The Dim-Post

May 12, 2014

A quick thought on media bias

Filed under: media,Politics — danylmc @ 6:15 am

One of the unending preoccupations of the political blogosphere is media bias. Does the right-wing corporate/left-wing liberal media favor certain parties or ideologies? The assumption is that media bias is hugely important, but this year I’ve been interested in the New Zealand Herald’s glowing coverage of the ACT Party: our largest newspaper gives ACT – a party that often fails to get the endorsement of 1 voter in a thousand in the polls and wouldn’t exist without the electorate seat rort – more coverage than all the rest of the minor parties combined, virtually all of it lovingly positive and yet ACT is still bouncing around between 0 and 0.5%. All that overt support from a major media outlet seems like it’s worthless.

Anyway, today they detail ACT’s ‘alternative’ budget, which was released on Saturday to withering scorn from at least one economist. Naturally there’s no criticism or balancing quote in Audrey Young’s story. (As a special media-bias bonus, try and find a news story by Young in the Herald’s archive which (a) covers a National government policy and contains a balancing quote from the opposition or (b) covers a Labour/Greens policy and does not lead with a quote from the National government.)


May 9, 2014

Chart of the day, Everybody does it edition

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 2:01 pm

The Electoral Commission documents the political donations given to our political parties and posts them on their site in, frustratingly, pdf format. In light of recent events I went through and added up how much the four largest political parties have received in anonymous donations (ie. donations that are less than $15,000) over the last three years.


Why are these donations anonymous? I think the argument is privacy: ordinary kiwis should be able to give a few dollars to a political cause they believe in without it being made public. Only, the number of people giving a small amount of money to our political parties is so small you can’t really graph it. Most people who donate anonymously to National and Labour seem to donate in the $5000 range. Bust most of the cash is made from donations of about $10,000. Just to put this into context, according to this BERL report using data sourced from IRD, the average New Zealander donates about $133/year to charity.

The other point to make here is that the amount the big parties – and National especially – raise through declared donations is tiny in comparison. Almost all of the money entering our political system is anonymous and undeclared.

Update: Andrew Geddis writes in the comments:

Only, the number of people giving a small amount of money to our political parties is so small you can’t really graph it. Most people who donate anonymously to National and Labour seem to donate in the $5000 range.

Not necessarily. You’ve misunderstood the data.

By law, parties must each year disclose a bunch of info to the Electoral Commission. This includes:
(1) Names of everyone who gives more than $15,000 in that year and how much they gave.
(2) Number and total amount of donations received between $5000 and $15000.
(3) Number and total amount of donations received between $1500 and $5000.
(4) Number and total amount of anonymous donations received under $1500 (where “anonymous” means that no-one in the party knows or has good reason to suspect who the donor really is).

Note, then, what parties don’t have to disclose (and so don’t in practice do so): how much they receive from not anonymous donors who give the party less than $1500 in the year. So, when I give my annual $1000 to the ACT Party by way of a cheque with my name on it, the ACT Party doesn’t have to include my donation in any public filings with the Electoral Commission or anyone else.

Point being, the data you are working with is incomplete. So it makes it look like parties are getting the vast majority of their money in chunks of $1500 or more. And maybe they are. But we can’t know for sure, because a whole lot of the necessary information is missing.

May 8, 2014

Roy Morgan Polls

Filed under: polls — danylmc @ 9:47 am

Via Andrea Vance’s bottom-feeding troll feed:

morgan This attitude towards the Morgan poll seems to be a thing around Parliament rather than just Joyce spinning a bad result. Lots of journalists and staffers have told me that they don’t trust the Morgan poll, that it’s ‘always bouncing around’ etc. And the Morgan poll is always ‘bouncing around’, because the Morgan poll is roughly every two weeks, while Fairfax, say, only poll three or four times a year. Polls are noisy datasets and they jump around a bit but if you poll frequently you can generally see trends in the data while if you have very long gaps between your polls any changes you see might just be random noise.

David Winter and Gavin White both looked at how the polls performed when predicting the actual outcome of the 2011 election. I aggregated Gavin White’s data for the different parties and graphed them to show overall predictive accuracy for each pollster. (A zero would mean your poll result was totally accurate predictor – so the larger the bar the worse you did).


The Morgan poll is about middle of the pack. Their latest one might not be accurate though. It’s only one poll. After all, the gallery and political pundits all warned us that the departure of universally beloved blue-collar bloke Shane Jones meant the utter annihilation of the Labour Party, and this Morgan Poll shows them gaining tens of thousands of center voters, even before the Williamson resignation and Collins melt-down – so maybe it is a rogue. I guess the other outlets are waiting until after the budget to conduct their polls, so we might have to wait a while before we get additional data.

