Polls, propaganda, and Tracy Watkins



Fairfax media - if you think, the bolsheviks win


1. A bit of personal history…

Since I became more and more politically active, part of the growth of my political consciousness was an awareness that the media – whether print or electronic – was not always a clear reflection of what really was happening.

The first time I became starkly aware of the disconnect between a media story and reality was in 1989, when an associate and I made a submission to a Parliamentary Select Committee on the Classifications Bill. The Bill was aimed at replacing the old, antiquated Censorship Act.

There were some aspects of the Bill which we took exception to (from a liberal viewpoint) and we put together a submission, and requested an opportunity for a supporting oral submission.

We were due to ‘appear’ near the end of the day, and thus had an interesting opportunity to listen to all the submissions made by various groups, organisations, and individuals. Submitters ranged from the Nurses Organisation; Film Directors Association,  NZ Law Society, etc.

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I took note of the tenor of each submitter, and it was roughly 50/50 toward strengthening the proposed Classifications Act or liberalising it.

The following morning, the Dominion featured two stories on two submitters – both from the “pro-censorship” camp.

A critical submission from the NZ Law Society, regarding an aspect of the Bill which they deemed to be fatally flawed, was not reported. Neither did the Dominion report an astounding comment by then-MP, Trevor Rogers, who threatened to “change officials of the Courts” who could not, would not, implement the new law, whether flawed or not.

Had I not attended the Select Committee hearing personally, I would have assumed that all submissions were of a similar nature; would not have been aware of opposing views; would have been unaware of the Law Society’s views; and been oblivious to a Member of Parliament threatening to interfere with the judicial system of this country.

After 25 years, the incident remains vividly clear in my memory.

That was my very first lesson – not just in Select Committees – but media (mis-)reporting.

Since I began this blogging lark in July 2011,  I have found no reason to lessen my wariness of  media reporting, accuracy, and fairness. In fact, sadly, quite the opposite.

2. Once upon a time, in a fairy-tale land called Fairfax Media…

So begins this analysis of a recent Fairfax-Ipsos Poll which, upon closer scrutiny, is a fantasy lifted straight from the pages of Brothers Grimm.

A very recent  Ipsos poll was taken over a five day period, starting from Saturday, 30 August – the day of Judith Collins’ resignation from her ministerial portfolios (though not from Parliament itself).

The results, as a graphic;


Fairfax poll - november 2011


The infographic shows National at 54% and the Labour-Green bloc at 38%.



The above poll infographic was taken from a Research International poll, commissioned also by Fairfax Media – and released on 23 November, 2011three days before the General Election, three years ago.

The actual current, September 2014  poll results from Fairfax and it’s “newly” commissioned polling agent, Ipsos;


Fairfax poll - september 2014


Compare the two polls above.

Two “different” polls. Two different polling companies. Three years apart. Almost exactly same figures.

Now let’s chuck in the actual election results for the 2011 Election;


2011 poll - 2014 poll- fairfax - 2011 general election


In the 2011 poll,  Fairfax’s polling agent over-estimated National’s support by a staggering 6.69 percentage points – well outside the stated margin of error  by Research International (3.1%).

Considering that other mainstream polling companies have National ranging from 45% (Roy Morgan) to 46.4% (NZ Herald-Digipoll and TV3 News) to 50% (TVNZ News), it could be safely argued that the Fairfax-Ipsos results are in Wacky-Doodle Land.

The figures are not only dubious – but Fairfax buries an important fact;

The undecided vote remained steady at 13 per cent, which is higher than in some other polls. [my emphasis]

That statement is buried near the bottom of Vernon Small’s article, “National soars without Collins – poll“.

Incredibly, Small then adds – almost seemingly as an after-thought;

Benson said if Ipsos included those who said they were undecided, but when pressed were leaning towards a particular party, that number dropped to about 7 per cent and saw National’s vote come in about 2 percentage points lower.

Anything else we need to know, Vernon?!

The problem here is not just Fairfax presenting dodgy polling figures over two consecutive election periods – but the fact that Vernon Small, who wrote a story covering the poll,  was thoroughly accepting of the results – and made no effort to question the veracity of the figures. Some  comments from Small;

Two weeks out from the election National’s popularity has soared after the dumping of justice minister Judith Collins, putting John Key on course for a thumping victory on the evidence of a new Stuff.co.nz/Ipsos poll.


