Brian Edwards Media

How political polls in prime-time + no serious political debate in prime-time = catwalk values and dumbed-down voters

 

Is John Key such an inspirational leader that he deserves to enjoy the support of 57% of New Zealand voters? Is Phil Goff such a hopeless leader that he deserves the support of only 8% of New Zealand voters? Has the National Party’s record in office been so impressive that it deserves to enjoy the support of 56% of New Zealand voters, including one might surmise, a significant number of Labour defectors? And has the Labour opposition been so feeble that it deserves the support of only 30% of New Zealand voters?

Well, if the polls are right – and there is no great difference between one and another – then the answer to all of these questions would seem to be Yes. But are they right? The extremity of their findings – the adulation of John Key and the seeming invisibility of Phil Goff; National having twice as much support as Labour  – seems curious, given the parlous state of the economy, the high level of unemployment and the near-Third-World conditions in which so many of our citizens, both adults and children, are currently living.

As a nation we seem to have closed our eyes to these realities, so dazzled are we by the luminance of the Prime Minister. The mirror image of ourselves as a people which the polls present seems to me less than flattering. Are we really a nation more impressed by style than substance? Are we really that shallow? 

It seems that we are. It surely can be no coincidence that Key’s rating as ‘preferred Prime Minister’ is virtually identical to National’s rating as preferred party to govern. In the minds of Key’s supporters, leader and party are one and indivisible.

Attacking the messenger is never a good look, and arguing that the polls may be wrong invariably suggests sour grapes. But a couple of things are at least worth noting. The good or bad news which the polls bring each month reflects the answers given by around 1,000 people to questions put to them by professional pollsters. The so-called ‘margin of error’ is a little over 3%. Statistically speaking,  the polls should be reasonably accurate.

However, a problem arises from the fact that the information is gathered exclusively by landline. This creates a bias in the poll results, since people on lower incomes – the non-working, working and lower-middle classes – tend not to have landlines, relying instead on (frequently pre-paid) mobile phones. The same is true of students and younger people in general. You can’t text on a landline.

The pollsters are of course aware of this and use a statistical formula to correct the imbalance. But they still don’t know how the people without landlines would have ‘voted’, had they been given the chance. The exclusion of a significant segment of the voting population, a segment more likely to be sympathetic to the Left, must surely be a relevant factor in judging the reliability of political opinion polls.

More important than this (to me) is the effect on voter perception and decision-making of the polls themselves. If you are constantly being told that scientific polling shows that X has no chance of winning and Y has no chance of losing, your inclination to vote for X will diminish and your inclination to vote for Y increase. That is simply human nature. People like to back winners. And they don’t want  to waste their vote on a certain loser.

For months now the pollsters and their media messengers – most prominently (since they are on television) the political soothsaying duo of  Garner and Espiner – have been telling us, with a degree of schadenfreude bordering on glee, that Goff and Labour are toast. It seems naive in the extreme to believe that this has no effect on voting preference. The polls, in a word, have a built-in tendency to be self-fulfilling.

This might be of less significance – and the results might be slightly or even significantly different – if political issues were discursively debated on prime-time television. They aren’t. There is no programme on prime-time television devoted to the analysis of political issues. This reflects, and has for decades reflected television executives’ belief that politics are boring and of little interest to the prime-time viewer. Hence the marginalisation of political debate to Saturday and Sunday morning. Q & A and The Nation are both good programmes, but their audiences are, of necessity, small in comparison to programmes broadcast in the evening.

This absence of informed, in depth, prime-time television debate of political issues serves to favour and encourage political judgements made on the basis of on-screen personality or facility with the medium rather than on the basis of policy or the national interest. What the politician says or believes is of less importance than how he or she comes across. As a long-time media advisor to the political Left, I am of course complicit in all of this. But this does not prevent me from bemoaning the failure of the television networks to meet what I consider their obligation (certainly Television New Zealand’s obligation)  in a democracy to foster and promote political literacy among their viewers.  Politics has been reduced in prime time to the level of a beauty contest in which the contestants’ attractiveness is the main criterion for winning the judges’ approval.

It is his superiority on the political catwalk, combined with the near-total absence of discursive political debate on television that accounts in large part for John Key’s dominance in the polls. No New Zealand politician has ever had a better understanding of the power of celebrity, of the role of the photo-opportunity in generating and maintaining public approval, of  the infectious nature of proximity to the rich, famous and powerful. The adjective most commonly used to describe Key is ‘nice’, closely followed by ‘easy’’. His opponents like to dub him ‘Smile And Wave’, perhaps not realising the power of smiling and waving.

