The Dim-Post

September 27, 2009

English and notes toward a general theory of political polls

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 9:28 pm

TVNZ has a new poll out tonight confirming that Labour are finally clawing back some support from National. Goff’s approval ratings are also up. Like I said the other day, I think this is down to the story of Bill English’s housing allowance breaking back in August. Many political reporters focus on recent events when they’re looking for post hoc explanations for polls; I think you have to go back at least a month. My theory is that most people don’t pay too much attention to politics outside an election year but if a political scandal breaks and then somehow resonates with voters’ everyday lives then you see a gradual shift in support.

Consider a previously loyal Labour voter who supported John Key in the last election: they didn’t care about Richard Worth or the super-city or cancelled evening classes or any of the other issues that Labour’s supporters are so excised about because they don’t seem very real to them. And then they read a story about Bill English getting paid $40,000 a year to live in his own home.

Maybe they don’t really care – they didn’t vote for English, they voted for John Key and he seems like he’s doing a pretty good job. And then maybe they find out they’ve got tree roots in their drains and it’s going to cost $12,000 to fix, and they’re going to have to raise the money off the mortgage. And then English gets up and tells everyone that they need to be frugal and cut costs and make sacrifices, only he’s still getting his $40,000 a year for his house – turns out he gets it because it’s not his house on account of some loophole with trust funds! Forty grand and he tells the rest of us to cut back! That’s most of their yearly salary! Fuck him! And fuck his party!

Or something like that, my point being that when it comes to party support people don’t spin on a dime when a story breaks, it needs to become real somehow and that can be a delayed process. Labour have done an uncharacteristically good job of keeping this story in the media without somehow shooting themselves in the foot (I don’t know where this burst of competence is coming from but I like it). In response National has adopted the Helen Clark method of scandal management: refer it to an investigation so you can refuse to comment pending the outcome. The Auditor General will almost certainly find that English was not in technical breach of the law but that the eligibility criteria for the living allowance needs to be ‘clarified’. So barring some unforseen revelation I think this one has played itself out – there’s really nothing English can do to recover, he’s been compromised and he’s fortunate that losing a Finance Minister in the first year would look even worse for his party than the current mess.

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27 Comments »

  1. I don’t know anyone apart from Labour activists who’s interested in English. I do know health and education sector workers who think the Nats aren’t as bad as they thought they would be.

    hard to say. I think what labour are up to reeks of Peters. Mallard et al are a bunch of thugs.

    Comment by Neil — September 27, 2009 @ 9:42 pm

  2. I don’t know anyone apart from Labour activists who’s interested in English.

    He’s the finance minister and deputy prime minister. It’s hard to imagine anyone not being interested in English with regards to this issue.

    Comment by Ben — September 27, 2009 @ 10:22 pm

  3. Someone blogged somewhere that we’ve gone from a Nanny State
    to a Daddy State. (Do as I say, not what I do)

    And maybe an electorate doesn’t react until events
    are reduced to simple codes like these.

    Hypocrisy never goes down well with any audience.
    The Nats always bag “bludging solo mums on the benefit”.
    What about bludger Bill?

    Mind you, Doesn’t English have 9 kids?
    Who can blame him.

    Comment by Adhominem — September 27, 2009 @ 10:48 pm

  4. Seems to me Act swallowed some of National’s vote and Labour gained on the back of the slump in the Green vote. Not sure much can be read into it. Its a good poll for Labour, this and the Roy Morgan poll get the negative news away. So they Labour don’t have to deal with that issue. The English affair still remains political at this time and I don’t think it will impact in polls or the public for a while yet.

    Comment by gingercrush — September 28, 2009 @ 12:19 am

  5. I don’t know anyone apart from Labour activists who’s interested in English. I do know health and education sector workers who think the Nats aren’t as bad as they thought they would be.

    Yet still the polls moved. Maybe Gingercrush is right but taken together with the last Roy Morgan the trend is that National are losing votes to Labour. Could be for a number of reasons – Goff on his moterbike? – but English’s housing rort is a classic political scandal.

    Comment by danylmc — September 28, 2009 @ 5:51 am

  6. maybe you’re be right. my social barometer could be a lagging indicator.

    Comment by Neil — September 28, 2009 @ 7:09 am

  7. Labour seems to be pushing less than some in the media, and I wonder if this isn’t just the top of the iceberg. One must ask: How many MPs have similar trusts? Some time ago, I read in other blogs and in a couple of political columns that the Greens had a retirement trust that owned some houses in Wellington, and they then rent those houses from the trust. Those rents are thus eligible for repayment as housing allowance expenses. I would be surprised if English were the only MP to be doing this.