(NB: As Pete points out in the comments there’s an element of luck here. You might have a really accurate poll that happens to get one bad result just before the election and so you’d do poorly on this analysis.)


Filed under: intelligence — danylmc @ 6:09 am

Via Stuff:

Spy boss Ian Fletcher has denied any mass surveillance of citizens, describing them as “water” rather than the “fish” the spies are interested in.


The revolutionary must move amongst the people as a fish swims in the sea – Mao Zedong

May 6, 2014

Circumventing the spin

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 8:17 pm

It’s been an amazing election year, and one of the reasons for that is that the TV3 political journalists are breaking stories and dominating the news agenda to a degree that’s really unusual for any individual media outlet, let alone a TV news show. I’ve got fairly huge problems with some of Paddy Gower’s journalism, but his team are very good at figuring out ways to get around the media management of modern political parties and deliver strong stories.

Tova O’Brien’s ‘Cabinet Club’ piece was a fine example of this. Turns out ‘Cabinet Club’ is a National Party fundraising organisation, and if O’Brien went to the Prime Minister’s Office or the President of the National Party and asked about Cabinet Club she’d have received an artfully written, soporific whitewash of Cabinet Club, similar to what’s going to appear on Kiwiblog sometime in the near future. Instead she went and ambushed National’s Cabinet Ministers and asked them ‘What is Cabinet Club?’ and they denied all knowledge of its existence, despite voluminous documentary evidence to the contrary, which suggests  that this isn’t the completely innocent organisation National will vehemently insist it is. It’s great journalism, and Gower and his team manage to pull it off almost every night.


Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 10:08 am

Via Stuff:

Labour is preparing to go for the jugular when Justice Minister Judith Collins faces the House today.

She is set to face Question Time after a two-week recess, during which official documents were released outlining the planning that went into a dinner Collins held with executives of Chinese company Oravida and a Chinese border control official, while on a taxpayer-funded trip to China.

I doubt Collins is going to get ‘crushed’ in Question Time. She’ll say that she’s been cleared by the Cabinet Office. Robertson and Peters will insist that she’s mislead the House. The Speaker will tell them off for asking ‘political questions’ (If you’ve never watched Parliament’s Question Time with David Carter as Speaker you might think I’m joking there, but no) and threaten to remove them from the chamber. Onto the next question.

One of the most insightful things I’ve read about Collins is Rob Hosking’s piece in the NBR – it’s behind the paywall, so I can’t link to or quote from it. Rob points out that in her political career Collins is very much playing a larger than life role but, paradoxically, that role is no nonsense, straight-talking ‘Crusher Collins’; so she’s putting on a show by pretending to be genuine, and constantly drawing attention to this. Most of her current problems, Hosking argues, stem from her fidelity to this performance.

Hosking’s column also wonders where the ‘Crusher’ nickname came from. The media? Herself? Or a staffer? I don’t know – it bobbed up in National’s first term when Collins introduced her car crushing legislation. That first term was a very, very good time for Judith Collins. It’s where she refined the ‘Crusher’ persona that the media and factions of the National Party were so smitten with for so long. Apparently when Collins was introduced at the Young Nats ball the regional leader received an ovation when he declared  ‘I love that woman more than sharks love blood.’ It’s a line from the mediocre US reboot of House of Cards, but it demonstrates the affection felt for’ Crusher’ within elements of her own party. 

Only . . . we haven’t seen much of Crusher in the last two and a half years. We’ve seen a faltering MP who used to be Crusher attempting to live up to her own legend and damaging herself even further in the process. I don’t know what happened, but in her first term Collins was advised by a very clever, very cunning press secretary – one easily capable of devising the ‘Crusher’ nickname and the persona that grew up around it – who left Parliament after the last election and went to work in the banking industry. When Nats say that they love ‘Crusher’, they’re probably expressing their devotion towards a fictional character created by a middle-aged man who no longer even works for the National Party.

May 4, 2014

Politics as bloodsport

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 7:09 pm

Via Stuff, although I’m not sure Judith Collins’ apologies are now all that rare:

Judith Collins has made a rare apology after she earlier claimed a Press Gallery journalist came to her for help for a family member wanting to join the police.

According to TV3, Collins made the claims about TVNZ journalist Katie Bradford, while the Justice Minister was being interviewed at the National Party northern conference about being asked to contact the police on behalf of Labour MP Ross Robertson.

Collins later challenged a TV3 journalist to do a story about the claims on Twitter, saying that she had not taken the matter further but felt it was unusual.

“I thought it was very odd and wrong.”

A short time ago Collins issued Bradford an apology.