One could be amused by all of this if it were part of a wider and deeper political discourse, but it seems to have replaced political discourse entirely. In a curiously circular logic our political leaders are judged not on the basis of the merits or lack of merits of their stewardship or policies but on their ratings in the polls. John Key is a superb leader because he is on 56% in the preferred Prime Minister polls; Phil Goff is a hopeless leader because he is on 8% in the polls. It thus becomes virtually impossible for a low-polling leader to improve his or her  rating, since it is the rating itself that is the gauge of political ability.

If I had any doubts about the merits of this argument they were utterly dispelled by Duncan Garner. Sunday’s 3 News Reid Research poll had brought as little comfort to Labour and its leader as the One News Colmar Brunton Poll on the same night. But on Monday TV3’s political editor had a few more rabbits to pull out of the hat:

Fewer than two in every 10 people think Phil Goff can win the next election, according to our latest 3 News Reid Research poll. And it is not much better if you ask just Labour voters. One in three Labour voters now thinks it is time for Mr Goff to stand aside as leader of the party.

In our latest 3 News Reid Research poll 78% of voters said he cannot win. Just 16% said he can.

But it is not much better amongst his own believers – more than one in two Labour voters have lost the faith. 56% say he cannot win and just 37% of his own voters say he can.

Labour is trailing National by 25 points in our latest poll, and Mr Goff is on track for a humiliating defeat.

So we asked Labour voters, should Mr Goff be dumped as Labour’s leader.  30% say yes get rid of him – that is one in three of his own voters.  65% say leave him there.  5% did not know.

One senior Labour MP told 3 News today the latest polls are “depressing and it’s dead man’s territory”.

Now here’s an interesting question for Mr Garner: If John Key is on 56% in the preferred Prime Minister polls and Phil Goff  is on 8%,  what precisely could you expect to learn by asking the same respondents  whether they think Goff  can win the election?

I’ll help you with the answer, Duncan – Absolutely nothing!

An even more interesting question might be: Why bother including a question to which  anyone who knows that 56 is 7 times 8 already knows the answer? On current polling the odds against Goff winning the election are huge.

Here’s one more for you: Would a poll result stating that ‘fewer than two in every 10 people think Phil Goff can win the next election be helpful or unhelpful to Goff’s chances of actually winning the election?

It’s a rhetorical question, Duncan, so I’ll ask another one:

Could anything be more damaging to Goff’s chances of actually winning the next election? Well, maybe if a majority of Labour voters thought Goff had no chance of winning. And, shiver me timbers, by a slim majority, your poll showed that too.

On a roll here, me old mate. Might as well go for the biggie and ask those Labour voters whether they think Goff should be dumped as party leader? Not quite so conclusive this time: 30%  which, as you helpfully reminded us, is one in three, said Yes, while 65%, which you forgot to remind us, is two out of three, said No.

So what we had here was a poll about voters reactions to the polls. My problem with it is that I find it hard to believe it was neutral in its intention. Given the sheer predictability of its outcome – a double whammy whose effect could only  be to further damage Goff’s electoral chances – it  was gratuitous at best. In effectively asking respondents to predict the outcome of the election by interpreting  the meaning of previous polls, rather than simply stating their own voting preferences,  it was also of  dubious  value as a piece of research.

Still, as I said earlier, complaining about the polls is not a good look. But it would be helpful if the delivery and analysis of  poll results was not television’s main contribution to prime-time political coverage, and debate of the political issues confronting our society was.

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53 Comments:

  1. Spot on. Kiwis en masse are blind to the corrupt collusion that has infused NZ politics. Media and psychological warfare have usurped the fundamentals. This of course sounds depressingly like the way the American economy was match-fixed: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Match_fixing

  2. Not only do lower-income people not have landlines, but many younger and/or more technologically savvy and/or urban people no longer have landlines, either.

    Instead, they use mobile phones and services such as VOIP (especially where naked DSL is available). This cuts out a part of the population who, I could argue, are also more likely to be liberal than conservative.

  3. I’m 30 and I say at least half of my friends and peers don’t have a land line. It’s an outdated technology. Heck, my parents only call me via skype.
    I’d like to see a either News outlet grow a pair and acknowledge they’re lazy but like familiar processes – no matter how incorrect the results are. The other obvious example of not living in reality and TV channels see ratings and rating machine install demographics.

