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Sludge Report #169 – Polls, Pundits & Consultants

Sludge Report #169 – Polls, Pundits & Consultants

By C.D. Sludge

NOTE: Authors of this report will be anonymous and wide ranging, and occasionally finely balanced. Indeed you are invited to contribute: The format is as a reporters notebook. It will be published as and when material is available. C.D. Sludge can be contacted at The Sludge Report is available as a free email service..Click HERE - to subscribe...

In This Edition:
Video Clip: Spot The Puppet Strings…
Election 2005 In The Media - Bouquets
Bugger The Pollsters…
Bugger The Pundits…
& Bugger The Consultants…
Bottom line analysis: There are only really two possibilities.. Labour Victory or much more Winston on TV


Video Clip: Spot The Puppet Strings…

(Note: Email readers will need to click here to view the online version of this column and the video… )

Video from the Business Roundtable, Te Awe (Maori Business Network) breakfast with political parties. See if you can see who has puppet strings attached and who is pulling them.


Election 2005 In The Media… A Few Bouquets

Best interviewers:
1. Linda Clark (Nine To Noon & Debates - RNZ)
2. Kim Hill (TVNZ – Face To Face)
3. John Campbell (TV3)
4. Sean Plunkett (Morning Report & Debates RNZ – special commendation for showing the way to young journos on how to deal with news managers.)
5. Paul Henry (Radio Live – special commendation for getting Don Brash more on air.)

Best Partisan Bloggers:
1. David Farrar - (for keeping his cool and being a great host)
2. - (for being very funny)
3= No Right Turn - & Frogblog - (for being useful and informative)
4. Jordan Carter - - (for provding an outlet for the most incongruous bunch of comment-posters.)

Best Non-Partisan Bloggers:
1. Public Address - (special commendation to Tze Ming Mok, Keith Ng, David Slack, Graham Reid, Che Tibby… actually, everybody in the Public Address stable…)
2. NZBC -
3. Fighting Talk - - for being dearest to the heart of the subeditor of this article. Their 'reasons not to vote for' lists would qualify them for an 'anti-partisan' award if they weren't such obvious lefties.

…. More bouquets may be posted here upon nomination from the readers * suggested categories.. best TV reporter, best news paper columnist * … email "media bouquet" in the subject line. For the avoidance of doubt C.D. Sludge's decision will be final and no correspondence will be entered into.


Bugger The Pollsters…

Comment & Opinion

Election Main Page : Campaign Diary : Poll Watch
Debates ... Education : Taxation : Foreign Policy

The problem with the polls is not so much that they have been so wrong but with the fact that even though they are obviously completely unreliable they have been used by the Pundits (see below) as the filter for an insurmountable amount of meaningless supposition a.k.a BS.

In addition, the appalling manner in which the results have been used by the print media in particular has not helped at all.

The novel new idea of reporting the results of "part of a poll" pioneered by Fairfax and copied by APN was a new low point in political punditry. And the fact that in each instance of the use of this technique was purposed to present a headline trumping up a National Party on the charge is evidence – if any is needed – to demonstrate that neither newspaper group is in fact as non-partisan as it claims to be.

And so Sludge says bugger the pollsters because:
1. they did not refuse to allow their results to be interpreted in such a flagrantly unscientific fashion, and stayed silent when eyebrows were raised…
2. for not including in their results important associated qualification information (i.e. the levels of refusals and don't knows).

The problem of the polls was illustrated yesterday morning when Radio New Zealand's remarkably well-informed political editor Kathryn Ryan remarked to the effect that the three polls coming up over the next two days might give us a more accurate steer on what is going to happen.

Yeah right.

Last night TVNZ and TV3 unveiled twin polls with contradictory results. And this morning the Herald produced another. The range of contradiction is 13 points, all for polls conducted over very similar periods with margins of error of around 4%!


