UK Polls Expose Hypocrisy in Proposed Legislation
7 June 2001
UK Polls Won't Happen in a NZ General Election
The plethora of UK polls published up to the 11th hour in Britain prior to the General Election on 7 June will be denied in a New Zealand election, if legislation currently before Parliament goes through.
The Electoral Amendment Bill, currently before New Zealand Parliament, will (if enacted) stop voters seeing published political opinion polling for four weeks prior to a general election.
"New Zealand elections will be censored," says Roz Calder, President of AMRO, the Association of Market Research Organisations in New Zealand. "This is in sharp contrast to the UK where, right now, we're able to observe democracy - with all its checks and balances - in action.
"In the past month - the period during which ordinary New Zealanders might not be allowed access to published results of opinion polls - the UK has had hundreds of polls published. Under UK law, those polls can continue unabated until the night before the election is held. British voters will even be greeted on the morning of the election by poll results from the night before published in the daily papers.
"In New Zealand under the proposed legislation, voters will stop seeing published political opinion polling for weeks, but political parties and politicians will still be able to poll the market. Effectively they'll provide themselves with secret information. That's behaviour which disenfranchises the voter, and AMRO doesn't agree with it. It's against the public interest."
Ms Calder said that the UK election demonstrated the hypocrisy of the proposed New Zealand legislation.
"UK poll results are widely available on the internet. Our proposed legislation can't stop international publication of poll results conducted in New Zealand just prior to the general election. That will leave the Aussies better informed than we are about our own democracy. It'll also mean that New Zealanders able to buy Australian publications or look at Aussie websites publishing polling information on our elections, will be "in the know". How can it be democratic to prohibit access to this information, except to those who can pay or have on-line access?"
Ms Calder says that the access to information about the UK election through the internet was outstanding and information was in depth, analytical and helpful to voters. It demonstrated the difficulty of trying to censor consumer information in the 21st century.
"Polls don't influence voters any more than stories in the media. A UK Skynews poll on their website said this week that 88% of voters have not changed their mind since ‘Tony Blair saw the Queen on May 8’. That's in spite of dozens of polls," she says. "Instead polls provide another democratic avenue for voters to assess party performance and be given information."
Ms Calder says that only a handful of countries in the world embargo publication of polling information for time periods as long as that contemplated in New Zealand. Those countries include South Africa, Turkey and Italy - "countries that have a history of severe political or democratic instability."
AMRO was formed in 1984 as an industry group to promote high market research standards. AMRO member companies account for around $75 million of research conducted in New Zealand per annum.
AMRO has put in a submission to Parliament's Justice Electoral Select Committee opposing the polling clauses in the Electoral Amendment Bill.
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