Polls and pundits – A facepalm moment

By   /   September 20, 2015  /   12 Comments

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This morning’s episode of The Nation on TV3 featured leaders from Labour, Greens, NZ First, ACT, and Steven Joyce spinning for National. The episode was an appraisal of National’s performance since last year’s election.

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19 September – This morning’s  episode of The Nation on TV3 featured leaders from Labour, Greens, NZ First,  ACT, and Steven Joyce spinning for National. The episode was an appraisal of National’s performance since last year’s election.

Joyce, Little, Shaw, and Peters were given decent time to respond to questions from hosts Lisa Owen and Patrick Gower. David Seymour seemed short-changed with an unseemingly hasty, brief interview, though at 0.69% of the Party vote his five minutes of question-and-answer might be deemed appropriate. Except that ACT has considerable influence on National out of proportion to it’s miniscule electoral support.

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect to the episode were continual references to poll ratings for John Key and National being “unchanged” and continuing to ride high. The implication being that National and Key’s poll ratings remain unchanged.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

A Roy Morgan poll reported on Radio NZ on Friday – the day before The Nation went to air – gave a shock result for National;

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roy Morgan - radio nz - poll

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According to the poll, National National’s support  has plummeted  by six percentage-points, with support for the  Labour/Green bloc jumping by eight percentage points.

NZ First support had also fallen by 2.5 percentage points.

The inescapable conclusion is that, according to this poll, Labour and the Greens had achieved the Golden Rule; increase support by taking from their opponants, and not by the two Left-wing parties cannibalising each other. As Patrick Gower pointed out;

@5.27

“They have to find a way to take votes of National. They can’t just shuffle it around between the Greens and New Zealand First to get to 33, 34. That ain’t gonna do it.”

In the Roy Morgan poll, National and NZ First’s fall mirrors almost exactly the rise of the Labour-Green bloc. No “shuffling” – National’s support has moved over to Labour and the Greens.

How was this reported on The Nation? Not at all. No mention made whatsoever of a poll – which while it should not be taken in isolation – should still give government party strategists cause for alarm and rate a mention from our current affairs media.

This made a mockery of Patrick Gower’s comment to Labour leader, Andrew Little,

@ 2.05

“But still the poll ratings haven’t changed. John Key is exactly where he has always been.”

@ 4.40

“That’s what the polls say. The polls put them at 47%.”

Or this comment from Lisa Owen;

@ 0.01

“So while National’s well ahead in the polls, it’s not been a year without its challenges.”

During the Panel discussion with Guyon Espiner, Patrick Gower, and  Tracy Watkin, similar  mis-leading references were made by professional political journalists who should know better.

Guyon Espiner

@ 0.18

“I think it’s tracking pretty well, if you look at the polls. I mean, 47% for National is extraordinary at that point.”

Tracy Watkins;

@ 1.15

“47%, if that’s that the numbers in the latest poll, I mean  that is quite incredible, it really is.”

Tracey Watkins;

@ 7.15

“Well I’m going to have to say John Key [is the winner]… Well, I mean, if he’s still on 47% [interruption] Winner! Winner! He’s…Despite everything,  y’know, third term and he’s still massively popular  and his government is still hugely popular.”

To be fair, if  the interviews for Saturday morning were pre-recorded throughout the week, the Roy Morgan poll results appeared too late to be included in questions asked of Party leaders. Though the lead-in from Lisa Owen and Patrick Gower was a live (?) broadcast. They should have been aware of the shock result only twentyfour hours previous.

The reality is that Roy Morgan polls are rarely reported by either TV1 or TV3. Both broadcasters have their own contracted polling companies and ignore all other results.

What is totally inexplicable is that the producers and hosts of The Nation ignored polling from their own company, Reid Research.

Polling from Reid Research has shown a steady decline in John Key’s popularity, as I reported on 13 July and  28 July;

As was reported previously, the personal popularity of our esteemed Dear Leader, John Key, has been in slow free-fall since 2009;

Oct/Nov 08: 36.4%

(Source)

Feb 2009: 52.1%

April 2009: 51.1%

Aug 2009: 51.6%

Oct 2009: 55.8%

Feb 2010: 49.4%

April 2010: 49.0%

June 2010: 49.6%

Jul/Aug 2010: 48.7%

Sept/Oct 2010: 50.6%

Nov/Dec 2010: 54.1%

Feb 2011: 49.1%

April 2011: 52.4%

May 2011: 48.2%

Jun/Jul 2011: 50.5%

Aug 2011: 53.3%

Sept 2011: 54.5%

Oct 2011: 52.7%

1-8 Nov 2011: 50.0%

9-16 Nov 2011: 49.4%

16-23 Nov 2011: 48.9%

Feb 2012: 45.8%

April 2012: 44.2%

May/Jun 2012: 40.5%

July: 43.2%

(Source)

Feb 2013: 41.0%

April 2013: 38.0%

May 2013: 41.0%

Jul 2013: 42.0%

Nov 2013: 40.9%

Jan 2014: 38.9%

Mar 2014: 42.6%

May 2014: 43.1%

Jun 2014: 46.7%

Jul 2014: 43.8%

5-3 Aug 2014: 44.1%

19-25 Aug 2014: 41.4%

26 Aug-1 Sept 2014: 45.1%

2-8 Sept 2014: 45.3%

9-15 Sept 2014: 44.1%

Jan 2015: 44.0%

May 2015: 39.4%

(Source)

The most recent 3News/Reid Research Poll is no better for John Key. His PPM ranking has slipped again;

July 2015: 38.3%

From the rarified-atmosphere heights of 55.8% (2009), Key has dropped 17.5 percentage points in the Preferred Prime Minister rankings by July of this year.

