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Davey’s dodgy polling

Written By: - Date published: 10:59 am, February 17th, 2011 - 24 comments
Categories: dpf, polls - Tags:

There’s long been doubt over the quality of David Farrar’s Curia polling company. Now, Tim Watkin has produced a first-hand report of Curia’s questioning. The tone of the questions is biased, which is really dumb if you’re trying to get useful data. It’s not really push polling, it’s Farrar delivering what the Nats want to hear to maintain his standing in the party.

Here’s a couple of snippets from Watkin’s account of being polled by Curia:

“The pollster took me through a range of portfolio areas, asking which party I thought would do best in each one… Health, education, tax, foreign policy, welfare…

But the question changed subtly, but significantly for a couple, and in a way that seemed somewhat leading. I assume it was on purpose, and therefore am left wondering whether that doesn’t undermine the use of the data.

On the environment, I was asked not which party would do best, but which was most balanced. Now, I can’t remember the precise wording, but it was a question constructed differently from the others. I remember thinking, ‘balanced is a word so heavily used by National that it points in that party’s direction’….

What I do remember exactly was being asked which party would be “toughest on crime”. Not which party would make us safer, or reduce crime or address the causes of crime. Which would be “toughest”. As if being tough on crime equated to being the best party to deal with crime.”

“The climax of the interview were questions about the two marquee policies announced by the major parties this year. It was Labour’s Tax-free zone vs National’s partial privatisation – interesting what most concerns DPF and his clients.

Again, the questions had a noticeable lean. Asking about Labour’s policy, the pollster told me that critics say it’s unaffordable while supporters say it can be funded by increasing taxes on the rich (a simplistic description, but no more than Labour deserves given its vague outline). However National’s privatisation plans were proposed to simply ‘pay off debt’. There was no talk of critics, such as those who complain at the loss of dividends or foreign encroachment, or indeed at other reasons to support the plan, such as strengthening our stock exchange and access to capital.”

You might have read in last weekend’s Dom (Tracy Watkins’ article, I think), that National internal polling allegedly shows people aren’t worried about asset sales. Now we know the questions that created that answer.

Now DPF can ask whatever questions he wants, but by asking leading questions, don’t you get less accurate results? Aren’t people more likely to tell you what you want to hear, rather than the views that will actually drive them when they’re standing in the booth on election day?”

This fits with what I’ve heard out of the Nats. Curia delivers the results that the leadership wants to hear. In other words, it’s useless for providing real information. But it works for Farrar because it keeps him in favour, keeps the Nat research unit tidbits flowing, and opens doors to polling contracts with National proxies and, now, government ministries.

The good news for us is that as the Nat leadership becomes more and more out of touch with ordinary Kiwis, Farrar’s polls create a positive feedback, pushing them further away from reality.

24 comments on “Davey’s dodgy polling ”

  1. Colonial Viper 1

    Great this is happening, although I would not have brought this additional attention in a post…I suppose its already out there though.

  2. Steve 2

    Hey, don’t worry about it! As JK would say, “it’s just a survey” 😉

  3. Richard 3

    You might have read in last weekend’s Dom (Tracy Watkins’ article, I think), that National internal polling allegedly shows people aren’t worried about asset sales…

    And this is the whole point of this polling exercise. The point is to create evidence that shows people are in favour of National polices, which is then duly reported by the media without analysis. And thereby marginal voters become convinced that perhaps the policies are OK — afterall, a lot of other people support the policies. At least that is the theory.

    The danger for DPF and National, is if they confuse poll results which are essentially manufactured propaganda with an accurate representation of what the electorate actually thinks.

    However, (unfortunately) I don’t think this is big danger. National might do a woeful job on things they don’t really care about. However, they do care about winning elections. I’m quite sure that they privately are well aware of what is propaganda and what is a real poll.

    • And thereby marginal voters become convinced that perhaps the policies are OK

      Precisely. Media coverage + positive polls = a tipping point, whereby a critical mass of people who harbour an idea but are unsure whether it’s acceptable to the majority, feel there’s enough support for it to put their hand up.

      Exactly what we aimed for, and achieved, with NZF in 1995 – from about 3% to almost 30% in 5 months, leaving Labour in our wake. Of course we had to rely on independent polling – we did none of our own and had to rely on our instincts to fine tune the message.

      Little wonder that National are dominating the polls if they have this sort of feedback loop established.

    • swordfish 3.2

      I have to say I thought Farrar’s statistical analysis of the Mana By-Election last year was a little iffy. His figures bore no relation whatsoever to my (double-checked) statistics.

      He also used ambiguous terms like “net vote movement”, inferring that what was actually a 7.5 % swing was, in fact, a 15 % “net vote movement”. I had the feeling he would have been more than happy for any passing journalists to mistake “net vote movement” for “swing”.

      The poll I saw in the DomPost a few days ago suggested 47% Opposed to National’s proposed partial privatisation, 45% Supportive. (I think it was a Research New Zealand Poll).

  4. M 4

    King Canute anyone?

    C’mon Labour and Greens, smack down these assertions with some plain unambiguous polls of your own and publish them so we can clear the decks of these wastrels.

    • Colonial Viper 4.1

      I doubt LAB have the excess funds to run useless polls at the same rate as NAT unfortunately.

      • joe bloggs 4.1.1

        to paraphrase: “we’re skint, mate”…

        …so the rumours are true – LAB’s not just morally bankrupt but financially as well

  5. joe bloggs 5

    of course Tim Watkin is well known for his impartiality and can be relied on to provide an untarnished, uncoloured version of the events …. yeah, bullshit. His account is just another LAB-led Mills & Boone romance

    • bbfloyd 5.1

      joe.. when reality comes crashing through that fantasy world you live in, try not to scream too loud.. you’ll wake the neighbours kids..

    • Bright Red 5.2

      what part of the poll are you saying that Watkin made up, joe?

      • Pascal's bookie 5.2.1

        The whole thing.

        There was no Poll. There is in fact, no dpf, and if there was he wouldn’t run a polling company for National, and if he did it wouldn’t be called curia.

  6. randal 6

    he just wants to be everbodys friend and for everyone to luuuurve him.
    see davy the fat boy on randy newmans twelve songs.

  7. bbfloyd 7

    people would like him more if he could do something about the sour smell.. wallowing in bile will cause that if one can’t moderate the habit.

  8. Not which party would make us safer, or reduce crime or address the causes of crime. Which would be “toughest”. As if being tough on crime equated to being the best party to deal with crime.”

    Excuse me while I lie down. A journo who understands that it isn’t some simple graph, with “toughness” on one axis and “crime” on the other, with a neat line showing more of the former = less of the latter?!?!

    Did she (and I mean this as a genuine question, I don’t read that much MSM opinion) make an effort to explain this to the slavering rednecks when “three strikes” was being debated? Or when new prisons are being announced?

    Forgive my excitement, but journos tend to buy into the prevailing paradigms so utterly that for one not to argue against it, but to state the opposite in such a way as to suggest there is no debate, is astounding.

  9. Drakula 9

    Plus these companies only poll heavily in selected districts!!!!

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