  4. This is called “push-polling” (as I’m sure you know, Brian) and political pressure groups have been commissioning this type of poll for quite a few years now. It is a shame that our national media organisations have learned to do the same.
    Neutrality? What’s that?

  5. I agree with what you say Brian. I am not a great fan of Garner’s type of journalism. I wonder however whether, when polls say that even left voters don’t think Goff can win they are just being realistic. The Key government haven’t done much to offend anyone so we will give them another go. Most governments are given two terms if they are ok three if they are popular, that appears to be the cycle. Goff was well respected in the last Labour administration, I don’t think his talents have left him since then, he is just on the wrong side of a cycle. Next term the media will start scrutinising National and Labour will start looking like a government in waiting. It’s a pity that Goff probably won’t be there.

  6. Is three years too short a time for those who voted for Key and his mob to admit they were wrong and do an about-face? I dunno. It wasn’t in 1975, but then Goff isn’t Muldoon, thank god.
    Something’s wrong here, though. What are the Nats doing to keep the media away from their throats? Sure, Key refuses to front up anywhere that he’s going to be put under the hammer, but why isn’t he being critically examined on that very matter?
    Maybe the majority of voters don’t read or watch anything of substance anymore.

  7. “In the minds of Key’s supporters, leader and party are one and indivisible.”

    Maybe you should add the media to this group. We seem to have degenerated to an American presidential style with a major difference. In the US the party of the President is not necessarily the majority party in the house. In our case the rest of the mob get in riding on the coat tails of the leader.

    As for the lack of political debate on television, my view is that it doesn’t “rate” and so is not commercially worthwhile.

    It wasn’t all that long ago that “State” television provided wall to wall coverage of the various party’s annual conferences where at least you got the chance to “see” someone other than the select few at the top of the pile…

    Hmm…

  8. Maybe the majority of voters don’t read or watch anything of substance anymore.

    Because it is so seldom there? What I see in newspapers and magazines are Baby-Boomer pundits moaning on as they look at everything through the lens of their investiment properties. On talkback radio I hear Baby-boomer pundits, who seemed to have commonly failed in all previous careers, issuing statements often both lazy and offensive enough to attract attention.

    I watch TV I see people reporting politics as sports, except I hasten to add, the people who report on sports seem to be expected to provide more indepth information. Especially if they are discussing a rugby team. These people are directed by Baby-boomer pundit editors, who decide what story is going to be shown.

    So where does this all leave me. Listening to National Radio, which is apparently to scary for current government minister to appear on regularly, and reading the self proclaimed experts online. On the information highway where anyone with any sort of ill-formed opinion can throw up a blog and pontificate*.

    *Present company excluded.

  9. Well said Brian. Where is the serious television? There is apparently a move to introduce “Radio with Pictures” a sort of National programme on the screen though when that will happen, who knows.

    Occasionally in the print media, we get the following example of serious analysis however, and while it is not talking about polls, it is at least some hope of raising public discourse – would that Espiner or Garner could devote some time to interviewing the PM and finding out where he stands on this http://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=10746808

  10. By their nature polls are indicative at best. They can never be pin point accurate. But over time they provide insights into trends. Throughout their history they have been skewed this way or that because for one reason or another cetain demographics are inadequately represented. But throughout their history they are mainly right in picking trends.

    Given the times we live in and the proliferation of socil media, there is ample opportunity for politicians of all persuasions to find ways to connect with their audiences that works for them. And of course they will use whatever media they believe will best suit their cause. Why would they not.

    My sense is that Key is much more skilled at this than Goff. Key understands how to use modern media better than Goff. Goff is of another generation – he was in parliament when Muldoon was still there. He is an institutonalised politician. He is of a generation when you only used land lines. I suggest that Goff is just not relevant in the 21st century and this is being picked up in the polls.

    By the way Brian I dont think most of the population would agree with you that the economy is in dire straits and that we have high unemployment. Compared to whats happening elsewhere in western econonies, I suspect many New Zealanders are feeling relativey secure economically. Another way of looking at the labour markets is that around 94% of those able to work are in work. This I think influences the polls as well.

  11. We do not hear much from politicians on radio.

    We do not see or hear much from politicians on TV of any substance.

    These polls were using a sample of people from what demographic? These polls were using a sample of people with access to what information?

    Garner and Espiner and their auto cue reading clones are paid to sound and look relevant.

    England, Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Syria, Iran have shown what a repressed (as in put upon, ignored and manipulated) population can do.

    I am actually looking forward to the election.

    If Labour has the resources to mobilise their natural base of supporters to get out and actually vote and the irritated irked swinging bourgeoisie see through the nonsense that is the National Party it could be a very interesting election result.

