Opinion polls indicate Ardern is on track to win a second term as prime minister in Saturday's general election. But that didn't necessarily translate into domestic popularity for her party, which at the beginning of the year was trailing National.
The 40-year-old, who has led New Zealand through a string of crises in the past three years culminating in the Covid-19 pandemic, said her commitment to the job had demanded sacrifice. She has several million social media followers, and she won global acclaim for her sensitivity after a gunman murdered 51 people at two mosques in the city of Christchurch previous year.
Ms Collins has focussed her campaign on the financial challenges ahead as unemployment rises, recession looms and the government's coronavirus support packages expire.
New Zealand's quarter-on-quarter GDP shrank by 12.2% in the second quarter, more than the OECD average, although a large part of the period was under the tight lockdown restrictions.
"Three years on, the phrase "Jacindamania" is exposed for what it always was, a deeply sexist put-down and in a way distraction really from the impact of an incredibly popular leader", University of Canterbury political science Professor Bronwyn Hayward said.
The election was delayed by one month due to the pandemic. It also appears to have encouraged more people to vote early and avoid the crowds, with more than half of all voters expected to cast their ballot before Saturday.
Ardern leads the liberal Labour Party, which is polling far ahead of the conservative National Party. That has led to coalition governments ever since.
One question on election night will be whether Labour can win an outright majority in Parliament, something that hasn't happened since New Zealand implemented a proportional voting system 24 years ago.
Ardern transformed from self-described "policy nerd" to prime minister on a wave of "Jacinda-mania" after being thrust into the Labour leadership just seven weeks before the 2017 election.
"Things are getting tight".
This means Labour would have 59 seats in parliament, just short of the 61 needed to form a government on its own.
ACT's Leader David Seymour was third on 2 per cent and NZ First's Winston Peters was on 1 per cent.
On Saturday, voters will also have a say on two contentious social issues - whether to legalize marijuana and euthanasia. "She has that very easy appeal and people can imagine she could be their neighbor, she's not perceived as part of the elite", Curtin said.
"The most important issue for this election is economic recovery for New Zealand", Collins said in a recent TV debate with Ardern, adding tax cuts would be an "adrenaline pump into the heart of the economy". Her swift response to the threat of COVID-19 has also attracted widespread praise.
'My message would that be if people don't want to see me resign, then vote for Labour, ' she told media after the debate.
Ardern has constantly urged New Zealanders during the coronavirus crisis to "be kind", appealing for a unified approach from what she terms a "team of five million".
"COVID-19 changed everything", Grant Duncan said.
He also said he believed Ardern's global appeal is purely symbolic.