Census, Surveys, and Cellphones (Part rua)





In March this year I wrote on the issue of political polling and cellphone/landline usage. Specifically,

“Part of the problem [of inaccurate poll results] are anecdotal  stories that many low income families, students, transients, etc, no longer rely on landlines and use only cellphones. Polling companies do not call cellphones – only landlines. (A low-income family living not far from us fits this demographic group perfectly; no landline; cellphones only. The sole-parent head of the household votes Labour.)”

This year, Statistics NZ included a question pertinent to this issue. They asked households to disclose their landline, cellphone, fax, and internet usage.

This was Question 17,


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I stated then,

“The question asks the respondent to “mark as many spaces as you need to show which of these are available here in this dwelling”.

What will prove interesting is not whether or not “a cellphone/mobile” is marked – but how many households will mark “a telephone”.

This will finally give us a clearer understanding what percentage of households do not have a landline.”

Yesterday (3 December 2013), Statistics NZ released the result of that question. The impact on political polling firms and their methodologies will no doubt be considerable;


Three-quarters of households now have Internet access

  • Internet access at home continued to rise, at 76.8 percent in 2013, compared with 60.5 percent in 2006 and 37.4 percent in 2001.

  • Cellphone access also increased, with 83.7 percent of households in 2013 having access to a cellphone at home, compared with 74.2 percent in 2006.

  • Access to a landline telephone decreased. In 2013, 85.5 percent of households had access to a landline telephone at home, down from 91.6 percent in 2006.

  • Fax access decreased. In 2013, 14.6 percent of households had access to a fax, down from 26.0 percent in 2006.

  • A small percentage of households (1.6 percent or 24,135 households) did not have access to any telecommunication systems at home. That is, they did not have a landline telephone, cellphone, Internet access, or a fax.



Note that only “85.5% of households had access to a landline telephone at home, down from 91.6% in 2006”.

This means that 14.5% of households did not have access to a landline.

Subtract  1.6 percentage points from 14.5 percentage points as not having access to any telecommunication systems at home at all – and the implication is that 12.9% of households rely on some medium of communications other than landlines: ie, cellphones.

In my March blogpost, I predicted,

“If the numbers of households without a landline are significant (+/- 10%), then polling companies will either have to adjust their polling techniques – or be rendered useless. Without factoring in cellphone-only households, polling companies risk becoming an expensive ‘parlour game’ with little value.”

12.9% is a pretty fair indication of households that cannot afford (or have no need) of landlines, and rely solely on cellphones for communications.

Low income families may not necessarily have credit on their cellphones – but that does not prevent polling companies from phoning in, to cellphone owners. As I blogged on 1 September, when Roy Morgan phoned me on my cellphone (see:  Mr Morgan phoned).

The up-shot of this census result is twofold;

  1. As the only pollster to call respondants’ cellphones, Roy Morgan is the most credible polling company and the one to watch.
  2. Expect other polling companies to follow suit and call respondants via their cellphones – or risk being ignored and becoming irrelevant.


The latest Roy Morgan poll (11-24 November 2013) had the following results;

National-led bloc,

National – 44.5%

Maori Party*** – 1.5%

ACT* – 0.5%

United Future*** – 0.5%

Total National-led Bloc – 47%

Labour-led bloc,

Labour – 34%

Greens – 11%

Mana*** – 1%

Total  Labour-led bloc – 46%

Wild cards,

Conservative Party** – 2%

NZ First – 3.5%

* ACT – not expected to survive the 2014 election.

** Conservative Party – not currently represented in Parliament

*** Electorate-based Party only

With the survival of electorate-based ACT and the Maori Party in question, and Colin Craig’s fun-loving religious Party needing active support from the Nats to win an electorate seat to gain seat(s) in Parliament, the 47% figure for the National bloc is misleadingly high.

Parties to watch in the run-up to the next election: NZ First and the Conservative Party.





Stats NZ: Release Calendar

Stats NZ: 2013 Census QuickStats about national highlights –  Phone and Internet access

Previous related blogposts

Census, Surveys, and Cellphones

Dodgy polls, dodgy dealings, and a spot of fear-mongering

Mr Morgan phoned



= fs =


  1. The other thing to note is around 23% of households without internet access given the government department reliance on internet access for information, consultation, and other communications.

    • Won’t be long before WINZ requires jobseekers to communicate and job search on line so they can track compliance.

      Plenty of precedents overseas, and we love to be up with the earliest adopters – even if the clients can’t afford the trip to the library or the time on line. And don’t yet know how to use the internet, or have low literacy.

      It’s a possible.

  2. Landlines are becoming a little redundant, and all the calls I get on it are telemarketers

    However, during the ChCh earthquake, the plain old (non-wireless) telephone was our only connection with the outside world.

  3. I had some side-thoughts during the recent local Government elections (Council) …

    With internet prices being the rort they are, and the fact that people not on digital are forcibly deprived of local content on their televison unless they have made the switch to digital (my screen has been blank for 2 months now, but it’s okay as I watch things/get info online and have done so for a few years – always a few steps ahead of the normal media outlets) … and lets face it, most people digest their information through the TV, whether that is a good thing or not is a separate argument altogether.

    So as parlous as some of that information was, being sent through to us in very short soundbites, we used to have credible channels like TVNZ 7 delivering a swathe of good documentary and discussion content (Court Report et al). But they saw to it that this was disposed of, apparently ‘too elitist’, and tried to hack into Radio NZ – didn’t quite get away with that one.

    So, this is compared to Radio, which is always a lot more rigourous and has the time to delve into an issue for a half hour at times or more, and usually over several different slots. This is opposed to a half minute or half hour if you’re *lucky* on a prime TV slot (and even then, some of the best shows will usually be left to be aired at times when people might be out, or there is competing fodder on another channel…)

    But going back to internet access specifically, it makes it interesting when we have candidates like the now ousted John Morrison who stood for Wellington Mayor, and had a thoroughly arrogant view of libraries, in fact he has stated on more than one occasion he thinks they are a complete waste of space.

    Why are libraries important in the wider context of internet access?

    Well, I can tell you, I can only afford a very limted connection at home myself, in fact its by way of my free 500MB of data on my cellphone. So I trot down to my local library every. single. day. to look up things, books, newspapers, and … make use of the wifi available. Now, obviously, the wifi itself is made available through the auspices of contributing businesses, but, as an environment to take time to read and research, the library is much better than the average park bench or bus stop …

    So I could only imagine the effect of cutting back on things like libraries, thus cutting back access to information and a place to do this properly, would have had.

    But, this is precisely what the people like John Morrison thought should be so. We are talking a man whose view of the Left, and the Mayor in particular being a Green aligned mayor, is quite simply: “They just seem to be about stopping progress, I like getting things done” as stated in an interview in The Wellingtonian.

    The mindset seems to be that those without access to more expensive methods of communications are to be cut out of both the receiving loop (no TV unless you switch to digital, and higher than tolerable internet charges for a lot of people – especially if taken separately from a landline, which is itself highly priced), but also the channels to express their views (no landline for being contacted on a poll as this Blog post is about).

    It’s the thinking around approaches like that which are continually worrying.

  4. I thought that the question on the form was badly presented because a ‘mobile phone’ is a subset of ‘telephone’. I don’t have a hard wired telephone but I have an iPhone which could be considered both a ‘mobile phone’ and a ‘telephone’.

    The other problem is that the question asks whether a telephone exists in the dwelling being surveyed, but the conclusions refer to the number of people who ‘have access’ to a fixed line. In my case I still have access to a fixed line at work – and I probably spend a lot more time at work than I do at home.

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