    Beats the RWC for interest.

    And, NO, I do not believe the outcome of the RWC yawnfest will have any bearing on the election result. That would require a hangover of such proportions that that the UN would have to mount rescue missions.

  12. Wonder why Key and his Ministers while largely avoid appearing on TV or Radio to address the issues that are of serious concern, yet also avoid censure for no-show?
    Unemployment. Asset Sales. CGT. Tax Cuts. Welfare Reform. Mining. Global Warming. Oil etc

    And yet stories of Labour’s “weakness” or “leadership” are very busy. Where would Garner or Espiner be without Goff to disect?
    Petition: “PM and Ministers must front up for debate on issues.” Those in favour…

  13. ‘Where is the serious television? ‘

    I miss the non-serious television. One can only wonder what a decent satire and piss take of the body politic would realise.
    God knows there is enough material.

  14. On the other hand perhaps Phil Goff is not an effective political leader. We can dis the polls and bemoan the lack of incisive journalism but the poll difference is so huge it can’t be ignored.

    Key’s nice guy image(okey dokey John) is very well managed and appears to be working for him. So what strategy could Labour come up with to combat that?

  15. Were you just as concerned Brian when the polls were saying exactly the same things about Bill English and National in 2002.
    Methinks not.
    Nothing has altered except now it is your beloved Labour Party which is getting the bad results !!

    BE: I can’t recall any poll in 2002 which asked “Can Bill English” win the election?” Nor can I remember political editors on television writing him off as a no-hoper 3 months before the election.
    But yes, you clever fellow, you’ve worked out that an adviser to four Labour Prime Ministers is probably going to be more concerned about a Labour leader doing poorly than a National leader doing poorly. Full marks there. But then are you a Labour supporter? Methinks not.

  16. Key is 50, Goff is 57 – hardly another generation.

  17. Goff is a victim of the backlash momentum against a party that held office for several terms. He is also not a ‘modern’ man to a lot of voters, with his inevitable association with the ‘helengrad’ era, and his monotonous lecturing style. Clark like Muldoon ensured there was little exciting new leadership coming through, and possibly threatening her tenure. Now if the current polls translate to real election night results, the few quality young hopefuls that Labour possess will be swept away, leaving boring, journeymen MP’s like Ruth Dyson, etc. This will condemn Labour to another wilderness period, but, even worse, this could trigger a splintering of the party, as a lot of young labourites are biting their tongue at the moment for the sake of the party. A heavy defeat will not assuage them if Parker or Cunliffe becomes leader, as they are just about as boring as the current lot. Key is not a brilliant politician but he is riding a huge wave. Get out of the way, reshuffle the list to get some talented young blood elected, and wait for the inevitable disenchantment with National next term.

    BE: Rick, I think your comment illustrates quite well the point I was making in my post. Your central theme appears to be that the main criterion for running the country should be that you aren’t boring. Totally inexperienced and thick as two short planks would presumably be fine.

  18. It is a very credible and timely question to ask given the huge difference between Goffs and Labours number and his personal performance poll. There has been speculation for quite a while on if Labour could do better without Goff so it’s pertinent.
    Trouble for Labour is there is no heir apparent and they have once again stacked their list which will hobble them in 2014.
    As for the standard of journalism they are following the politicians lead and no one wants to discuss detail. Mallards leaked email over the CGT specified not to go into detail with the media, when questioned Parker and Cunliffe said it will be left to a panel of experts and then it turned out their figures were 7 billion out. It’s enough to make you cry.

  19. Congratulations on sussing that I am not a Labour supporter.But it shouldn’t be difficult as so few people are.
    I was a member of the Labour Party until 1986 until I left in disgust and joined the Green Party.
    And as long as the Labour Party is sufficiently corrupted by wanting power to go into coalition with the likes of Winston Peters [and then defend him to the hilt ]and also have MPs of the like of Claire Curran who think they have a god given right to my vote I will remain a member of the Green Party.

    BE: Well, I’m delighted to hear that you’re a member of the Green Party. Way back in 1989 Judy and I had the privilege of giving the then fledgling party media advice and help with their television campaign. They were a delightful lot. I think they polled about 7% in that election. Under MMP they’d have had a substantial presence in Parliament. I take it from your comment that you think the Greens should not enter any sort of informal coalition with the corrupt Labour Party.

  20. Why is the media so obsessed with polls? Why the obession-compulsive nature of polling and examining every minute nuance of each result? And why the microscope on Phil Goff.