Not referencing a polling company that Mediaworks has no contractual relationship with is, perhaps understandable, even if it means not presenting their audience with a full picture of New Zealand’s ever changing political environment.

But not referencing a polling company that Mediaworks is contractually bound with, and has previously used their results for several years? Especially when that polling company has recorded a massive fall in popularity for Key since 2009?

The only explanation for this strange over-sight of data is that it did not fit with The Nation’s narrative of a “hugely popular Prime Minister”. Otherwise, Owen and Gower would have had to completely change their interviewing tactics with Little and Shaw.

Perhaps this is one reason why Key’s popularity has “remained so high” – a reluctance by certain MSM not to reassess the narrative around our esteemed Dear Leader. In doing so, the perception of Key’s “high popularity” is artificially maintained, creating a perpetual, self-fulfilling scenario.

In part, this provides an answer why Key is so “hugely popular”. Because we are told it is so.

Tim Watkin Responds

When the issues raised in this story were put to The Nation’s producer, Tim Watkin, he generously took time  give his response;

“On your Roy Morgan critique:

Media organisations always refer to their own polling, not others. The Roy Morgan poll is well known as the most volatile. Indeed, to emphasise why we wouldn’t base a programme discussing the past year in politics around a single poll by another organisation, Radio New Zealand and no lesser poll-watcher than Colin James reported this in just the past few days: http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/political/284109/national-back-in-poll-position

Polls are about trends, as you know, not single results. So I’m afraid your “nothing could be further from the truth” couldn’t be much further from the truth.

On your quotes of Lisa, Paddy, Tracy and Guyon:

Looking at the 3News-Reid Research poll, National has been remarkably consistent since 2011. National is indeed at 47%, as those on the programme said. When Guyon mentioned 47% he was likely referring to RNZ’s poll of polls, which also has National at 47%. Labour is in the low 30s. So all the quotes you mention are absolutely correct. Paddy’s mention of John Key being unchanged I took to mean ‘still well ahead of you, Mr Little’.

On John Key’s numbers:

Though you’re changing the goalposts by switching from party numbers to personal numbers, you’re right that Key’s own preferred PM numbers are down and right to focus on the trend, rather than a single poll. But when you say a couple of times that we didn’t reference that, you have simply ignored our final couple of questions to Steve Joyce. We didn’t mention those numbers precisely, but the ones behind that, on honesty, capability, narrow-minded etc. We put to Joyce that Key was sliding, exactly as you argue. So your outrage at our pre-ordained narrative is somewhat misplaced, isn’t it? We raised the point that you say we didn’t.

Still, to take a step back, the thing about those numbers is that while trending down (as Lisa stressed with Joyce), they are still at a level any other politician in the country would give a limb for. So when you talk about “freefall” etc, I think you’re missing the big picture, which is how those numbers are a) so much higher than others, b) unusually high for a third term PM and c) have gone down before, only to bounce back up.

So there’s no agenda or telling people how to think; just a cold hard look at the trends.”

Appendix1

Acknowledgement: some quotes have been used from transcripts provided by The Nation, to this blogger.

Appendix2

Roy Morgan polling is conducted by calling  both landline and mobile telephones throughout New Zealand, and is the only polling company to do so.

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References

The Nation: Steven Joyce interview

The Nation: Andrew Little interview

The Nation: Winston Peters

The Nation: James Shaw interview

The Nation: David Seymour

Wikipedia: 2014 General Election – Overall Results

Radio NZ: Labour, Greens support outstrips National

The Nation: The Panel discussion

Previous related blogposts

Mr Morgan phoned

Census, Surveys, and Cellphones (Part rua)

Census, Surveys, and Cellphones

The slow dismantling of a populist prime minister

The slow dismantling of a Prime Minister continues

Colmar Brunton-TV1 News – not giving us the complete picture

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The people will believe what the media tells them to believe

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= fs =

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12 Comments

  1. cleangreen says:

    Thanks for the poll data Frank,

    Never heard anything on TV or Radio yet over the weekend.
    I wait with anticipation to see if they will announce a negative National poll tomorrow and like you doubt if they are allowed to mention anything negative about National any more as they may loose their job.

    Let us see.

