Home > Media, The Body Politic > Polls and pundits – A facepalm moment

Polls and pundits – A facepalm moment

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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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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 20 September 2015.

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