    My immediate thought is laziness.

    But I think it’s a little deeper than that. TV1 and TV3 are both commercial entitities. As such, they rely on advertising revenue to survive. To attract advertisers, they must rate highly amongst viewers. To do that, they have to present their News & Current Affairs as totally “up with the play” and Authoritative in all things political. It’s a means to be trusted by the Viewer. Hence reliance on polling, and the almost sub-atomic level of scrutiny on each percentage-result.

    Of course, whether or not the figures are meaningful is wholly irrelevant. The poll results just have to LOOK good. (They could be reading out a recipe from an Edmonds Cookbook, for all the difference it makes.)

    That’s “News & Current Affairs” in NZ, circa 2011AD.

    It’s also why the government is not funding TVNZ7 and Radio NZ – these two media are not constrained by the need to raise advertising revenue.

    As to how our society came to this… Well, that would require a deep and meaningful insight into our collective psyche; recent history; the Rise of Baby Boomer power; and our willingness to put blind faith into authority.

    And I doubt we’d get that analysis from TV1 and TV3. No advertising revenue to be had.

  21. Rick – please explain ‘helengrad’? What do you mean by that term?

  22. It’s nothing to do with Goff; it’s Clark’s baleful legacy. Like Nixon’s in America, it’ll take a generation or two to shake it off.

  23. BE ‘Totally inexperienced and thick as two short planks’

    If you are referring to Key I think you are misjudging him. Inexperienced politically he may have been on entering parliament, thick no. To most voters not politically motivated or who are thick, the election probably is only a beauty parade. To those 10-15% of us who are students of politics this is a huge frustration. Therefore to win an election, you must get votes from maybe 85% of the population, who couldn’t detail the differences in policies between the two main parties. Beauty helps but the luck of your position in the electoral cycle helps even more.

    BE: No, I wasn’t referring to Key. I was referring to what seemed to be your sole criterion for being in Parliament – not being boring. You could be “totally inexperienced and thick as two short planks’, but as long as you weren’t boring,that would be OK.

  24. Interesting how much kiwis hate intelligent hard workers like Clark…yet fall for a smiley wavey type who has done absolutely nothing for New Zealand or its people……personally i move to Melbourne in two months….and cant wait!

  25. Completely agree with Brian Edwards’ view. Sadly, gone are the days of neutral delivery of the news (when even an incredulous quick raise of eye brow by reporters was out of order) and the paucity of current affairs debate in an election year is appalling – what little is on is shown at ridiculous time slots (aside from Native Affairs on Moari TV, but which usially relates to issues Maori only).
    Having said all that, I want the Labour Party to start screaming out warnings about asset sales – I cannot help thinking honest John Key’s declarations to date are the thin edge of the wedge. And God help us all if they end up in bed with ACT.

  26. I can understand a left-leaning blog giving vent to a chorus of disgruntlement at Labour’s position. However, what I am totally bemused by is the unwillingness to see anything good in the government’s management.

    As Grant describes well the government has done a good job in steering between the twin shoals of depression-through-austerity and depression-through-excessive-debt. And managed a significant earthquake in the middle of it. All power to them.

    Then when I see the petty little references to JK’s intellect and the suggestion he is all form and no substance I laugh. As long as Labour keeps parading its inherent sense of moral superiority (only a stupid person would be of or support the right)it is doomed to be in opposition. JK would have to be the most underestimated politician in a long time.

    BE: I’m not sure who you’re referring to but I have certainly made no ‘petty little references to Key’s intellect. He’s obviously a very smart guy. But ‘the most underestimated politician in a long time’? I don’t think so.

  27. (1) BE:”…the effect on voter perception and decision-making of the polls themselves. If you are constantly being told that scientific polling shows that X has no chance…your inclination to vote for X will diminish…” “For months now the pollsters and their media messengers…have been telling us…that Goff and Labour are toast. It seems naive in the extreme to believe that this has no effect on voting preference.”

    I’d argue that in the run-up to the 2008 General Election, the media’s presentation of poll results went beyond mere disinformation, and actually ended up bordering on the subversion of the whole democratic process itself.

    Throughout the print and broadcast media, journalists were placing almost total analytical emphasis on the support-gap between the two major parties in their reports of various poll results, FPP-style, thus giving the vast majority of voters the impression that the Centre-Left had a far greater gap to bridge than was actually the case.

