The Dim-Post

June 26, 2013

Confidence men

Filed under: polls — danylmc @ 9:05 am

The Herald are freaking out because they have a new poll showing Labour down six points! Our Wise and Very Serious political commentators are all over this issue:


Or, looking at the last Herald poll which had Labour up, it could be that infrequent polls with small sample sizes and long polling durations are kind of unreliable and noisy. Who knows?! The aggregated polls indicate that there hasn’t been much – if any – meaningful movement at all this year, with the arguable exception of New Zealand First trending up over the last month.

Also from the Herald poll:

A majority of voters want an inquiry into the GCSB spy agency and the SIS, the latest Herald DigiPoll survey shows.

Just over 50 per cent of voters polled this month support the inquiry which is being demanded by Labour and the Greens, while 36.9 per cent did not think it was necessary.

Let’s assume this is correct. Does it matter? Voters were also against the Mighty River sale and the Sky City deal. The majority of the population is opposed to most of National’s policies, but still supports the party. I don’t know why this is, but there are some obvious theories:

1. National has the fundamentals right. The economy really is improving, and most voters place more importance on that than they do on policy issues

2. Voters don’t find Labour a palatable alternative (presumably because it is poorly led and under-performing on various fronts.)

3. Swing voters are comfortable with Labour and its leadership but aren’t confident that the proposed Labour-Greens-New Zealand First coalition will lead to stable government.


  1. I think it’s number 2. Labour seems to be expecting people to vote against National rather than for Labour. They’ve done nothing to excite or inspire voters. I think the next election will have the lowest turnout in history.

    Comment by James W — June 26, 2013 @ 9:08 am

  2. I agree with James W. There’ll be three votes at the next election John Key, Bill English and David Cunliffe. National will control the entire house.

    Comment by RuminatorNZ — June 26, 2013 @ 9:15 am

  3. National’s up in the polls, but hasn’t seen much increase in the likelihood of winning over at iPredict. There’s been a far greater increase in Shearer’s chances of departing than in National’s chances of winning, though the two markets could there be interacting (ie National would be rising more but for that people are putting more weight on a Shearer departure).

    Comment by Eric Crampton (@EricCrampton) — June 26, 2013 @ 9:46 am

  4. Clarifying: National’s up in the *latest* poll. Broader trend has seemed mostly noise, though some leakage from Labour to the Greens.

    Comment by Eric Crampton (@EricCrampton) — June 26, 2013 @ 9:47 am

  5. Tom Frewen excoriated the press gallery’s failing recently on scoop in a piece that deserves a wider audience – – but while I agree that the gallery is now totally wrapped up in an arrogance circle jerk with Key I think number 2 above is the most likely cause of National’s popularity.

    I would suggest that if you think a good definition of political decadence in a political organisation is that point where it ceases to to be interested in it’s primary function as an political change agent and instead elevates secondary issues of internal process and structure to the position of primary importance then you would have a good case for arguing the rump neo-liberal Labour parliamentary faction is utterly decadent.

    The problem with this decadence is its corrupt thinking leads to what to external viewers are bizarre and perverse outcomes. For example, while Labour supporters worry at the miasma of laziness and lack of hunger rising from the parliamentary party, the likes of Trevor Mallard will be thinking “crisis? What crisis? I earn a fat six figure salary to go cycling and lose my temper in public, I can work just as much as I can be bothered, I control the Labour caucus and 30% guarantees me and the rest of my faction jobs for life.”

    in fact, I wonder if some senior Labour MPs are quite happy that the extra dozen MPs a big jump in the polls would supply wont turn up, lest they threaten their grip on the top of the party.

    I fear this decadent clique, which desperately needs to be purged (their is no other word for it), is not going anywhere in a hurry. What is to stop them staying for another decade or more, as long as they control the party and can get 20% or so of voters to believe in them?

    Comment by Sanctuary — June 26, 2013 @ 9:56 am

  6. “It could be that infrequent polls with small sample sizes and long polling durations are kind of unreliable and noisy.”

    Yes, it could be, but not all polls use the same method. Some survey methods should theoretically produce more stable results and less noise than others. When I talk about stability, I’m not talking about results that don’t change. Results should of course change to reflect ‘true changes’ in public sentiment. An unstable or volatile poll will fluctuate more around whatever the true value is, whereas a stable poll will fluctuate less around that value and less within the given margin of sampling error.

    I appreciate that it’s hard to know what the ‘true value’ is, especially for a political poll when you only get that value once every three years. Political polls are the most visible and public polls, but actually they are in the minority relative to all surveys carried out in NZ. There are many other surveys, that have been carried out over many years, and there is a large body of international research in the area of survey methodology, which suggests there are some good and not-so-good ways to carry out a survey. Someone recently said to me “Surveys are easy to do, but are hard (and expensive) to do well.” Really – anyone at all can bang a survey together and claim that the results are robust.

    I do understand that most people are not at all interested in survey methods, so views about which surveys are right/wrong will always be based on more obvious things such as frequency, sample size, online/landline/cell phone sampling, whether the results are consistent with our views based on events at the time, which blogs we read, and which hairs on the back of our necks stand up.

    I’m planning to put together a matrix of NZ polling methods, based on information made available to me or on public website, so that anyone with an interest can have the information if they want to consider poll methods (and correct it if they are willing). I haven’t got around to it yet as I’ve been completely swamped lately.

