Polling not yet ready for change

The Timaru Herald - - COMMENT&OPINION -

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.

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