    The final polls of the 2008 campaign suggested the support gap between Left and Right blocs was as little as 2 or 3 percentage points. That’s how close a Labour-led coalition came to retaining power in 08. (Indeed, the very last poll – the Roy Morgan poll of late October/early November – actually had the Left 2 points ahead of the Right, thus leading the Tory blue-rinse matrons who currently run the New Zealand Listener to write a panic-ridden editorial suggesting it would be a travesty of democracy if a Centre-Left government retained power. Bless them).

    So, while the true gap was only 2 or 3 percentage points, newspaper readers and TV viewers were being encouraged to believe it was 10-12 points (the gap between the two main parties). Most outrageous of all was Fairfax. Under hyperbolic headlines like “Labour is Dog-Tucker” and “Nats set for Landslide”, writers like Tracy Watkins focussed entirely on the gap between National and Labour. All of which was further amplified by the Fairfax poll’s historic tendency to over-state Nat support and under-state Labour support. While most of the final 08 polls (Colmar-Brunton, TV3-TNS, Herald-Digi) got the Nat-Labour gap about right (11 percentage points), the final Fairfax poll put the Nats a whopping 18 points ahead of Labour. Hence, a week before the Election, Fairfax readers were being told the Centre-Left needed to fulfill the almost impossible task of bridging this yawning 18 point chasm in order to retain Office, when in fact the true gap was just 2 or 3 points. I think it’s reasonable to suggest that this deception had the capacity to alter voter behaviour quite markedly.

    (2) BE: “The exclusion of a significant segment of the voting population (including “students and younger people in general”), a segment more likely to be sympathetic to the Left, must surely be a relevant factor in judging the reliability of political opinion polls.”

    Yep. I think there’s some evidence to suggest that 18-34 year olds are currently much more evenly-split between the Left and Right blocs than middle-aged and older voters. Younger voters are also a little more favourable to Goff as preferred PM (which raises doubts about the idea that Goff is unpopular because he’s supposedly out-of-touch and of the wrong generation).

  28. Kerry

    Good luck in Australia; the way thing are going there for labour, they’ll be gone by christmas.

    Ad then you’ll get Mr Abbot….John Key is like a pussy cat compared to him.

    The only thing keeping labour in power in Australia is almost the ultimate in moral bankruptcy; the unions are refusing to dob in one of their own labour members of parliament for spending up large on prostitutes etc with his union credit card because he would be prosecuted, which in turn would probably bring down the labour governement.

    One thing I love about the left is its hypocracy. They’ll take the moral high grand and stand up for the downtrodden but if there is any threat to their power – moral positions are absolutely out the window.

  29. Isn’t this a re run of the “Emperor has no clothes”
    Or for that may just be superficial and facile!

  30. Absolutely on the button Brian. Apart from the Listener (pre-gutted-of-talent-and-bludgeoned-to-mindless-pap currency), the NZ press has always had a genteel lean to starboard, with occasionaland ugly blatant lurches as required. But the appearance of editorals in many of our dailies expounding the virtues of Brash’s Orewa One speech before it was delivered signalled a major watershed to the constant spin we now endure, the recent Garner pieces which you accurately portray being just the latest example.

    The marketeer-party NACT breakthrough was the realisation that the only voters that matter are the Middle: by definition, uninterested in detail or policy. The “self-fulfilling prophesy” aspect of polls is indeed real and extremely powerful.

    It wouldn’t surprise me in the teensiest if one day there’s a “Kiwileaks” revealing that not only certain of our media controllers but our pollsters, are corrupt and venal to the core. Remember our Golden Slipper’s motto from his moneychanging days; “whatever it takes”.

  31. Kerry said “Interesting how much kiwis hate intelligent hard workers like Clark…”

    Too bad she wasn’t lazier, Kerry. Intelligence and hard work IN THE WRONG DIRECTION is what we didn’t like.

  32. Along with some others above, I’m 30 and blue voting and I don’t have a landline. No point. My wife and I spend about $50 between us on mobiles, another $50 on a landline is just wasteful.

    This trend is only growing, so pollsters will need to come up with a different method.

    But agree with your theme that the standard of political “debate” is abysmal.

  33. Frank asks ‘why the obsession with polls’? Perhaps it is because Guyon and Duncan are just lazy, and it is much easier to parrot gossip and interpret polls, than it is to actually do the job of a real political editor? I get the sense that these two are actually now players in the game, extensions of the well lubricated Key celebrity machine. In rugby parlance, it would be like Murray Mexted running down from the commentary box, grabbing the ball, and scoring a try for his favourite team. Then running back up to the box, and delivering a glowing verdict on such an inspired piece of play.

