Some say the tea tapes haven’t hurt Brand Key. In fact, National is down 2% last week and those polls were largely taken before the tea tapes hit overdrive. It also takes time for impressions and media narratives to bed in. The 26th will be the first poll to really tell us how much the tea tapes have hurt. But the internals could give us a clue.
In the first 2 week of the campaign, National averaged 53.3% and 53.2% respectively in the Colmar Brunton, Reid Research, and Digipoll polls. This week, it got 51%.
That’s still enough to govern alone, sure. But with ACT all but dead and Peter Dunne with a good chance of losing, National has a very thin wedge between governing alone and not governing at all. They need at least 48%. A 2.2% fall in a week nearly halves their safety margin.
What caused this sudden fall? Logically, it can only have been the tea tapes.
So, do these polls capture the whole impact of the tea tapes? No. They can’t. Polling for all three was conducted between the 10th and 16th of November.
Here’s a timeline of events so far compared to when the polling was taking place (assumes a seventh of polling is conducted on each of the seven days)
|11/11/2011||Madhatter’s tea party|
|13/11/2011||Knowledge of tape emerges. Key and Joyce use ‘News of the World tactics’ line|
|14/11/2011||Key lays Police complaint after he learns 3news has the tape. Hints that tapes contains talk of replacing Brash/’restructuring’ ACT|
|15/11/2011||Key makes distasteful suicide comments. NOTW victims’ lawyer call Key’s comments “cheap shot”. References to old people hinted at.|
|16/11/2011||Key loses his cool and storms out of press conference. Banks’ disasterious interview with Gower. Peters dominates minor leaders’ debate, slams Key.||Polling ends|
|17/11/2011||Families of suicide victims speak out against Key’s comparison. He repeats it. Key says it’s OK to waste Police time on his complaint because they have “spare time”. Police say they will execute search warrants on media.Poll shows backlash in Epsom against Key’s endorsement of Banks. TV polls released. Peters hints at more of tape’s contents. Key refuses to engage with question of whether he talked about winning “unbridled power”|
|18/11/2011||Police refute Key’s statement about lazy cops, Key stands by it. Victims of crime speak out. International Federation of Journalists condemns Key. Court date set to determine whether conversation was private.|
We can see that this thing began escalating well after polling was already underway. The polls were over 50% complete by the time the tea tape became big news on Monday, and the most damaging events actually took place on the 17th, after polling had ceased entirely.
In that context, it’s actually pretty remarkable that the polls show a 2% drop. And it indicates a much larger fall.
Here’s a pretty simplistic model to explain what I mean. Say National was at 53% when polling started, as it had been throughout the campaign, and lost support steadily as a result of the tea tape saga from the 13th onwards – how much would have had to lose per day between the 13th and the 16th to get a result of 51% in the poll results?
So, a 2% average fall between last week and this one may actually represent a fall of 1.5% a day this week – which takes them into an election-losing 47.2% by Wednesday.
Now, I doubt that National’s fall has actually been so big. There’s statistical noise that might account for some of the change, but, don’t forget, this isn’t 1 poll result that’s shown a fall from a steady 53% to 51% in a week – it’s the average of 3 conducted over the same period.
And, more importantly, don’t forget that the polls were finished before Key made the worst mistake so far – saying the Police had ‘spare time’ to give him special treatment, which was an insult to the victims of the 220,000 unsolved crimes last year – and before the tea tapes ceased being a mere scandal and veered towards constitutional crisis with the Police preparing to raid newsrooms and the international media reporting on us like some banana republic.
People don’t change their minds in an instant anyway. Nor do media narratives. But Brand Key has been shredded by this week, and when people go to reassess their opinions in the last week, particularly during the final two leaders’ debates – Brand Key won’t be such a powerful offset against National’s unpopular policies like asset sales. If you compare the polls to the new Massey study showing 76% oppose asset sales, that means at least 27% until now have opposed asset sales but that has been outweighed by Brand Key. That’s a lot of votes in play if Brand Key is damaged.
Then, there’s the Winston Factor. He’s gaining in the polls. From 2.3% in the 1st week, 2.9% in the second week, suddenly up to 3.5% this week. Again, this is unlikely to capture all the change. The limelight started to shine on Peters on Tuesday, the second to last night of polling. He won the minor leaders’ debate as the final 14% of the polling was being conducted. And, of course, he’s had the boost of polling 4.9% in the Herald poll, which will encourage many people who were wary of wasting their vote on him that it wouldn’t be a waste after all.
The next Fairfax poll will likely also be an incomplete picture. If it’s released on Sunday, it will have been taken from the previous Saturday through to this Friday. So, the full impact of the tea tapes will be diluted by polling conducted before the story began and while it was building.
The final polls at the end of next week may give us a better idea of the impact of the story so far, but remember there’s plenty more to come, including the release of the tape itself, which will likely happen tomorrow in the Herald on Sunday or Wednesday on TV3 (I don’t think that any serious journalist would consider it ethical to withhold this kind of information from the public just before an election). Only on the 26th will we really know what the impact of the tapes has been.
But the parties’ internal polls would be a nice clue. National and Labour conduct tracking polls, where they survey 200 or 250 people a night and combine the previous 4 or 5 nights’ results to get results. Vernon Small today says that Labour’s internals show a “slight firming in support late in the week”, which could be consistent with a much larger change coming into the tracking poll and displacing older data.
What about National’s internals? Well, we can ask their pollster (sorry, independent commentator who is ‘affiliated with the National Party’ insomuch as their money puts food on his table) David Farrar. David won’t tell us directly. But he’s not exactly a master of bluffing either.
David’s written just 6 posts on the tea tapes. He’s tried to downplay it, attacked the media’s reporting, assisted in National’s personal attack on the cameraman, and even tried to claim it’s bad for Labour (when Labour says they want to talk about policy it’s about positioning themselves above the fray and concentrated on the big issues – they’re not sad that Key is getting the kicking of his life). David’s also been attacking journalists for their reporting of it on Twitter. The only time he’s gone off message was in his initial reaction to Key storming off from the press conference, before he got the party line.
Tellingly, David has started attacking Peters a lot. He’s devoted several recent columns on Stuff and the Herald to casting dire warnings about the return of Peters unless we all obediently vote National.
Clearly, the internal polls are telling David something.
What the polls tells us is that this election is far from over.