    I must admit to being torn.
    Many MPs (maybe most) do work hard and many are a long way from home. A senior MP will be doing all manner of work at Parliament, not just in the house but committee work too, and they thus set up a second home in Wellington, especially if they have a family.

    On the other hand, they do get paid very well, compared to the average New Zealander, and this just seems as if it is an extra that no one else gets to have.

    Just my two cents worth, not inflation adjusted.

    Comment by David in Chch — September 28, 2009 @ 7:55 am

  8. Oh the faux outrage.I know the left are pretty ignorant when it comes to economic matters, just look at Tax and Spend Cullen! But this ignorance about Trusts is pretty amazing and also the hypocritical ignoring of The Greens own scheme is astonishing.Now theres a scheme designed to rort the system. And good on them. Thats the rules. Beltway issue anyway. No-one really gives a shit. Heck most of us have Trusts anyway.And those who dont, dont read or watch the news!!!
    But then again perhaps we SHOULD be looking into ALL MPs arrangements. How much time do Labour MPs actually spend in their electorates? Well the few who actually have electorates of course….
    Besides $40,000 a year for a good house is bugger all.
    Has National really lost votes to Labour as it seems Act picked up the difference, while the Greens were down and Labour up. Perhaps this result is more a re-arranging of votes for the left and for the not so left?
    All moot anyway as it changes nothing and no doubt after Keys latest adventure the Nats will bounce back.
    Puritans like Tom S might be churlish about Key on Letterman but Kiwis with a sense of humour enjoyed it.

    Comment by Captain Crab — September 28, 2009 @ 8:23 am

  9. What English has done is prove that his lot (the Nats) are no better than the last lot (Labour), this has destroyed some of the goodwill that the government had following the election and this reflects itself in the polls.

    It doesn’t help that English basically came out and said ‘I’m entitled to it, get over it’.

    Re: the housing allowance, the solution is really pretty simple, look at what the private sector would do in this situation. For out of town MP’s expected to be in Wellington for a few days a week they would get a daily allowance, for ministers and other senior politicians that are expected to be in Wellington for 90% of their time they should get a one off re-location allowance and then pay for their accommodation out of their (ample) salaries.

    Comment by ieuan — September 28, 2009 @ 8:33 am

  10. I was surprised to learn that such senior government figures didn’t have government residences refelcting their status.

    Don’t the British govt equivalents cluster in Downing St? And then there’s Chequers, Camp David etc.

    Comment by Neil — September 28, 2009 @ 8:57 am

  11. And then English gets up and tells everyone that they need to be frugal and cut costs and make sacrifices, only he’s still getting his $40,000 a year for his house – turns out he gets it because it’s not his house on account of some loophole with trust funds! Forty grand and he tells the rest of us to cut back!

    I think this bit’s bang on the money – it’s certainly what I feel every single time I see Bill English quacking on about how we all have to make do with less because there’s a recession. Anderton’s “party leader” scam is probably worse in terms of total cost, and the Greens’ leasing arrangements also pretty suspect, but they aren’t the Finance Minister, and they aren’t on TV every week making out that the rest of us aren’t keeping our end up.

    Besides $40,000 a year for a good house is bugger all.

    That’s good to hear, Crab – if it’s such a trivial amount we could pay it to people on the DPB so they also can have good houses.

    Comment by Psycho Milt — September 28, 2009 @ 9:00 am

  12. Suggestion for your general theory of political polls:

    Changes in political support within the margin of error of a poll may be due to … wait for it … the margin of error.

    Comment by Adam — September 28, 2009 @ 9:01 am

  13. Nationals dliemma is their support is sky high as long as they don’t do anything, after all – they were elected with zero policy beyond a tax cut and not being Labour – but their falls away when they try to implement any policy. That one of their time-bomb policies of a pay freeze for mum and apple pie sectors like nurses, doctors and teachers is announced by a troughing finance minster can’t be helping either.

    Paradoxically, it must be frustrating to be popular for not doing anything.

    Comment by Tom Semmens — September 28, 2009 @ 9:12 am

  14. “a pay freeze for mum and apple pie sectors like nurses, doctors and teachers”

    that’s going to be challanging for the Nats. Having played it safe with economic policy and let Obama and the Eurpeans rescue the world economy they’ll now want to take credit for NZ coming out of recession but people will most likely be expecting the pain to be over.

