The Dim-Post

June 6, 2014

Magical thinking alert

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 6:58 am

Chris Trotter writes:

BRACE YOURSELVES, COMRADES, for some horrendous poll results. The next round of surveys from Colmar Brunton, Reid Research, DigiPoll, Ipsos andRoy Morgan will almost certainly register a major slump in the Centre Left’s support and a concomitant rise in National’s numbers – quite possibly to 55 percent-plus. Labour and the Greens will both take nasty hits and the Internet-Mana Party (IMP) will be very lucky to make it above 1 percent. Apart from John Key, the only other person likely to be smiling is Winston Peters. The polls will be bad because the framing of Kim Dotcom’s latest intervention in New Zealand politics has been so near-universally and overwhelmingly negative. From the Right (and Sue Bradford) has come the steady drumbeat that Hone Harawira and the Mana Party have done a “dirty deal” with Kim Dotcom and, in the process, “sold out their principles” for cash.

There’s an assumption out there amongst political activists that the way the media ‘frames’ things is crucial and has huge influence on the electorate, but I’m really starting to doubt that. I’ve mentioned it before: the Herald’s framing of the ACT Party this year has been unrelentingly positive – here’s John Armstrong’s column published yesterday after the news of Banks’ conviction broke – and that’s delivered zero gains to ACT in the polls. When Shane Jones left Labour the media framing was that the defection would destroy the Labour Party, but Jones’ departure had no discernible impact in the polls whatsoever.

The alternate theory is that the majority of voters react to stories based on the substance of the events, not the framing – and if the polls continue to show a massive decline for the left and huge public opprobrium for Internet/Mana then that’s how the public genuinely feels. It’s not unreasonable.  Harawira is really, really unpopular with the majority of voters, and Dotcom is a very odd foreign national and convicted criminal. If they form a hybrid party with the express purpose of ‘changing the government’ then we shouldn’t be surprised to see moderate voters freaking out and switching their support away from left-wing parties who might go into coalition with Internet/Mana, towards the government that Internet/Mana oppose. Trotter urges hope:

The Right’s principal movers and shakers know – even if their media minions do not – just how much difference a huge campaign war-chest can make to an election’s outcome. They caught a glimpse of what IMP is capable of in the razzmatazz of Harré’s introduction. They have also heard the rumours about whole floors of brilliant IT-geeks all beavering away; unheard of political applications; unprecedented polling capability. It’s why they’re hoping against hope that the beating currently being administered to the IMP during this period of “Phoney War” will be sufficiently savage to obviate any chance of its recovery. And a big part of that hope is that the more conservative elements of the Left will help them out by getting in a few kicks of their own.

For every voter that switches from Labour/Greens to National because of IMP, Internet/Mana will need to turn out three non-voters in order to make a net positive contribution to the left’s result.

One other point here: Dotcom has given his party over three million dollars. It’s a huge amount of money – the largest donation in New Zealand history, and it may or may not be a ‘game-changer’. It’s not like giving that money to Labour or National, because they’re already established parties. Lots of Dotcom’s money will be spent on setting his party up. And if there really are ‘whole floors of brilliant IT-geeks all beavering away; unheard of political applications; unprecedented polling capability’ then that’s going to chew through three million very quickly. A million dollars is not much in software development terms.

40 Comments »

  1. With yesterday’s announcement that the imp party is going after the stoner voter this is bad for the greens
    The interesting thing after this election is if national wins as the polls are showing it will mean that the bradburys of this world will never have any shred of credibility again
    So even if you are a labour supporter there is a upside

    Comment by Graham — June 6, 2014 @ 7:29 am

  2. “For every voter that switches from Labour/Greens to National because of IMP, Internet/Mana will need to turn out three non-voters in order to make a net positive contribution to the left’s result.”

    If exactly one voter switches, then yes. Maybe I’ve missed something but, if 1000 voters switch then the IMP should really only need to get 2001 non-voters for a net positive result, shouldn’t it?

    Comment by izogi — June 6, 2014 @ 7:43 am

  3. If say, Labour has a thousand votes and National has a thousand votes, and one vote switches from Labour to National, National is two votes ahead, so Internet Mana needs three votes to make a net positive gain.

    Comment by danylmc — June 6, 2014 @ 8:02 am

  4. Do we know if Dotcom’s 3 million is exclusive of staff salaries? The media is making is a big deal about the amount, but if that money is already committed to paying for Harre, Edgeler et al, then it won’t be that much to fight an election with.