    • Indeed, CG, I’ll be quite fascinated as well…

      Will the TV3 poll this week reflect the Roy Morgan result? Or will it go off in an unrelated tanjeant?

      • J S Bark J S Bark says:

        Yeah that’s pretty much what I’ll be watching for too.

      • cleangreen says:

        Yes frank that is a good question,

        We have long been studying the pollsters issues since one rung us pre-election and muffled their name so it was virtually inaudible so I began answering the questions with her, until I smelled a rat that she was fishing for my political preferences so I asked again what polling company they were?

        And then like lightening she abruptly finished the poll with me saying she had enough of our category?

        We fleshed out that many oversees polling companies are actually now found to be connected directly to political organisations who have business interests also.

        We observed this in the US congressional hearings video here https://archive.org/details/election2004 when their polling systems and elections were under scrutiny also and in NY elections and in India who are considering banning polling companies!

        Other countries have already done so, siting corruption amongst them all, so we need to find out more of who our pollsters actually are connected to and why.

  2. J S Bark J S Bark says:

    I notice that Tim Watkin replies to your questions on data by reducing it to an implication that you have a political agenda.

    I’m sure von Clausewitz’s “attack is the best form of defence” is true but I have to ask myself what is it that needs defending?

    One of the other regular posters (I forget whom, please forgive me) said that Mediaworks=Fox.

    The more I read into all this stuff the more I think he may be right… 🙂

  3. Mike the Lefty says:

    Jeez Frank, surely you don’t think either TV1 or TV3 are capable of such in depth analysis of polls and trends, do you? You simply cannot get this on the News For Six-year-olds. Even cuddly bunny stories severely tax their limited perception of news.

    • cleangreen says:

      Frank kicking the election stuff including pollsters blah blah further down the road this stuff from m the Election NZ site raised some attention in me, as to what is the following and who actually operates it behind the scenes, is it a private “returning Officer as our local body and amalgamation vote was done by a private Elections company which I mentioned before?

      Yes that is a good question, “Are our NZ Pollsters corrupted and/or the elections?”

      During our Electoral system voting we use a paper voting form or ballot paper.

      The issue of fraud comes after the paper votes are recorded and them electronically counted or “tabulated afterwards.

      Paper-based electronic voting system

      Sometimes called a “document ballot voting system”, paper-based voting systems originated as a system where votes are cast and counted by hand, using paper ballots.

      With the advent of electronic tabulation came systems where paper cards or sheets could be marked by hand, but counted electronically.

      These systems included punched card voting, marksense and later digital pen voting systems.

      Most recently, these systems can include an Electronic Ballot Marker (EBM), that allow voters to make their selections using an electronic input device, usually a touch screen system similar to a DRE.

      Systems including a ballot marking device can incorporate different forms of assistive technology.

      In 2004, Open Voting Consortium demonstrated the ” Dechert Design ” a General Public License open source paper ballot printing system with open source bar codes on each ballot.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electronic_voting#Paper-based_electronic_voting_system

      http://www.elections.org.nz/candidate-handbook/part-8-general-election-results

      SO FRANK THE QUESTION IS;

      What and who runs this system.
      Is it privately or a Government run system with no other vote counting process?

      “ Electoral Commission’s National Election Results System.”

      We must find out who operates this “system” called “Electoral Commission’s National Election results system?”

      There is no indication anywhere on the web “who or if” a private contractor runs this system for the electoral Commission.

      Keeping secrets?

      8.1 Preliminary results – election night

      After the voting place closes at 7pm on election day (20 September 2014) and all voters have left, the manager of every voting place will carry out the preliminary count of general election votes in the presence of scrutineers and voting place officials.

      The ballot boxes are opened and the ballot papers, party votes and electorate votes are counted. The result is phoned in to the Returning Officer and it is then input into the Electoral Commission’s National Election Results System.

      Results are displayed in real time on
      http://www.electionresults.govt.nz and at the same time are fed to television and radio media. The Electoral Commission’s target is to have 50% of voting place results available by 10pm on election night and 100% of voting place results available by 11.30pm.

      • Mr. Far Noon says:

        Cleangreen,
        I believe it is the Electoral Commission who sit outside of Government as a Crown entity who is charged with running and overseeing NZ elections. The Electoral Commission is an independent Crown entity which falls under NZ’s State Services sector…. the difference between Govt & State is worryingly thin with regards to NZ due to the lack of a formal Constitution…
        “the [Electoral] Commission acts independently and shall not be responsible to any Minister of the Crown”.
        This (albeit) dated article may offer further understanding.
        http://www.elections.org.nz/news-media/briefing-incoming-minister-2005

        I, like yourself am very cautious of electronic voting! The scope for manipulation is exponential.

  4. Tim Watkin says:

    Thanks for the right of reply, Frank.

  5. Dorothy Bulling says:

    So who owns the company called ElectionsNZ that appears to run our local govt elections?

  6. Nick says:

    Bit of a Bunker-mentality again from Tim Watkins. He should consider trying a little objectivity rather than self-justification for a change. He might just learn something.

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