Bugger The Pundits…

Which brings Sludge to a second complaint, the pundits. In particular those on TV. And, to be fair, as Sludge is also a pundit bugger Sludge too…

It is inevitable that political pundits use polls as a foil through which to judge their opinions on the state of the campaign. The alternative is to judge things simply by subjective opinion. Unfortunately in the end we might have been better relying on the latter than the former.

Punditry based on polling is essentially a form of self-confirming circular discourse - i.e., Don Brash is polling well therefore he is doing something right. A poll on Friday shows a National Party on the charge therefore the announcement on Monday was responsible.

But, as we know, unfortunately another poll on Sunday is likely to say the complete reverse. In the end views arrived at in this fashion are as meaningless as the polls they are based on.

And it's not just the pundits. It also affects the politicians and the voters.

Emotionally this campaign has been a roller-coaster for anyone who genuinely cares about the outcome.

And anyone watching the politicians up close on this campaign would have seen a completely manic display.

On Monday, after a poll shows the Nats ahead by a country mile, everybody is a bunch of birds, then by Wednesday after an alternate channel produces a completely reverse result the same people are in a blue funk and lashing out at the media.

In the circumstances - and thankfully some sanity seems to have returned to the airwaves today - all this emotional response and angst was probably entirely unjustified.

Polls are not wholly useless of course. Us pundits knew it was close at the beginning of the campaign and it is still close. Meanwhile voters have been provided with a very useful steer on which of the minor parties are likely to make 5%. And this is vital for MMP to work practically for the voters and to minimise the "wasted" vote.

Nevertheless there has been an all-pervading impact from the combination of meaningless polling and misinformed punditry, and this has been overall of detriment to democracy.

Instead of focusing on the issues, we have been focusing on the wildly fluctuating alleged impact of those issues.

Sludge is as guilty of this as anyone else. After the Sunday Star-Times Business Round Table Scoop, Sludge looked intently for any signs of an impact in the polls.

Similarly, after polls swung wildly a week after Don Brash made his Race relations speech it seemed obvious that was what was responsible. Then three days later TV3 produces a poll which is 17 points different to the TVNZ one. The only possible explanation at the time seemed to be a flailing Don reacting fairly poorly to the issues around the Round Table emails.

A week later the Exclusive Brethren fiasco looked certain to dent Teflon Don's armor. It was at this point that the Sunday Star-Times and Sunday Herald commissioned snap polls to gauge the impact. The polls (of course) had contradictory results and we ended up yet again none the wiser.

Much was made of the decision by Kate Brett (Sunday Star-Times Editor) to pull the full poll that she conducted that week that showed National 2 points ahead rather than 7.

To be fair to Kate Brett, the result she got from her snap poll probably wasn't what she was expecting when she commissioned it. And it is difficult to see what else she could have done.

She could have published both polls and just confused everybody, or she could have dumped the snap poll result that probably didn't deliver what she expected - and be accused of bashing the Nats. Instead she really made the only choice she could have and dumped the main poll in favour or the unexpected result from the more recent poll.

Kate Brett's difficult decision, however, illustrates the reason that Sludge says bugger the pundits.

The pundits should have realized earlier that the polls were hindering rather than helping the reporting of the campaign and then devoted more time in their comment to the contents of policy and campaign issues, rather than misinformed supposition about voter reaction to those issues.


& Bugger The Consultants…

Finally there is one more group that needs a brickbat. Election consultants, and particularly foreign ones.

Sludge cannot help but suspect that these are probably the only group that correctly interpreted the polling, and the media's reaction to it, and used it to their advantage. As we twittered away in a meaningless fashion, the real intentions of an incoming National Government slipped in under the radar.

Once we get around to reading the entrails of tomorrow's poll, Sludge suspects that story of this election campaign will be of a media and voter obsession with the trivial at the expense of any debate of the substantive.

While Scoop and all the other media played the tax debate, the leaked emails and Don's Exclusive Brethren senior moment to the max, the National Party was busy unveiling policy.