  34. Saw Key on TV the other night and thought – would I buy a used SOE from this guy? He looked a little bit shifty! I think he is as dodgy as a $3.50, lead maravedi, finance company certificate!
    JOHNM

  35. I dont know howe Key continues to get away with it.As much as I didnt like what Don Brash had to say ,it did sound like he had actually thought about it.

  36. “If you are constantly being told that scientific polling shows that X has no chance of winning and Y has no chance of losing, your inclination to vote for X will diminish and your inclination to vote for Y increase. That is simply human nature.”

    I’m not so sure about this. Would it not cause complacency in the supporters of Y and fervour in the supporters of X?

  37. Bugger the Polls – J Bolger 1987.

    As much as the Polling techniques are out of date, the delivery mechanisms of the results eg Television, Newspapers and Radio are probably similarly out moded. Those that would not be reached by those polls would not even be watching the results or the attention span they occupy would be minuscule.

    Labour’s unenviable task is to engage it’s splintered support base with
    a) a theme that grabs attention
    b) a mechanism/s that works both inside traditional media and in new mediums.

    But it needs to get its head around b) before it has any chance to succeed with a)

  38. I think you’re right, Adrian. If the polls say that National are a dead cert, some National voters may feel they don’t need to turn up on election day. But equally some Labour voters may feel it’s not worth it either.

  39. not sure what all this polling to landline only nonsense is about? pollsters can call mobiles too! I’ve had a pollster call mine twice this year. Unless you tick the little box on the sign up form when you join a plan or prepaid, you’re likely to be on a database somewhere.

  40. Apart from the landline issue (I’m 51 and notorious for “not hearing” our landline, yet I happily participate in surveys online), what time the call is made determines what demographic will answer. Would I be surveyed at 5.45pm when I’m having a glass of wine and contemplating dinner? No. My mother, yes.
    Polls are one easy option the media uses to be seen as more current than the competition. Unfortunately too much emphasis is placed on being current, and less on informed, robust debate and coverage on TV. Any discussion looking remotely interesting is stopped for time. Nothing in the daily papers either; we’re referred to websites. They are so obsessed with the social media juggernaut…and to be seen as most current.
    Anyone wanting to understand political issues in depth and with balance in NZ has to search and blog, and most of us aren’t that diligent. The result is a public dumbing down and apathy, and political parties which know it – and make the most of it. What is happening to investigative journalism?

  41. @ Adrian

    I can’t quite see how “constantly being told that scientific polling shows (Party) X has no chance of winning” would cause “fervour” in the supporters of Party X.

    Despondency ?, yes. Resignation ?, yes. A move into non-voting ?, yes. “Fervour” ?, wouldn’t have thought so.

  42. To all the defenders of the National Party on here:

    How many hospitals did National close between 1990 and 1999?

    How many hospitals did Labour close between 1999-2008?

    Is it not a co-incendence that Bill Birch could afford huge tax cuts in 1996, after the large bulk of hospitals that were closed down. Especially the mental hospitals, which I belive has lead to the vast bulk of problems we are experiencing today.

  43. Markus,

    I think Adrian is suggesting that such poll resuts would motivate Party X to do more, knowing they are needing to close the gap.

  44. Labour should be kicking themselves that they didn’t strengthen public broadcasting while they were in office. In nine years they had plenty of opportunity but they didn’t have the guts. They can’t complain about biased polls and slanted debates now.

  45. Question: When was New Zealand’s first MMP election? Answer: FIFTEEN years ago.

    But persistance of all of our media – not just TV – to still treat our electoral system as a simple two horse race (and to reinforce the comment “For months now the pollsters and their media messengers – most prominently (since they are on television) the political soothsaying duo of Garner and Espiner – have been telling us, with a degree of schadenfreude bordering on glee, that Goff and Labour are toast.”) is demonstrated agin in todays blaring NZ Herald headline – “Poll’s pre-election gloom for Labour”. But the actual results are nothing like how the Herald’s headline is portraying it. The total Labour/Green vote has not changed, it has stayed steady at basically 42% for months and months now. National is sitting at 52%, basically unchanged by only 100,000 voters away from losing the election, given their paucity of coalition partners.

    But since the Left’s vote has been moving between the Greens and Labour more or less consistantly at 42%, and National’s has stayed steady as well over the same period of time, I would have thought the real news in this poll is the remarkable difference that has emerged between Auckland – where Labour and the Greens appear to be actually ahead of National – and provincial New Zealand, where it seems a massive 70% or so of New Zealanders support National.