    Comment by Neil — September 28, 2009 @ 9:19 am

  15. I was surprised to learn that such senior government figures didn’t have government residences refelcting their status.

    The Deputy PM gets to live in Vogel House but the GG is living there right now. If English lived in his official residence and rented out his house for $40,000 a year I wouldn’t have a problem.

    Changes in political support within the margin of error of a poll may be due to … wait for it … the margin of error.

    I think a 5 point move when you’re around the 30% mark is outside the MOE, and the trend is also reflected in the Roy Morgan poll last week.

    Comment by Danyl Mclauchlan — September 28, 2009 @ 10:08 am

  16. “the GG is living there right now”

    they should have a word with Judith Collins about double bunking.

    Comment by Neil — September 28, 2009 @ 10:27 am

  17. Psycho
    “Besides $40,000 a year for a good house is bugger all.”

    “That’s good to hear, Crab – if it’s such a trivial amount we could pay it to people on the DPB so they also can have good houses.”

    If you look at the value of state houses in suburbs like Ponsonby,Remuera,Westmere, Mt Eden, St Heliers, Orakei etc etc then we already do!!!
    One of my colleagues is building 4 state houses in Waterview. They are costing $700,000 each(including land value). Market rent would be $650-750 a week.
    It aint all Huntly or Mangare.
    Of course you are being disingenuous as we are talking about accommodation for our Deputy Prime Minister.Not DPB recipients.

    Comment by Captain Crab — September 28, 2009 @ 12:59 pm

  18. “I think a 5 point move when you’re around the 30% mark is outside the MOE”

    Yes Labour is up 5 pts since February and I agree that is likely to be significant. However, they are only up 2 pts since the last poll in July (see the Colmar Brunton website for recent poll numbers, I am assuming that these are the only polls they have conducted this year).

    Comment by Adam — September 28, 2009 @ 1:00 pm

  19. Neil,
    “let Obama and the Eurpeans rescue the world economy”
    Yeah right. Got any proof of that? imho we are all stuffed for years to come.
    Like the idea of double bunking though. Put Charles Chauvel in with David Garrett!

    Comment by Captain Crab — September 28, 2009 @ 1:04 pm

  20. So today Bill English has come up with a quote that deserves a permanent place in our public discourse:

    “It’s now clear that the system has struggled to deal with my circumstances.”

    Know the feeling, Bill. The system struggles to understand me too.

    Comment by sammy — September 28, 2009 @ 4:00 pm

  21. “let Obama and the Eurpeans rescue the world economy”

    I choked on my dinner whilst reading that, too. Still not teaching economics in school these days, then. Or simple budgeting.

    Comment by Clunking Fist — September 28, 2009 @ 5:17 pm

  22. “Still not teaching economics…”

    I thought the heroic tone might have implied the necessary irony but that’s what the Nats and everyone else are doing – crossing their fingers and hoping the US can print enough money to save the rest of us.

    Comment by Neil — September 28, 2009 @ 7:08 pm

  23. (Sorry Neil, must’ve had my metal detecter switched off!)

    “that’s what the Nats and everyone else are doing – crossing their fingers and hoping the US can print enough money to save the rest of us.”
    But that is a kind-of plan… and I’m not sure the Nats are that advanced…

    Comment by Clunking Fist — September 29, 2009 @ 6:23 am

  24. Captain crab wrote: “Of course you are being disingenuous as we are talking about accommodation for our Deputy Prime Minister.Not DPB recipients.”

    There’s nothing disingenuous about it at all. You said it was cheap for a good house, and assessing whether something is affordable for DPB recipients is a perfectly reasonable way of assessing whether something qualifies as ‘cheap’ or not.

    Comment by kahikatea — September 29, 2009 @ 9:47 am

  25. I also see nothing disingenuous in it – if $40,000 is a paltry sum for us to shell out to accommodate a man perfectly capable of paying for his own accommodation, how much more should we be dishing out to people in actual need?

    Comment by Psycho Milt — September 29, 2009 @ 12:09 pm

  26. I take it that after 9 years of Labour sanctioning Bill English’s veiw of where his “home’ is – since they themselves make similar use of these nebulous rules – it was just all too tempting to ride Metiria’s piece of grandstanding and go for the jugular.

    But presumably the Nats will respond in kind. I wonder who they’ll target.

    Comment by Neil — September 30, 2009 @ 7:04 pm

  27. I wonder who they’ll target.

    Won’t be Carter – we’re not allowed to criticise him, ‘cos he’s… you know…

    Comment by Phil (not Goff) — October 1, 2009 @ 9:25 am


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