This included but was far from limited to:
- Bulk funding of schools;
- Privatisation of ACC insurance;
- A return to market rents in state houses and subsidies paid directly to landlords;
- The elimination of the Maori seats;
- The removal of Treaty References from legislation;
- The review and presumably abolition of the Maori Affairs and Pacific Island Affairs ministries;
- A brief flirtation with the notion of native logging.

On the face of it, the incoming National Government has a reformist agenda of a scale not seen since the National Government of 1990 or the Labour Government of 1984.

And Sludge has little doubt that voters will not go to the polls tomorrow informed of this fact.

Fortunately - as discussed below - thanks to Winston, even if National is elected, much of this rabid reform is unlikely to come to pass. But nevertheless the campaign has failed the voting public in not bringing this to the public's attention.

In the end, this campaign has all the hallmarks of an American election campaign. All style and hot air; no substance.

And for that I blame the consultants. The emails to Don Brash came from consultants, and, regardless of what they claim, the Exclusive Brethren's campaign cannot possibly be the work of non-media savvy amateur god botherers.


Bottom-line analysis: There are only really two possibilities - Labour Victory or much more Winston on TV

Which brings this pundit back to the subject of predictions.

Like everybody else, Sludge does not know who will win. Sludge suspects that Labour has an edge and Sludge thought Don Brash performed like a donkey on last night's debate, but that too few people probably stayed awake long enough for it to make any real difference.

That said there are (on the basis of the polls), it seems, only two realistic possibilities in terms of election outcome.

One of these will produce a result on election night and the other will require us to wait several weeks to know the shape of our new Government.

On the one hand we may effectively have an LPG (Labour+Progressive+Greens) + Maori Government by as early as 10pm tomorrow night. And if L+P+G are on track to get 48% of the vote earlier in the night then this will be the indicated result. In the past, the Green vote has grown substantially on the back of special vote returns.

This result requires Labour to get around 40% to 42% or, if less, then the Greens to get 6% to 7% to make up the difference. If either party breaks significantly over these levels then again an LPG government is indicated.

On the other hand, if National really is on the charge, then barring something absolutely extraordinary and unexpected Don BRash will need Winston Peters support to form a government.

And here is where it gets very tricky.

While Winston's stated policy of…

1. Not going into a coalition &
2. Supporting the party with the most seats on confidence and supply

… sounds fairly simple, in practical terms it is actually unworkable if National is the winner but does not have more seats in its block that LPG+Maori.

Why is it unworkable?

Because to form a government you need two things and Winston appears to have - perhaps conveniently - forgotten the second one.

First you need confidence and supply, which is what he has promised. Supply and confidence is required to prevent the embarrassment of a trip to the Governor General and an early election.

Secondly you need a "working majority".

A "working majority" is required to conduct business Parliament. A Government needs it to get select committee appointments made, a speaker elected, to move into urgency and in fact to pass even the most trivial stages of every bill.

Without it a Government is unable to stop the opposition calling a snap debate at its whim on any subject it feels it would like to give the Government a hard time about.

Doubtless Winston Peters will be able to negotiate a "working majority" agreement with National - National is sufficiently desperate to get onto the treasury benches - but it will be the precise shape of that agreement that will determine the shape and policy of any new National government, not the outcome on election night.

Winston has promised to keep the pain of waiting to a maximum three weeks during which he will have to explain why he is now reneging on his stated intention not to enter into a coalition agreement.

No doubt Winston Peters will call it something other than a coalition agreement but in effect that is what it will be. Winston is not accustomed to being a poodle party and will want some ink on paper to prevent him from becoming one.

This week's Kim Hill interview with Winston Peters was very enlightening on the subject of what sort of things Mr Peters is likely to want in any such agreement in order to play ball.

He mentioned for example five key principles which he would want to discuss. For readers keen in exploring the matter have a look at: New Zealand First's 15 Fundamental Principles [] and the (before it gets taken down at midnight tonight) the website.

And finally.

Just in case you were thinking of not bothering.



Anti©opyright Sludge 2005

© Scoop Media

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