Home > Social Issues, The Body Politic > Census, Surveys, and Cellphones…

Census, Surveys, and Cellphones…




Three polls in February (2013)  yielded two distinctly different results.


Roy Morgan

13 Feb 2013

TVNZ/Colmar Brunton

17 Feb 2013

Fairfax/Ipsos Poll

20 Feb 2013

Right bloc:


44% (-2%)

49% (+5%)

44.9% (-1.3)

Maori Party

0.5% (-1%)

1% (n/c)

1.3% (-.01%)


0.5% (n/c)

.01% (-0.5%)

.04% (+.04%)

United Future

0% (n/c)

.02% (-0.3%)

.01% (-.01%)

Left bloc:


34.5% (+3%)

33% (-2%)

36.3% (+1.9%)


13.5% (n/c)

11% (-2%)

10.7% (+.02%)

Mana Party

0.5% (n/c)

1% (n/c)

1.4% (+.08%)


NZ First

4% (-1.5%)

4% (n/c)

2.8% (-1%)

Conservative Party

2% (+1.5%)

1% (n/c)

1.6% (.02%)

n/c = no change

At the previous election, National was consistantly polling high – in the low-to-mid 50s. Their election result was actually 47.31%, several percentage points out from polling figures from Roy Morgan, Colmar Brunton, and Media Research,


Roy Morgan

24 Nov 2011

TVNZ/Colmar Brunton

24 Nov 2011*

Fairfax/Media Research

23 Nov 2011


Election results

Closest Polling result

Right bloc:






Roy Morgan

Maori Party





Media Research






Media Research

United Future





Roy Morgan
Left bloc:






Colmar Brunton






Media Research

Mana Party





Media Research

NZ First





Roy Morgan

Conservative Party





Colmar Brunton

n/r = no result provided

As the chart above shows, polling figures were all over the place. Roy Morgan called it closest for the result for National – but under-reported for Labour.

Colmar Brunton called it closest for Labour.

Whilst at the same time, Media Research was way out for National – 6.69 percentage points off the mark – over twice the margin of error (3.1%) for that poll.  (see:  Gap closes as election looms – poll)

None of the polling companies were consistent in their results and all over-polled National. Only one pollster over-polled for Labour.

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

This year’s census has an interesting question; Question 17,


2013 survey - qu 17


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

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

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

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

One option is to return to the days of door-knocking pollsters. It’s an expensive option, but may be more reliable than phoning people on landlines.

This blogger keenly anticipates Statistics NZ releasing poll results on Question 17. It’s impact on politics in this country may be greater than we realise.



Previous blogposts

Three recent polls



= fs =

  1. Possum
    8 March 2013 at 2:23 pm

    yeah we will be able 2 do more voting on unpopular decisions that govt are trying 2 pass by us and we can vote on-line 4 general election 2, wld save on the $$$$ 2 print up voting papers etc.

    • WEM
      8 March 2013 at 10:53 pm

      Yeah was very strange question, ??

  2. Mooloo magic
    8 March 2013 at 3:26 pm

    I have been living in the same house for 13 years and live in a blue ribbon suburb and I have only ever been polled once ( about 10 years ago) . I guess the pollsters noted I support labour hence I have never been polled again, I do wonder if polling is designed to give the right result for the govt.

    • Neil
      9 March 2013 at 12:01 am

      I’ve been living in this house since 1976 and never been polled.

  3. mick
    8 March 2013 at 5:30 pm

    Poll result announcements should have to state sample size and method ie.landlines only etc. and the exact questions used during the poll.
    A cunningly worded “poll” question can easily skew the results in a required way.
    “figures lie and liars figure.”

  4. Strawberry Paddocks
    8 March 2013 at 5:54 pm


    We don’t have a landline either. We use our cellphones or Skype. We haven”t been polled since we gave up our landline six years ago.

  5. Alastair
    9 March 2013 at 2:47 pm

    I have an iPhone and the found the census question misleading. Technically I should have ticked ‘a telephone’ because an iPhone is a type of telephone, but I think in the end I figured that it was supposed to read ‘a fixed line telephone’.

    Someone last year suggested to me that only calling fixed lines would create a bias that would be unfavourable to low income people and I couldn’t understand her reasoning. If a mobile phone is cheaper and more practical than a fixed line then the only reason anyone would be still using a fixed line would be if they are not confident or comfortable adopting new technology. So, in my mind it would stand to reason that the polling would be biased against older people and people who don’t have a good educational background.

  6. 9 March 2013 at 4:08 pm

    “If a mobile phone is cheaper and more practical than a fixed line then the only reason anyone would be still using a fixed line would be if they are not confident or comfortable adopting new technology. “

    Not quite, Alastair. It still costs to make a call to a cellphone/smartphone. By comparison, there’s no charge, per call, between local landlines.

    I know when I’m looking for a tradesperson (plumber, electrician, etc), I have an aversion to call a cellphone and prefer a (free) call to a landline. Especially if I’m looking for quotes only.

    Having said that, it is cheaper to have a cellphone, and txting, with perhaps broadband to skype with, face-to-face. That eliminates landline phone rentals quite nicely. (With a smartphone, you can txt and skype.)

  7. Alastair
    9 March 2013 at 4:50 pm

    That may have been true 20 years ago, but I currently only pay $30 a month for all the national calling that I could possibly use. Even if a fixed line were free I’d probably still rather pay the $30 a month for the mobility factor considering that I spend very little time at home.

  8. 12 March 2013 at 11:48 am

    I’m 28; none of my friends – students, unemployed, low-paid, well-paid, outrageously-paid – have a landline. Almost everyone I know uses their smartphone for everything.

    • 12 March 2013 at 5:02 pm

      Alastair & Lissa; interesting…

      It occurs to me that the census results may indeed show your situation (no landline; reliance on smartphone technology) may be more significant than has been assumed this far…

  1. 21 March 2013 at 11:03 pm
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  3. 8 June 2013 at 8:01 am
  4. 12 December 2013 at 8:00 am
  5. 15 December 2013 at 8:00 am
  6. 13 July 2014 at 8:00 am
  7. 7 September 2014 at 8:18 am
  8. 12 September 2014 at 8:01 am
  9. 25 September 2015 at 8:01 am
  10. 14 July 2016 at 9:23 am
  11. 19 July 2016 at 8:01 am
  12. 10 December 2017 at 8:57 am
  13. 15 December 2017 at 8:00 am

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