Assuming all the small parties hold their current seats, but independent Brendan Horan is not returned, National would have a dominant 70 seat bloc in a 125 seat Parliament.

Small also quoted Ipsos pollster Matt Benson without any real critical analysis;

Ipsos pollster Matt Benson said the poll followed the first televised leaders’ debate and straddled the resignation of Collins.  ‘‘Despite a difficult week for National the poll shows support rise for the National Party, and John Key as preferred PM has also increased to 51.7 percent.’’ 

He said the rise may have been caused by wavering voters, uncomfortable with Collins, swinging in behind Key for finally taking action against her.

In no way could this poll and associated story be considered critical political analysis or news in the traditional sense.

Little wonder that, after only ten comments, Fairfax closed down posting on it’s comments section, at the end of Small’s article;

* Comments are now closed on this story.

– Stuff

The criticism of Fairfax must have been excoriating!

The problem here, as I see it;

Firstly, Ipsos is paid by Fairfax to conduct it’s polling.

Therefore, Fairfax has an inherent, undeclared financial interest in the source of  “story”. Fairfax is not reporting on a story from the point of view of an impartial, disinterested party. They have a vested, commercial stake in promoting Ipsos’ findings.

As such Fairfax would be as critical of Ipsos as the Editor of the Dominion Post would commission an investigative piece on sub-editors being made redundant from his own newspaper (the redundancies happened – the story reporting  the event never materialised).

In fairness, it should be pointed out that Fairfax is by no means unique in this obvious conflict of interest. The NZ Herald, TVNZ, and TV3 all have their own contracted pollsters. None of them will question the accuracy of their respective polling agents.

Secondly, because Fairfax (and other media) have a vested interest with their respective pollsters, they are locked in to using that sole company as a source for polling “news”. Hence,  each media outlet’s authoritative reputation rests on pushing up the credibility of their respective polls. They must not question their own polling for fear of damaging their reputation for “authoritative political analysis”.

Regardless if their own polling is hopelessly implausible, it must be presented as factual and inarguably credible.

Even if it is clearly not.

3. Radio NZ – an oasis of information in a desert of pseudo “news”

The non-commercial Radio New Zealand not only reports polling results from various pollsters, but is currently running a Poll of Polls;

The POLL of POLLS is an arithmetical average of the four most recent major polls since mid-June from among: TV1 Colmar Brunton, TV3 Reid Research, Fairfax Media-Ipsos, NZ Herald DigiPoll, Roy Morgan New Zealand and UMR Research, which is not published.”

– and is well worth keeping an eye on.

Off the main pollsters, the most accurate one to keep an eye on is Roy Morgan, as it alone calls respondents on cellphones. All others rely solely on landlines to contact respondents.

4. Tracy Watkins

Associated with Vernon Small’s front page article on the Dominion Post on 5 September, was a side-bar “opinion piece” by the paper’s political editor, Tracy Watkins. This is the on-line version;


tracy watkins - dominion post - fairfax news - all over bar the shouting


“Two weeks down, two weeks to go and on today’s stuff.co.nz/Ipsos poll it’s all over bar the shouting.”

I was stunned when I read that comment. In effect, Watkins has elevated Fairfax’s 3 September  public opinion poll to supplant the up-coming general election and accept a National Party victory based on Ipsos’ findings.

I put this issue to Neil Watts, blogger (Fearfactsexposed) and long-time commentator/critic of Fairfax Media and it’s policies. I asked him about the credibility of Fairfax’s polling and he replied,

“Having watched Fairfax Media make an art form of National Party propaganda for many years now, nothing they publish surprises me anymore. Their polls are notoriously, willfully unreliable, and they blatantly use them to manipulate  rather than inform  the electorate.”

This would certainly seem to be the case, as it should be noted that two different polling companies contracted by Fairfax consistantly over-rated National in their results. Neil had definite thoughts on why that might be. He said;

“Their political coverage is partisan, anti-opposition, anti-democratic, and their spin consistently comes from the exact same angle that the National Party are taking via Crosby Textor.