    In any case, big bucks don’t mean anything. If they did, we’d have Colin Craig in Rodney and the Conservatives in Parliament already.

    Comment by Auto_Immune — June 6, 2014 @ 8:42 am

  5. “…In any case, big bucks don’t mean anything. If they did, we’d have Colin Craig in Rodney and the Conservatives in Parliament already…”

    From memory Colin Craig spent $760,000 or so of his own money. He was rewarded with 2.68% of the vote, and thwarted by the threshold. With an electorate seat he would have got 3 MPs. Based on that bit of empirical data then if Dotcom is putting in a cool three million I don’t think 3-4% is unrealistic.

    Comment by Sanctuary — June 6, 2014 @ 8:56 am

  6. “If say, Labour has a thousand votes and National has a thousand votes, and one vote switches from Labour to National, National is two votes ahead, so Internet Mana needs three votes to make a net positive gain”.
    Yes, but Izogi’s point is that if two votes switch, then National is four votes ahead and Internet Mana would need *five* votes to make a net positive gain. It’s n+1, not 3(n/2).

    Comment by NBH — June 6, 2014 @ 9:03 am

  7. I think the logic of Trotter and a large section of the Left goes like this:

    1. It’s patently obvious I’m right. It’s an objective fact that i care more for the children than my opponents and know how to increase their welfare.

    2. But The People vote for my opponents.

    3. The People are basically good.

    Therefore something must be actively preventing them from agreeing with me.

    Comment by NeilM — June 6, 2014 @ 9:18 am

  8. @Sanc,

    One difference is that CCC’s tapped into a political bloc that wasn’t well served previously – if you were a god botherer there wasn’t an obvious electoral choice before the Conservatives. I’m not entirely sure the same is true for ardent unionists and Maori separatists. Techno-geeks are already pretty well locked up by the Greens and National (imo).

    Comment by Phil — June 6, 2014 @ 9:19 am

  9. Yes, but Izogi’s point is that if two votes switch, then National is four votes ahead and Internet Mana would need *five* votes to make a net positive gain. It’s n+1, not 3(n/2).

    Okay, lemme think this through.

    If the left loses n votes to the right then the gap is 2n. So that means a net positive gain requires 2n+1, not 3n – which is what I wrote above.

    Comment by danylmc — June 6, 2014 @ 9:43 am

  10. the Herald’s framing of the ACT Party this year has been unrelentingly positive – here’s John Armstrong’s column published yesterday after the news of Banks’ conviction broke – and that’s delivered zero gains to ACT in the polls

    That’s true.

    There are two counterfactuals here. One: that ACT was given neutral or negative coverage, and that other parties had no change in their coverage. Two: that ACT was given neutral or negative coverage, and that other parties had more positive coverage.

    The Greens have had about 5 days of very positive coverage coming off the back of a strong AGM and two popular policy launches, and it will be interesting to see what impact, if any, this has on their polling in the next two weeks.

    Comment by George — June 6, 2014 @ 9:47 am

  11. “…One difference is that CCC’s tapped into a political bloc that wasn’t well served previously…”

    I have wondering about this techno-geek demographic. Personally, I think technology is now so embedded and mainstreamed into our society and lives that using such a catch-all term is practically useless. Technology geeks can include everything from a teenager who likes computers to a hard right 40 something CIO. I can see the Internet Party gaining considerable support amongst usually non-voting cosplay/MMO/pulp culture crowd (ww.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11265642) who see Kim Dotcom as a bit of a cool cat and an exciting protest vote option. Remember, last year well over 60,000 people attended the Auckland Armageddon Expo (by way of comparison, about 44,000 attended the Auckland home show and 34,000 the Auckland boat show) and while a lot of them were of under 18, plenty were not. I’ve also talked to a lot of technology savvy Asians who identify with Dotcom as the outsider dealing to the man. So I reckon it is an open question as to whether or not a whole new technology reliant constituency – a constituency that is exploding in numbers – is currently well served.

    Comment by Sanctuary — June 6, 2014 @ 9:59 am

  12. I guess if IMP fails to generate many votes, that will lend a great deal of empirical weight to the idea that donations are not really that big a deal in terms of outcomes.

    Comment by Swan — June 6, 2014 @ 10:21 am

  13. So I reckon it is an open question as to whether or not a whole new technology reliant constituency – a constituency that is exploding in numbers – is currently well served.

