if you were going to match with Jacinda herself – except now she is a man called Tom who goes rock climbing at weekends.
It’s a version of the halo effect, a cognitive bias where we tend to give more positive impressions to something we already have a positive association with. Like rating someone more attractive as more intelligent. I assume the hope is that some of Jacinda’s halo (glowier by the day) rubs off. Of course, it can also work the other way, known as a “horn effect”. I guess this is what Young Nats experience confronted with the grinning Jacindas.
While I’m still unsure if a Jacinda pic is a giant red flag, I match with someone with a profile clean of any politicians; just a perfectly bland headshot of themselves. We go for a drink mid-week after work. When I’m tired of talking about myself, I bring up the Jacinda phenomenon.
“Did you know that people having Jacinda in their profile pictures is, like, a thing?” His eyebrows raise slightly, and he says that actually, he’s seen her on a bunch of women’s profiles too. My eyebrows raise a lot,
“Really? Wow, so this is a cross-gender phenomenon.”
I don’t know why I’m so surprised – I guess the halo effect works across genders. I wonder if it has more pulling power for either side? I’d also love some data from the rainbow community on this.
We debate whether the phenomenon exists in other countries. I can imagine Justin Trudeau getting a lot of mileage in Canada. Maybe some racy Boris Johnsons in the UK. Agree that Obama would still have pulling power and Trump, well, we’ll just leave that there. I thank my date for the evening and ask him to send me pictures of any cases he comes across. It’s probably not a good sign for our romantic prospects that I am more excited about this than seeing him again.
On the next profile I see with a Jacinda, I swipe right and get straight to the point:
Me: Does Jacinda know you are using her for date bait?
Him: haha unsure what she would think to be honest! do you think she would be against having her pic?
Good question, and one I have been asking myself too. I turn to Google for help and this leads me straight to Jacinda’s very own profile on Tinder circa 2014.
Yes, turns out, Tinder was part of her pathway to prime minister. Six years ago, Ardern was in opposition, a Labour list MP campaigning for the Auckland Central seat. As part of the #askjacinda campaign modelled off Reddit’s AMAs (ask me anything), she got Tinder. “Clocked Tinder? Fear not there are still political candidates keen to talk to you (about voting). So go on, ask me anything (about voting).”
Is this my answer? For the 2020 campaign, instead of having to schlep through the pile herself, she has scores of eager singles doing it for her. Well played, prime minister.
I go back to the current match, who is now professing his undying love for Labour. I wonder if this stuff is meant to turn you on in your 30s. He wonders if Judith Collins has made it on to any profiles yet and we both write “haha”. He asks which politician in the world I’d have lunch with, and tells me his is Obama or Merkel.
The political flirting has all got a bit heavy-handed and while I’m not sure if I’m into it, Jacinda would probably be proud. She can chalk it up as bonus campaigning. This thought turns more sinister when I read an article about political campaigners in the UK creating bots to populate dating apps who send automated messages to sway voters. “Hey beautiful, let me tell you all the reasons why I’m voting Labour in the next election!”
I swipe through a few more profiles. No more Jacindas but at the bottom of the pile, someone has copy-pasted Judith Collins directly beneath their face, along with the words “LET’S CRUSH THIS”. Must be harder to nab her for a real-life selfie, I think. But hey, it’s election season, perfect time to get out there and catch one in the wild.
The Bulletin is The Spinoff’s acclaimed daily digest of New Zealand’s most important stories, delivered directly to your inbox each morning.