In fact, this is so reliable, that I only bother to read stuff.co.nz these days to find out what the Government’s spin will be on any given issue.”

When I pointed out Watkins’ piece, “All over bar the shouting”, Neil was scathing about her lack of impartiality;

“Political editor Tracy Watkins is clearly enamored with the Prime Minister and unprofessionally close to him. After several international trips with John Key and a substantial back catalogue of journalese ‘love letters’ to him, she really has zero credibility as an objective reporter.

To the informed reader, her copy is generally one-eyed, propagandist tripe. The weight of evidence is in their reporting, but I have heard from sources within Fairfax Media that their blatant goal is to get Key’s Government re-elected.”

If true, and the Fourth Estate has become a mouth-piece for The Political Establishment, it may explain why people are turning away from the mainstream media as well as politics. The previous general election had the lowest voter turn-out since 1887 – no feat to be proud of, and seemingly  indicative of a growing malaise of alienation, apathy, and disconnection from our heretofore strong civic pride.

It simply beggars belief that a journalist such as Ms Watkins with many years experience could publish such an off-hand comment that effectively undermines current efforts by the Electoral Commission, trade unions, political parties, et al, to encourage people to enroll and to vote.

The Commission is spending tax payers’ money to encourage voter turn-out – and Watkins’ casual, flippant, remark that “it’s all over bar the shouting” undermined that campaign with half a dozen words. The fact that the Dominion Post reinforced that off-the-cuff remark by placing the Fairfax-Ipsos poll-story on the front page of the edition reinforced her comment with a subtle message; “don’t bother voting – National has won – it’s all over bar the shouting”;




Note the heading in big, black, bold lettering,

Poll sees Nats in command

In command“? Was the election held on 5 September?! Did I miss it?

Note also the hidden subtext of an image of the PM, John Key, twice the size of his opponant, David Cunliffe. Note the victorious look on Key’s face – and the open-mouth “petulance” of ‘disappointment’ on Cunliffe’s.

The impression is clear; Key has “won” the election.

Cunliffe’s annoyance validates Key’s trimphant expression.

This is not reporting the news – it is manufacturing it.

Meanwhile, with more than a hint of irony, the real news of election-related events are buried within the newspaper;





Little wonder that Neil Watts summed up Fairfax’s agenda thusly,

 “For a media corporation to be effectively aiming for oligarchical rule in New Zealand is a gross abuse of power and position. At the very least, they should be honest and open about their political loyalties, so that ordinary Kiwi voters can make an informed choice about where they source their news.”

I see nothing to disabuse me of the notion I began to develop in  1989, that a healthy dose of skepticism is required when presented with information from a media source.

Their agenda is no longer to present news.

Their agenda is to manufacture it; embellish it; use it to sell advertising; and to further political goals.

How else does one explain naked propaganda-masquerading-as-“news”?

Because looking at the full-blown story on the front page, I can see other interpretation than the conclusion I have arrived at.

According to the Dominion Post, the election is done and dusted and the Nats are “in command”. So don’t bother voting. It’s all over.

Bar the shouting.




Fairfax media: National still cosy in polls after tea break (2011)

Fairfax media: National soars without Collins – poll (2014)

Wikipedia: New Zealand 2011 General Election

Roy Morgan: ‘Dirty Politics’ muddies the water for major parties in New Zealand

NZ Herald: National or Labour could form a Government – poll

TV3 News: Key could need Maori Party post-election

TVNZ News: National unscathed by Dirty Politics – poll

Radio NZ: Election 2014 – Poll of Polls

Dominion Post: All over bar the shouting

Massey University: Massey commentators preview key election issues

Dominion Post: Tracy Watkins on politics


Fairfax media: Ipsos Polling Station

Previous related blogposts

Mr Morgan phoned

Census, Surveys, and Cellphones (part tahi)

Census, Surveys, and Cellphones (Part rua)




20 september 2014 VOTE

Above image acknowledgment: Francis Owen/Lurch Left Memes



= fs =


  1. I have always been suspicious of the Stuff/Iposis polls and their methodology. A point which I made on the comments to Tracey Watkin’s ‘opinion’ piece. Like you Frank, I read Veron Small’s piece as well and noted the comments about the large undecided vote. I also noted Watkin’s attempt to pass off the variance between the Stuff poll and others by saying that it was ‘churn’. It is extremely unethical of Stuff to attempt to pass these polls off as scientific or unbaised.