    Given that the most recent outbreak of major violence in this country in 1981 was exactly along this urban/provincial fault line, I would have thought the headline potential of the danger signs represented by this huge (and seemingly increasing) polarisation would have had REAL journalists crawling over it.

  46. Why wouldn’t more right leaning people also not have landlines?

    I have a smart phone and given the fact that I have broadband at home and Skype on the phone there is no real benefit of having a landline phone.

    Me thinks it is simply wishful thinking to explain the dilemma Labour finds itself in at the moment.

  47. And tonight TV3 leads it’s main 6pm news bulletin with NZ’s next top model. QED.

  48. Fiona makes the point above that Goff is only 7 years older than Key and that therefore they are more or less of the same generation.

    Therein lies the problem for Goff. He may be only 7 years older but the percpetionn nevertheless is that he is of another generation.

    When you consider this in terms of the relative longivity of Goff and Key in politics then there is no question that Goff is of another generation. He goes right back to the Muldoon era and the Douglas era. He is an institutionalised politician with little, if any, real world expereince, compared with Key. This plays out in the polls – who gets excited about an institionalised politcian like Goff anchored in political antiquity?

    The decision by Clark to annoint Goff and King as the leaders of the Labour Party after the 2008 loss is rendering the party itself now as irrelevant. It will have the chance to reinvent itself after the election and to start to modernise. The better thing however would have been for Clark to have left the reminants of the party to sort out the leadership and the direction of the party themselves back in 2008 when they lost. What Labour has now lost is 3 years, as well as reducing its ability to be electable in 2014.

  49. It may well be utter vanity and ego on my part, but I like to think Tracy Watkins read my brief critique of her and other journalists’ poll analyses in the run-up to the 2008 General Election (in my August 24, 18:08 comment, above).

    I argued that “Under hyperbolic headlines like “Labour is Dog-Tucker”…..,writers like Tracy Watkins focussed entirely on the gap between National and Labour.” I also emphasised that Fairfax polls have a tendency toward a Right-bias, with Fairfax greatly exaggerating the gap between the two main parties in its final 08 poll.

    In today’s Dom Post (August 31, 2011), Watkins analyses the latest Fairfax poll under the headline: “Voters pick up the Dog Tucker Signals”.

    She then goes on to put forward an unusually nuanced and ‘self-reflexive’ analysis, conceding (for the first time ever) that the Fairfax poll “should be read in context -while 25.7 per cent is disastrous for Labour, other polls in recent days have had its support higher…”

    And then ends with “…once the polls decide you are dog tucker, voters are inclined to do the same.”

    Now this is all probably mere coincidence, Tracy simply employing her favourite terminology, but I do like to think it represents the initiation of some sort of secret romantic foreplay on her part.

  50. Labour would poll b etter if they refrained from spooking voters with hare-brained ideas. Example, the capital gains tax. No problem with a properly set up CGT, but Goff intends to use the cash generated from that to pay for his election promises. It will take some time to build up any returns, if it ever does. The tax is trying to achieve two opposing aims. If it keeps the price of businesses, houses and farms down, it won’t generate much money. If it is to be a money machine which will pay for Goff’s goodies, it will rely on property price inflation.

  51. JK is managed closely by crosby texter and i would say that he has been advised to stay away from in depth interviews on policy.
    National politics have always sent NZ and the people into the scrap heap,while holding aloft their favoured toff pots,National is not about inclusive government and never has been,some asume that because they are mostly ‘money men’ they can run the economy of a small country,which has proven to be a myth many times over,no ideas and no substance,history continues on this path even to this day.
    It will be a sad day for NZ should national win,if everyone that worships JK took off their rose coloured glasses they would find a shallow,control freek, a manipulator,the future under this leader looks bleak indeed and fill the history books with a time for NZ where most of the population was ignored for the sake of a few.

  52. Gotta pay for those hospitals some how lettice..

    Unless you want to close them all down like National did in the ’90s…

    Or even have American style health care. Cancer? No insurance? Hurry up and die…

  53. If this election were not so crucial with regard to state assets,the situation in the polls for labour would not be such a concern and alot of labour voters would not feel that that labour’s chances of winning were dimming every month.
    Scant regard is shown to national’s rorts,lies,fudging the truth,tax-payer funds to business and corporations that total billions,axing jobs by the thousands,tax-cuts to the rich mates and creating a significant poor,most nz’ers are so shallow and self serving that they are greedy and dont give a rats for the standard of life for others,this is what a high percentage of us have become,a sad reflection isn’t it.