    My take is that they aren’t well served at all. But they strike me as a constituency that doesn’t have a similar ‘civic-duty’ ethos as those who vote say, Conservative. Whether it’s down to paper-based voting, disenfranchisement or sheer laziness, I just can’t see typical Internet party supporters actually voting in large numbers on election day.

    Comment by Auto_Immune — June 6, 2014 @ 10:25 am

  14. “the way the media ‘frames’ things is crucial and has huge influence on the electorate”

    in regards to the minor parties i think your premise is right – but when it comes to labour and national i think things are a little different simply because the public still see nat/lab as the big kids on the block and the ones who will have the most influence once in govt

    the last election is a case in point – we had months of unrelenting poll reporting with a media consensus of the nats winning – look how many didnt even bother to vote.

    The vast bulk of the populace get their political info from where? – the MSM. Its their job to be a window on politics for us, especially so in an election year. If all the MSM is going to do is lazy poll based journalism, frame stories to confirm their own pre-ordained angle, make themselves the center of the story and offer oracle like predictions theyre not doing their damn jobs and there will be an effect. Nothing exists in a vacum.

    So theres an effect – but its more of a negative effect for all – lets call it the “gower effect”

    now – if the MSM were doing actual policy based stories we might see some different results – both electorally and in the quality of reporting

    thats not to say that the bulk of people are idiots – more that we are all busy people, busily trying to do our thing – sometimes politics isnt front and center of that so its easy to form an opinion that isnt very accurate

    Comment by framu — June 6, 2014 @ 10:30 am

  15. @Sanc: Some of my good friends are cosplayers, and they are all Green supporters who’ve voted every election they’ve been eligible.

    This “Oh Dotcom is a genius with internetsy secret weapons that will somehow turn page views into electoral votes” narrative is pretty dubious. It reminds me of John Ansell’s claim that Don Brash’s economic wizardy would wow 40% of New Zealanders into voting for him. It’s good to see you sticking to your 4% for Dotcom prediction, but I wonder when you expect those polls to start picking up? He’s been flatlining for ages.

    PS: Has anybody seen the Internet Party’s ‘Policy Incubator’? It’s hilarious.

    Comment by kalvarnsen — June 6, 2014 @ 10:30 am

  16. So I reckon it is an open question as to whether or not a whole new technology reliant constituency – a constituency that is exploding in numbers – is currently well served.

    Maybe.
    I have a feeling though that if the IP was aligned more closely to its natural political spectrum – i.e. libertarian – we’d see it as a real contender.

    As it stands though, we have weird scenario of revenge politics / strange bedfellows, which, while it might attract a degree of the “stick it to the man” protest vote, is probably going to implode quite smartly once in Parliament.

    Comment by Gregor W — June 6, 2014 @ 10:34 am

  17. @Auto_Immune – it is certainly the three million dollar question. I tend to agree with you, but Obama has shown it is possible to mobilise a huge online slacktivist base which generates a considerable voter momentum all of its own. And i admit it – part of me yearns to see the faces of all the obnoxious opinionated hacks of our political/media establishment looking dumbfounded on election night as they are exposed as dinosaurs who never saw the comet coming. Mike Hosking’s dummy spitting rant alone would be worth three years of John Minto.

    Comment by Sanctuary — June 6, 2014 @ 10:35 am

  18. “…Has anybody seen the Internet Party’s ‘Policy Incubator’? It’s hilarious…”

    I know! Democracy! How quaint! All it really proves is that the peasants really have no idea! More tea, vicar? /sarc/

    My view is it is a great idea, one all the other parties would do well to take note of in the online age.

    Comment by Sanctuary — June 6, 2014 @ 10:38 am

  19. “And i admit it – part of me yearns to see the faces of all the obnoxious opinionated hacks”

    Only a part of you, Sanc?

    4% is a pretty tiny comet.

    Comment by kalvarnsen — June 6, 2014 @ 10:39 am

  20. Anyone freaking out about Dotcom’s $3 Million should have a listen to (or a read of) http://freakonomics.com/2012/01/12/does-money-really-buy-elections-a-new-marketplace-podcast/

    Comment by rickrowling — June 6, 2014 @ 11:51 am

  21. The appeal of the Internet party isn’t to “tech savvy geeks”. Before Harre the appeal was mostly to disaffected conspiracy theorists and anti-establishment “don’t spy on me but I’ll upload all sorts of personal info to social media sites” demographic. Since Harre you can now add in hard left socialists yearning for a return to the 1970’s. The tech savvy geek is spread across other parties already as there is generally something more important in their lives than a single narrow issue party, which since launch has now morphed into New Labour part 2.