  2. The MSM have failed us, and it looks like they will continue to fail us.

    This makes it incredibly important that the standing and reach of platforms such as this one, are grown substantially and aggressively.

    And if it too easy for the far right to cast aspersions on the motivations of writers here, then perhaps it is time for the launch of a new platform that has truth as a core principle, with views from both left and right. I am reminded of a group of journalists in South Africa that launched their own platform after disillusionment with most of the MSM there – dailymaverick.co.za

  3. Frank there are ways to look at the polls intelligently.

    1. Look at the trend shown by a poll, remembering that each parties’ poll results showing changes within the margin of error one poll to the next means the change is likely to be noise, not real change. Most headlines about National gaining, losing disappear when margin of error considered when comparing two results.

    2. If looking at poll of poll results I think it is better to avoid the very simplistic Radio NZ use the arithmetical average of last four polls. Better is weighted averaging like the poll of polls on Pundit or (shock, horror) Farrar’s poll of polls; or DimPost’s calibrated poll results. And look at the trends, still.

    3. Newspaper and tv and radio journalists seem to be incapable of reporting polls accurately.

    • Regarding 3.

      I think *one* of the issues with reporters and their ineptitude around interpreting polls is that a lot of journalists are “word people” not “numbers people”, so understanding data is not something they naturally excel at. They might try, but they pretty much suck at it, and the kind of analysis you have to be able to do for some stories is actually a little complex — and then you have to understand it well enough to explain it to other people!

      And those are the well-meaning journalists who are just not good at it. Then you have the ones who are actively biased and misleading …

      • They report the margin of error as a mantra, without really understanding it, since they report a rise or fall of 1% as signficant – especially if the figures are close to each other – when the margin of error is usually >3 times that. “Conservatives pass NZ First!” when they’ve gone from 1.0% to 1.5% and the like. And margin of error is only a statistical utility based on how much error is tolerable, it doesn’t limit the error, when, for example, undecided voters need not by any means vote in the same proportions as decided ones.

    • Reporting research data is a highly specialized activity. People who do it for a job have years of experience. Journalists aren’t incapable, they are simply not experts in this particular skill. Andrew you seem to know a thing or two about polling data. How about giving us your point of view on the trends?

  4. Correct Frank.

    Nothing will be over until the last vote has been counted on the 20th. 13 more sleeps to go!

    This obvious propaganda from the MSM makes me even more eager to get out there and cast my vote. So the good side of this is that it may motivate lots of others to make sure they cast their vote too.
    We may even see Nat supporters not bothering to vote at all – if they think its such a foregone conclusion.

    The Electoral Commission should be jumping all over these papers for not showing balance to all Political Parties. So why aren’t they? More FJK cronies obviously.


  5. Q. Who has done the best out of John Keys government?

    A The Banks!

    Just look at this nations total debt that continues its upward trajectory, its horrifying! But this debt suits banks and as HSBC’s Paul Bloxham said earlier this year, NZ has a Rock Star economy based on a broken cities rebuild, a “housing boom” and “rising dairy prices”. Yes siree Bob, an economy built on sand!

    In other words leave National right where it is thanks. Now if that isn’t third party advertising for National what is? I mean you may not believe John Key and who would but you may believe a pointy head from some bank but as I note above his enthusiasm wasn’t based on much substance. Pity we know so little about him.

    And as I have long believed, National and those silent men who back it do not want voters turning out and this was of course revealed in Dirty Politics. Apart from all the other tactics it’s so much better to turn people off with a one horse race scenario than to have them think their vote may count and it worked a treat in 2011. Christ, our electoral system is so rotten to the core it’s to the point where we don’t really have a democracy anymore, more of a facade.

    Having just watched “The Four Horsemen” (2012) it becomes quite clear just how entwined politics and the media are with banks and money. If the corporate owners of Fairfax want a poll to read a certain way then so it shall be, whether its to find every negative in the opposition and every positive in the government leading up to the poll or how the questions are asked and presented.

