Polling not yet ready for change
Both the National and Labour parties have come out on top of separate preelection polls this week. But while a politics professor says polls are simply ‘‘a snapshot of political sentiment’’, some electorate candidates in Rangitata and Waitaki say polling is not fair.
They said polls had often got it wrong and needed to keep up with advancing technology, such as mobile devices and increased used of social media, to get the most accurate and fair result.
Four of the 11 Rangitata and Waitaki candidates think election polls should move to the mobile phone network and away from sampling from landlines, where the two biggest polls, Colmar Brunton and Reid Research, get the majority of their results. Both polls were reported this week, with one showing National in front and the other having Labour in the lead.
However Massey University political commentator Professor Richard Shaw says cyber-security isn’t yet advanced enough to protect this information from hackers.
Candidates were asked if this week’s polls were fair and accurate, whether they reflected all voters, whether they reflected their electorate and if there was any room for improvement or change.
Several candidates said the polls did not represent all New Zealand voters and recommended changes to their methodology.
ACT Rangitata candidate Tom Corbett said the polls were not always right and referenced poll predictions for last year’s Brexit referendum, which indicated Britain would stay within the European Union (EU), though final results showed over one million more votes for leaving the EU than remaining.
‘‘They do generally reflect what is happening though.’’
As polls like Colmar Brunton had been going for about 20 years, Corbett said he expected they had fine-tuned it as much as possible. He did not have any suggestions for improvement.
He said he expected polling in the future would be done exclusively online and through mobile phones, to follow the progression of technology.
The Opportunities Party (TOP) Rangitata candidate Olly Wilson said recent international polls had been ‘‘completely inaccurate in predicting the outcome of elections and Brexit and I would suggest that current polling and election results will be quite different this time in our election’’.
He said the Colmar Brunton poll did not reflect all voters because it gathered all results via landline.
‘‘I do not have a landline in my home and all my kids have cellphones. This is typical of families today and certainly the case for our younger generation of voters.’’
It would be worthwhile ‘‘taking into account social media tracking and including cellphone numbers in polling’’, he said.
‘‘But I’m personally not too concerned. We won’t be changing policy based on poll results.’’
TOP Waitaki candidate Kevin Neill said the polls were fair in respect ‘‘of transparency and pro- cess’’, but did not reflect the views of all New Zealanders.
‘‘One only needs to look at the shrinking size of the phone book to notice that landline subscriptions are dropping and not reflective of younger voters.’’
Neill said he had ‘‘door-knocked thousands of homes now and the opinions of voters do not reflect polling’’. Online and cellphone calls would potentially give more accurate polling.
NZ First Waitaki candidate Alex Familton said the polls were fair but did not reflect all voters because they would not ‘‘include those who do not have a landline, but the result should give, at least, an indication’’. He said the polls did generally reflect what he was seeing in the community.
‘‘However with such volatility, generated by changes of policy, presentation, promises and personnel – today’s poll fits only tomorrow’s trash. Especially this present election.’’
He said a better alternative would include a range of people, demographically and proportionately selected, with no landline.
But it was not time, just yet, for a shake-up of how the polls were conducted, Shaw, a specialist on national elections, public sector reform and new public management, said.
‘‘The purpose of the polls is to give a snapshot of political sentiment. They are not designed to predict the outcome.’’
He said he expected polling through social media and cellphones to be the norm within the next 10 years, but because of internet privacy and concerns about hacking the time was not right yet.
‘‘There would be an issue with privacy in the implementation of this. Cellphone numbers would have to be taken from data companies. There is a risk if they want digital only and there is a potential that the polling companies could lose control, people could hack in.’’
He said evidence of this could be seen in the current investigation of the United States election, which some have suggested was influenced in some part by Russia.
Although the Colmar Brunton and Reid Research polls seemed simple, the methodology had been refined over years and did give an indication of what party or leader voters were leaning towards
‘‘They sample, so it reflects as much as humanly possible. They are pretty consistent and both are reliable.’’
He would like to see the current polls report on the proportion of undecided voters in the polling. The polls before the election and the actual election result could be quite different.
‘‘Some people will say on the polls that they will go Labour but change their minds in the booth to National. Some people don’t decide who they are going to vote for until they are in the booth on voting day.’’
Evidence of this was the varied poll results before Brexit and the actual result being different.
The reason the polls had been changing quickly and had differed was the ‘‘volatility’’ of the current climate.
‘‘We have had Metiria Turei resign, remember her? We have had a change of leaders.They all contribute.’’
Greens Waitaki candidate Pat Wall said the polls were not fair or accurate.
‘‘I think that they do not capture any information from people who may be apathetic about voting. There is a very large group of people in this country who generally may not vote, namely the youth vote and the underprivileged. These people generally feel apathetic about the system.
‘‘I think that the homelessness issue, what Metiria spoke of, and the fact that many people will never have a chance at owning a home, have energised people who may not have voted before.These people most likely do not have landlines and may well not have computers even.’’
Labour Waitaki candidate Zelie Allan said landlines were mostly used by people who were over 40 so the poll was skewed.
Greens Rangitata candidate and List MP Mojo Mathers said polls had been ‘‘particularly volatile this election’’. For that reason the Green Party was not reading too much into any polls.
National Rangitata candidate Andrew Falloon said he did not take much notice of individual polls but ‘‘what they collectively show is that it’s a close election nationally’’.
National Waitaki candidate and Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean said polling did what it was intended to do, which was ‘‘provide a snapshot of the climate’’.
‘‘Polling is a sample of voters, it doesn’t matter how they get the information.’’
Massey University political commentator Professor Richard Shaw said he expected polling through social media and cellphones to be the norm within the next 10 years.