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Where is NZ's Moral Compass Pointing?

14 August 2005

The Great Morality Debate: New Zealand's Response - Where is New Zealand's Moral Compass Pointing? -

Is morality going to be an issue in the coming election? That was the question put forward by the Sunday Star-Times in a massive nation-wide morality survey.

In a staggering response over 10,000 New Zealanders took part in the independent survey and surprisingly, two thirds say moral issues matter enough to influence their vote this election.

Significantly, many of these people are undecided as to who they will vote for come September 17th, with more than one out of five of those surveyed not sure which party would get their tick.

The results of the survey, conducted by Phoenix Research, will be released over the coming weeks giving a unique insight into the moral and ethical issues likely to influence voters.

David Fougere*, director of Phoenix Research, said the sample for this survey was huge by New Zealand survey standards - about 10 times as big as standard opinion polls - and is roughly representative of the population.

"Although we knew that those who responded were likely to be the ones who felt more strongly about morals, we still wanted to know if moral issues were keenly felt and by whom. The overwhelming response suggests that people are concerned about moral issues and welcomed the chance to express their views.

"It is great to have so many replies because this enables us to do some really interesting analyses and drill-downs with more confidence."

The survey asked 59 multi choice questions about honesty, sexual morality, drugs, the right to life, prejudice, religion, consumer issues, society and politics.

The vast majority of the 10,000 respondents expressed dislike at the current government's moral leadership (only 18% approval), with many of those who voted Labour at the last election not committed to voting for them again. Only 60% of those who voted Labour in 2002 say they will vote Labour this time and 20% are still undecided. National has significantly higher loyalty, with 74% of its 2002 voters saying they will stick with National this time, and only 16% undecided.

Although 48% of those saying they will vote Labour this time approve of the government's moral leadership, that figure is just 36% among those who voted Labour in 2002. Those who are no longer committed to voting Labour clearly do not like their moral leadership.

Fifty three per cent of respondents say the government is too liberal on moral issues compared to 30% who say it is about right. Again, 58% of respondents believe that the government has lost sight of traditional family values while 32% disagree with this notion.

Another very clear trend was that Wellingtonians are consistently much more liberal on sex, drugs and knocking off their partners (euthanasia) than the rest of the nation.

"Some would suggest that those who are driving party strategy and are based in Wellington need to take care not to assume that the norms expressed there are reflective of the rest of the country," said Mr Fougere.

And a word of warning to our leaders – close to two thirds say it would affect their vote if a politician were known to be an adulterer, (60% yes vs. 27% no). Those most likely to be concerned are National, NZ First, United Future, Christian Heritage and Destiny voters.

Two-thirds admit to having watched porn (65%) and not surprisingly those most likely to have watched it are people in their 20’s to 40’s and men. Surprisingly, Christian Heritage voters are more likely than voters for any other party to admit to having ever watched pornography (41% versus 26% of all voters ). But together with United Future and Destiny party voters they are the least likely to think its okay to do so (90% or more don't approve of watching pornography).

Men were more likely to think infidelity is okay (14% versus 7% of women), however being unfaithful topped the list of worst vices for 70% of respondents. Still on the topic of vices, many more people think that polluting a river is worse than smoking dope (45% river vs. 15% cannabis).

The Great Morality Debate started out as a reader survey, but thousands of other people took part meaning it represents New Zealanders' views more widely. Of the 10,000 responses, close to 8,000 came via the internet ( with the remainder coming in from the newspaper.

"Not surprisingly conservative Christian groups were heavily represented in the response, however non-believers were also keen to participate with about a third of those surveyed saying they were atheists or not religious, which is about the same as the general population," said Mr Fougere.

As almost always happens in surveys, Maori, Pacific peoples and people of Asian ethnicities were much less inclined to take part than others. Half as many Maori took part as are in the general population.

On the topic of political alignment Labour supporters were slightly less likely to feel strongly enough about morals to take part in the survey, while National, Act and Greens supporters appeared in the same numbers as in the general population. However NZ First voters were heavily under-represented.

One of the biggest contributions came from people who voted for Peter Dunne's United Future party at the last election. One in five people who took part in the survey had voted United Future, although only half were planning to do so again this election.

"There are many strong trends and clear cut distinctions by voters to the left and right of the political spectrum with National, NZ First, United Future, Destiny and Christian Heritage voters claiming the moral high ground above those who have voted or plan to vote for Labour and the Greens," said Mr Fougere.

The margin of error for a random sample of this enormous size is very small, +0.98% compared with the standard +3% margin of error figure applying to typical opinion polls where 1,000 people are interviewed. However this +0.98% figure assumes a pure random sample, something that does not apply well to this survey, bet even so it provides some indication of the survey’s high level of accuracy.

Further results from the morality survey will be published in the coming weeks in the lead up to the general election, giving an insight into how moral issues can sway voter choice.

* David Fougere, Director, Phoenix Research Academic Background BSc, Pure Mathematics, Applied Mathematics and Statistics
BA (Hons), Psychology Professional Experience David's experience spans over 20 years in market research, giving him an in-depth understanding of marketing diagnosis and consultancy and how best to advise and work with clients on the use of research.

David champions the Phoenix approach where no matter how client focused, all research executives gain mastery of the internal workings of research and data analysis. Among David's research strengths are statistical theory and its applications to surveys, multivariate analysis, market modelling, and all aspects of measuring and communicating what's happening in people's minds.


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