    Largely I have concluded we don’t get the all the news in New Zealand, rather we get what they want us to see and the use of photos flattering or otherwise to back their man and deride the opponent is an age old trick of the media. And what they definitely don’t want us to see is the truth of that our economy is failing because of the model it is following. However the banks are doing very nicely, so lets keep their buddy John Key right where he is.

  6. The current media crucifixion pieces on Dotcom, IMP and any other threats to their beloved Key are making me nauseous. We need our opposition leaders to call it as it is. In the UK Gordon Brown sucked up to the Daily Mail because he didn’t want them to say bad things about him – but they still crucified him. Cunliffe seems too wary to enter this conversation but actually he has nothing to lose and lots to gain.

  7. Thanks for the analysis Frank. This just confirms what i have been feeling for a long time.It’s depressing but the upside is that the reality is much better than is being presented. Neverthelss the elcetion is bloody nervewracking to watch. My gut instinct is that enough people a pissed off that turnout will be higher than last time although by how much remains to be seen.

  8. After going away and pondering on this article it struck me that Fairfax are guilty of voter suppression. Whilst not illegal this is so unethical that it clearly demands a Change.org petition.

  9. Could this be the year we get reports of “voting irregularities” after the election, like they do in (other) banana republics?

    • Dayo, I say dayo….daylight come and I wan go home..

      Come Mr Key man talley my banana
      Daylight come and i wan go home
      Slave all night for Key and Obama
      daylight come and I wan go home

      Dayo…me say dayo..me say dayo.

      Newsman say we loose election
      Daylight come and I wan go home
      He say we goin in right direction
      Daylight come and I wan go home

      Dayo , me say day , me say day

      Come Mr Key man talley my banana
      Daylight come and I wan go home
      National party love the farmer
      Daylight come and I wan go home

      Dayo…I say day I say day I say dayo..

  10. Gosh I must have been tired – I thought she’d written “It’s all over the bar, shouting” – I thought maybe she was refering to John Key’s performance in the first half of the Press debate.

  11. I absolutely agree with you I have made a complaint to the electoral commission we should all do the same it was blatant electioneering.

  12. Labour needs your party vote and some tactical electorate voting. Every one who wants a change of govt must get active, talk to people, help people to get out to vote.

    Everyone who wants a change of govt must vote.

    • Frank Excellent, as we said these polls are designed to “influence voters that it is a clear win for the Tories, by constructing those manipulated polls.

      We searched Goggle for “Can polls be manipulated” and came up with 1.4 million global sites on the subject.

      So why doesn’t someone make this evidence for a case to have a criminal charge levied against these lying pollsters as the Indian Government did before their elections last February?

      Is our democracy not as important to our Government as theirs is? Banana republic come to mind here?

      I repost this Indian Government sting op’s over 11 phoney polling companies there six months ago, as some could be operating here?
      CONSIDER; not only is Political Journalism manipulated, NZ Political polls are also manipulated.

      There may be a corruption case to answer, and a police investigation should be ordered by the electoral commission or opposition.

      Here are some facts. A simple search last night of “Polls can be manipulated” – Google -found about 1,400,000 results.

      Below leaves us all now with the knowledge of what in New Zealand is actually going on, it is more corruption of our MSM conducting manipulated polling results, and opposition now must call this as it is, corruption of the MSM and manipulation of all polls.

      We were contacted Friday 22nd of August at 4pm by Herald Digipoll by a lady who first said we are conducting a poll and could we participate?

      We said yes, then she said my supervisor is listening in, is that o/k? I hesitated but agreed and she went through a ten minute questioning, and then abruptly said we don’t need your input thanks, and hung up!

      This left us so disturbed we searched the web and found all 1.4 million cases of poll manipulations globally on Goggle, which include what is called “selective polling”

      We believe we were a victim of a Herald Digipoll selective polling strategy.

      Footnote we would like to hear if any others have experienced this also?

      NZ pols are corrupted, is this a crime?