    The difference with CCC is that the single issue party works for their voters because godbothering is the most important thing in their lives. If you were assigning descriptive factors to vote choice I think tech savvy geek would have a very low explanation of the vote choice.

    The most logical scenario I see is that parties of the centre left will get punished by a flight right if it looks at all likely that a new government would rely on IMP. NZ tends to vote for steady as she goes until the election when it is time to teach the government a lesson. And relying on IMP for “steady as she goes” will be allergic for maybe 75% of the population.

    Comment by nadis — June 6, 2014 @ 12:00 pm

  22. I reckon it is an open question as to whether or not a whole new technology reliant constituency – a constituency that is exploding in numbers – is currently well served.

    Let me rephrase my previous post…
    We have a clear picture of what the “Christian” constituency looks like in New Zealand. There are people for whom their Christianity defines their voting choice. They will vote for whichever party best represents their beliefs – currently; CCC’s.

    It’s much harder to build a picture of what, if it even exists, a “Technology” constituency looks like. Sanc, you hit the nail on the head when you said:
    “Technology geeks can include everything from a teenager who likes computers to a hard right 40 something CIO.”
    Their passion for technology is built into a pre-existing political belief system. Technology is a means of communicating that belief system, not a defining feature of it.

    Comment by Phil — June 6, 2014 @ 12:53 pm

  23. I am guessing you wrote this post before John Armstrong wrote a column in the Herald described ACT as a neverending embarrassment.

    Comment by Nick R — June 6, 2014 @ 1:08 pm

  24. If “framing” doesn’t influence then that’s the end of Press secretaries and huge swathes of the PR industry and “propaganda” can be dropped from the dictionary.
    “Framing” the repeal of section 56 as “anti-smacking” and ETS/carbon tax as a “fart tax” had no influence?
    George Bush’s press secretary dubbed global warming “climate change” as it was a less harsh phrase.
    Yale study shows different perception for “global warming” and “climate change” http://goo.gl/oaAi6U

    I think the public sits somewhere between being completely framed and assessing what may have actually happened – but mostly swallowing what the media serve up to them.
    However, to take a more extreme example. Three prominent NY skyscrapers collapsed on 11/9/01. One frame is they were hit by planes hijacked by terrorists causing destructive fires that led to their collapse – the official frame. Roughly 1,100 architects and engineers find that implausible and physically impossible – an alternate frame. What does the public believe? They make their assessment on a whole bunch of subjective assessments. That’s all they’ve got.
    Rolf Harris, lovely guy, squeaky clean – a wholesome “frame”, We’d never previously known that his nickname among makeup artists was “the octopus” – that didn’t get into the frame, did that affect our perception of him?

    Comment by e-clectic — June 6, 2014 @ 2:05 pm

  25. Harawira is really, really unpopular with the majority of voters, and Dotcom is a very odd foreign national and convicted criminal

    OTOH, there is a minority of voters who think Hone’s great, and a similar group who don’t regard indirect copyright violation as any sort of crime, or see anything wrong with being a German-born permanent resident (20% of NZers were born overseas and will have been a non-citizen at some stage) and might even be prepared to overlook some fairly low end violations quite a long time ago.

    Come to that, many would consider that the only difference between Dotcom and most of the National party is that Dotcom got caught.

    Comment by richdrich — June 6, 2014 @ 2:14 pm

  26. No matter how much positive coverage you get, if the leader says things like “The way you might think of it is the Epsom electorate’s a bit of a minority – highly, highly taxed people – and we’re trying to help them out.” you are going to struggle to be thought of as much more than a 21st century McGillicuddy Serious Party.

    Comment by Paul Rowe — June 6, 2014 @ 3:32 pm

  27. RE: comments at 2,3,6 and 9

    Danyl, you said in your original post “For every voter… ” which means if each party has 1000 votes and 100 switch to Nat then IMP would need to bring in 300 to make a net gain (i.e. 3 for every 1). But they wouldn’t – they’d need 201.

    Comment by Steve — June 6, 2014 @ 11:18 pm

  28. There is some evidence that techno parties can work – think the pirate party in Europe. And dotcom should be someone who could put that together. But in practice, I’d suggest that the things surrounding the internet party will stop them from really hitting that demographic.