When politicians go after their opponents they’re hoping something like this will happen. The stress of being under sustained scrutiny gets to people. They don’t sleep properly. They can’t think clearly. They make more mistakes, which compounds the stress. Eventually their leader is forced to stand them down – although given recent events Collins might just go ‘on leave’ for a while.

I can’t feel sorry for Judith Collins, who dished out an awful lot of kicks against political opponents who were on the ground when she was an opposition MP, and has blundered and bullied herself into her current doomed position. But it is a nasty business.

May 3, 2014

Uninformed theory of the day

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 1:45 pm

How unfortunate!  I was pontificating the other day about how formidable National’s media management is – but they don’t get everything right. The National Party knew throughout the entire Oravida scandal that the company made a second $30,000 donation to the National Party in December, and they must have at least discussed the option of fronting that information, preferably by dumping it just before a holiday weekend. They decided not to which meant it came out when the Electoral Commission published the register of donors, which happened to be on the same day MFAT released their OIA’d documents on Collins and Oravida, two days after Maurice Williamson resigned in another National-Party donor scandal. Bad luck guys!

The lead news stories on Friday night were almost as bad as it gets. I’m surprised the Nats haven’t taken more of a hit in the polls over Oravida; I can’t quite believe this new confluence of favors for donor stories won’t hurt them. This is the stuff that brings governments down.

Why did Maurice Williamson torch his own career? Obviously arrogance plays a huge role – he still doesn’t seem to get what he’s done wrong, exactly. But I suspect National’s fund-raising culture plays a part here too. I don’t have any insights whatsoever into how the Nats go about soliciting donations, but one hears stories: millions of dollars raised each electoral cycle. National has fifteen (?) MPs  retiring this election: some of them are stepping down after distinguished careers, but most of them are being forced out. Why are they getting kicked to the curb while so many other under-performing MPs get to stay? I suspect a key performance indicator for National’s MPs is their ability to raise money for their party, and that those who don’t, and who fail to distinguish themselves in other ways are history, and that their fellow MPs are uncomfortably aware of this. So when someone like Williamson picks up the phone and hears that a major donor is in trouble his first instinct is to try and secure that revenue stream, which would solidify his own position and might lead to future advancement within the party. Acting ethically isn’t going to get a guy back in Cabinet.

I might be way off here – but when smart, experienced people do bafflingly dumb things its often because they’re operating in a system which incentivises them to make those poor choices.

May 1, 2014

National’s week

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 5:03 pm

This election isn’t about whether National can beat Labour. It’s about whether National can win enough seats to cobble together a nice manageable government for its third term, or whether they’re going to spend three long years dependent on United Future, New Zealand First, the Conservative Party, Te Ururoa Flavell and some ACT Party doofus to pass any legislation. That means maximising turnout, not alienating probable voters to stay at home on election day or to cast a protest vote for Colin Craig or Winston Peters.

So I think this Williamson resignation is a pretty big deal. Superficially it resembles the case of Nick Smith resigning after intervening in an ACC debacle. The big difference is that Smith intervened on behalf of a friend who was struggling in her dealings with the agency, while Williamson intervened on behalf of a National Party donor who assaulted his wife and her mother by informing the police that the accused was very wealthy. Smith looked like a Minister who abused his position. Williamson looks like a horrible, hateful crooked scumbag who obviously doesn’t accept that he’s done anything wrong: he’s given a ‘sorry if I caused a perception of wrongdoing’ non-apology and insists he’s going to stand again in September.

National can’t do much about Williamson. But putting forward two tobacco lobbyists as candidates in one week seems like another vote-suppression technique. Maybe I’m wrong, an out-of-touch liberal, yadda yadda yadda; but running this twenty-three year old tobacco shill in Southland just seems like its designed to provoke voters down there into saying, ‘Screw you guys! I’m voting for Winston.’

The normal job of an MP

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 2:32 pm

Like Judith Collins before him, Maurice Williamson is being cute about abusing his position as a Minister, doing the now familiar, ‘What? Can’t a guy just pick up the phone on behalf of a constituent?’ routine. It’s nonsense because Ministers of the Crown work out of large offices filled with staffers to whom they delegate almost all of their interactions except those that take place at the very highest level. If any normal person – whether they’re one of the Minister’s constituents or not – tries to meet with a Minister they’ll get a call back from an EA, or an email from an adviser, and if the Minister’s office needs to communicate with someone on your behalf then that’ll happen through a staffer too. That’s how it works. It means the majority of public servants never ever speak with a government Minister beyond a perfunctory meet and greet. And because that’s how it works it is basically impossible for a Minister to call a public servant directly and not give that person the impression they’re being pressured by that Minister.

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