      This is just one case of the 1.4 million sites on Goggle in India which may show what is happening here in NZ. quote;



      New Delhi:

      Public opinion gathered by leading opinion poll agencies is often tweaked to give misleading results, Operation Prime Minister, a sting operation by a private news network, News Express, has revealed Tuesday.

      Well-known faces from leading opinion poll agencies have been caught on hidden camera agreeing to such malpractices.

      Operation Prime Minister shows how opinion polls are conducted and manipulated at the instance of political parties, their results traded to show a particular party in a favourable position, for a price.

      Presenting snippets from the sting operation at a press conference, Editor-in-chief of News Express, Vinod Kapri said, “Our motivation behind conducting the sting operation was a letter written by the Election Commission of India to all regional and national parties inviting their views on the publication of opinion polls.

      We wanted to investigate the concerns of the Commission.” In its letter dated 4 Oct, 2013, the Election Commission had said, “The Commission has been suggesting to the government that there should be a similar prohibition or restriction on opinion polls also as there could be several manipulated opinion polls which could impact the voting pattern.”

      Another motivation behind the sting operation was the mushrooming of opinion polls. “There used to be one or two opinion polls every election.

      But now, one sees an opinion poll almost every week.

      Which leads us to the question- how is the data generated so quickly and processed,” said Kapri.

      “Operation Prime Minister has exposed eleven opinion poll agencies, whose surveys are published in leading newspapers and magazines besides being broadcast by leading news channels”, it was claimed in the sting operation.

      It demonstrates how the 810 million voters of our country are duped into believing trends or waves that are manipulated.

      – See more at: “Opinion polls seem to have become the latest weapon in the poll campaign. For a price, the prediction of seats tally can be changed to suit the interests of political parties.

      The agencies have no qualms accepting even black money for this purpose”, News Express claimed.

      The influence of opinion poll agencies goes beyond mere opinion polls. In some cases, the poll agencies have claimed they can even prop up dummy candidates in the constituencies where the rival candidate is on a strong wicket.

      It has also been claimed that some leading editors are hand in glove with these poll agencies. This is just a few of the 1.4 million sites on Goggle.











  13. It simply beggars belief that a journalist such as Ms Watkins with many years experience could publish such an off-hand comment that effectively undermines current efforts by the Electoral Commission, trade unions, political parties, et al, to encourage people to enroll and to vote.

    Doesn’t beggar belief at all – that is, apparently, what she’s paid to do.

    • Designed to provide an air of hopelessness and voter loss of usefulness. don’t be fooled by these charlatans.

      Remember the press has never chased Key to ask what he has signed NZ up to with the TPPA?

      Dangerous ground there. would you vote for a party that was hiding that from you?

      Every vote counts to vote for any thing but the right wing.

  14. So is Tracey Watkins’ advice to Nats supporters not to bother turning up to vote on September 20? I have no problems with that, sounds quite sensible actually. Seriously, if you want to change the government are you likely to stay away from the polls hanging your head with shame just because Tracey Watkins thinks you should? I don’t think so! This sort of crap is more likely to get the left out to vote because they want to make these stupid Tory apologists look silly.

  15. Thank you Frank ….I am most enlightened and relieved that you will always be our defender of liberty!!!

    A total boycott of ALL major Newspapers , Television Personalities and a few Radio Stations should be the order of the day .

    How do we purge ourselves form all these Lie`s and Manipulations…..

    Bring on 21st September 2014 …

  16. Everyone – thanks for your comments. I read each and every one (to make sure I haven’t left anything out – and to find out how many typos/cockups I’ve made).

    Always food for thought from other commentators!

  17. I’ve written to Tracey Watkins many times (and actually get instant replies)
    tracey.watkins@dompost.co.nz criticizing her partiality but also saying keep it up because all you’re doing is galvanising the left so they’ll be a line of us outside the voting station at 8am 20th September.

  18. […] Indeed, as left-wing blogger Finn Macskasy reported in an article that appeared on The Daily Blog headlined, “Polls, propaganda, and Tracy Watkins”, about biased media-funded polls, he reported blogger Neil Watts of Fearfactsexposed, a long-time commentator/critic of the Fairfax Media cartel as saying he had “heard from sources within Fairfax Media that their blatant goal is to get Key’s Government re-elec….”[xiii] […]

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