    The following two websites are useful though if anyone is interested in what makes a good/bad survey:


    UK Magenta book (Chapter 5 in particular):

    Comment by Andrew — June 26, 2013 @ 10:19 am

  7. Evidence internationally, led by the results of analysts like Nate Silver, suggests that #1 accounts for about half of the change in poll results over time. We’ve got low inflation, low interest rates, GDP is ok and unemployment isn’t trending up or down, so there’s probably a slight benefit to National from the macroeconomy.

    My gut feeling is that #3 is pretty significant.

    Comment by Phil — June 26, 2013 @ 10:20 am

  8. Clearly 2. And that’s a major problem. Labour don’t seem to know who they are any more. They’ve ceded ‘champions of the underdog’ to Mana and the Greens. Nothing terrible about being ‘the party of teachers and civil servants’ but it’s not a big-time election-winner.
    The core confusion is around economic policy. Where does Labour stand on the role of markets vs govt in creating and redistributing wealth? I’m buggered if I know! It’s a tough question, perhaps, but it needs to be answered. Labour under Clark largely side-stepped, and ran on the ‘good managers’ option. It worked- but it’s essentially the same option National are running on. And frankly, the current Labour team don’t look like good managers.
    I don’t think swing voters’ ‘green fear’ is as big an issue as Key is banking on. However you view their policy, the Greens look effective. Labour look so capable of shooting themselves in the foot, you’d never give them the key to the gun cabinet.

    Comment by Rob — June 26, 2013 @ 10:31 am

  9. One would think it would be a simple exercise for Labour to say exactly what they would do with the GCSB. After all, they wrote the current legislation and if they had any doubts then a quick phone call to New York should be informative.

    But no. A public inquiry – a smoke screen for not wanting to say they would do pretty much the same as National.

    Comment by NeilM — June 26, 2013 @ 10:43 am

  10. 4. People regard politicians on a par with sex workers. It’s why three quarters refuse to even take part in political polls, and the results heavily reflect a minority with time on their hands and an inflated sense of the importance of their own opinions – which derive almost exclusively from the privately-owned media.

    5. Divisive, hate-mongering media coverage targetting comparatively powerless minorities has the greatest effect on polls, so National is reaping the rewards of heavily-reported beneficiary-bashing and discord in Maori politics.

    6. Labour isn’t bashing any weak people: and when they bash the powerful, or gain a lead in polls, the media ignores it.

    7. Polls showing a National lead will experience 387% more media coverage than the countervailing.

    Comment by ak — June 26, 2013 @ 12:20 pm

  11. 8. New Zealanders have an authoritarian streak a mile wide, and take little or no interest in politics beyond looking at party leaders and viewing them as engaged in a strongman popularity contest. I have little doubt that a Lange reincarnated would have Key for breakfast in the media and in the house, and with that Labour’s popularity would soar regardless of their policies.

    If you look at it that way, THE only important person is the party leader, and whether or not people feel that person is the next Kiwi caudillo in waiting. In that case, Shearer is hopeless. He doesn’t seem to know what he and his party stands for, and if he doesn’t know how on earth should the public?

    Comment by Sanctuary — June 26, 2013 @ 12:42 pm

  12. Having the Greens doing well makes life difficult for Labour.

    the Greens are I think generally thought of as sincere, misguided maybe, but sincere. There’s no doubt they oppose the GCSB changes and that they honestly believe what they say about it.

    Labour on the other has to try and convince people that they are sincere and honest and at the same time that they are so so not like National but in reality they are a lot like National.

    Having the Greens there – who are really not like National – makes that little game a bit harder.

    Comment by NeilM — June 26, 2013 @ 12:55 pm

  13. “7. Polls showing a National lead will experience 387% more media coverage than the countervailing.”
    True, I’ve not seen ANY coverage of the polls showing a Labour lead…

    Comment by Clunking Fist — June 26, 2013 @ 12:57 pm

  14. 4. People regard politicians on a par with sex workers.

    Hmmm. At least it’s implied that you get your moneys worth in a sex trade transaction.

    Comment by Gregor W — June 26, 2013 @ 1:29 pm

  15. “you get your moneys worth”
    Catching the clap, lice, etc. is just like the shit policies you have to put up with when you vote for a politician/party who has the greater number of/most important policies that you agree with.

    Comment by Clunking Fist — June 26, 2013 @ 1:41 pm

  16. CF – You’re unlikely to catch a VD from a sex worker. Politicians on the other hand….

    Comment by Gregor W — June 26, 2013 @ 1:54 pm

  17. I don’t think it has to be 1 OR 2 OR 3. I suspect it is 1 AND 2 AND 3. 😉 😀

    Comment by David in Christchurch — June 26, 2013 @ 2:29 pm

  18. New Zeland Labour looks across the Tasman to Australian Labor with envious eyes.

    Comment by OECD rank 22 kiwi — June 26, 2013 @ 11:28 pm

  19. Where were (are) the labour electors who did not turn out at the last two (maybe three) general elections?

    They have no choice. They do not bother voting.

    If anyone discovers the missing voters they will probably relocate the almost extinct Labour party.

    Fat chance with that smug egocentric cabal in caucus.

    Comment by peterlepaysan — June 26, 2013 @ 11:41 pm

  20. I wonder if some senior Labour MPs are quite happy that the extra dozen MPs a big jump in the polls would supply wont turn up, lest they threaten their grip on the top of the party.

    And they’re under no pressure from the rest because the party did so badly in 2011 that even this sort of drop doesn’t threaten anyone’s job. Until that happens – whether from polling or threatened de-selection – then there will be no change.

    Comment by Idiot/Savant (@norightturnnz) — June 27, 2013 @ 3:02 pm

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