    Comment by PaulL — June 7, 2014 @ 6:32 am

  29. @PaulL: The absolute peak of Pirate Party electoral success was getting 5% of the vote in Iceland in 2013. Hardly a massive success. Having said that, I guess Dotcom would be pretty chuffed to get 5% – even Sanc doesn’t expect he’ll achieve that much!

    Comment by kalvarnsen — June 7, 2014 @ 6:51 am

  30. “…chuffed to get 5% – even Sanc doesn’t expect he’ll achieve that much..!”

    I never actually said that, I said 4% would be a great achievement. So stop your bad habit of assuming you can speak for others.

    Comment by Sanctuary — June 7, 2014 @ 9:06 am

  31. The Pirate Party shouldn’t be assumed to have done well solely on the basis of their geekery. They did well for the same reason the Beppe Grillo did well in Italy and all sorts of crazies have done well in Greece – wide spread disillusionment with existing parties during really rough economic times. IMP just doesn’t have that to work with and let’s remember how NZ’s Pirate Party did last election.

    Comment by Richard — June 7, 2014 @ 9:19 am

  32. @Sanc, are you seriously saying you never predicted the Internet Party would get 4% of the vote?

    @Richard, as I said above, comparing the Pirate Parties to Grillo or Syritza is ridiculous. Both parties topped 20%, the Pirate Parties have never reached 6%.

    Comment by kalvarnsen — June 7, 2014 @ 9:34 am

  33. “…Technology is a means of communicating that belief system, not a defining feature of it…”

    On the other hand, the behaviour of some of Google’s glassholes indicates that for some people at least technology has an evangelical element. http://www.cnet.com/au/news/glassholes-try-to-hurt-restaurants-ratings-after-woman-asked-to-remove-glass/

    But I take your point.

    Comment by Sanctuary — June 7, 2014 @ 9:37 am

  34. “…@Sanc, are you seriously saying you never predicted the Internet Party would get 4% of the vote..?”

    Getting 3-4% would be an awesome achievement – the best of any debutante party since the advent of MMP. I expect that the money they have will mean they’ll expect 4 MPs or 4% or somesuch. But you never know. Like a say – a comet might turn up and smack all previous thinking for a six.

    Comment by Sanctuary — June 7, 2014 @ 9:49 am

  35. >My view is it is a great idea, one all the other parties would do well to take note of in the online age.

    Wholeheartedly agree with this one. It’s a fucking excellent idea, and reason enough on it’s own to vote IP just to get the idea of it into the political arena. If IP end up doing nothing more than building the infrastructure for online democracy then they have made a mighty contribution.

    Re: Danyl’s main point, that framing may not have the effect Trotter thinks, I’d say this is correct. A big part of the age of internet news is that framing control has changed, and print and TV are having less impact (although still a big impact). But more importantly for the Internet Party, is that the framing of the way their likely constituents get their opinions has changed completely. I don’t think that we’re really going to have a true idea at all about their impact until after the election.

    Comment by Ben Wilson — June 7, 2014 @ 12:17 pm

  36. >If the left loses n votes to the right then the gap is 2n. So that means a net positive gain requires 2n+1, not 3n – which is what I wrote above.

    It is 2n+1, but that isn’t what you wrote above originally, which was:

    >For every voter that switches from Labour/Greens to National because of IMP, Internet/Mana will need to turn out three non-voters in order to make a net positive contribution to the left’s result.

    Which is completely wrong, and does indeed mean 3n. Face it, you shipped it broken, and fixed it in the patch.

    Comment by Ben Wilson — June 7, 2014 @ 12:42 pm

  37. Ben, yes we get it, you are very, very clever and we understand your need to tell us. If you parse the grammar of what Danyl said I think you’ll see ” 3n – which is what I wrote above”. You’re trying to correct something (again) that Danyl corrected 2 days aqo. On behalf of everyone else on the site and just for you I’ll say what you obviously need to hear “Yes Ben – you are really, really clever and we think you are neat”

    Comment by nadis — June 8, 2014 @ 12:14 pm

  38. I’m not sure who is more obsessed with cleverness out of the two of us, nadis.

    Comment by Ben Wilson — June 8, 2014 @ 2:51 pm

  39. I started reading your post a few days ago and didn’t really get what you were trying to say but I had a few beers this afternoon, to bring me onto “planet actual” and think I got the gist. Essentially you are saying that Dotcom and Harawira factor risks shit-canning any chance of Labour might have of winning the election, aren’t you? So, we read it here first….

    Comment by Lee Clark — June 8, 2014 @ 5:31 pm


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