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The polls are weird

Written By: - Date published: 11:04 am, September 2nd, 2008 - 10 comments
Categories: polls - Tags: , , , ,

Dave at Big News has a good post up on a vagaries of the polls. It expands on something that Idiot Savant noticed at No Right Turn in his post Priceless.

I/S observed:-

I don’t normally poll blog, but this I can’t resist: according to the graphic for the latest Herald digipoll, the Christian Heritage Party – which disbanded in 2006 in the wake of its former leader Graham Capill’s conviction for child rape – is polling 0.4%, ahead of both the Alliance (which contrary to popular belief, is still around) and (this is the best bit) United Future. So, a non-existent party beats a sitting minister outside cabinet.

Dave’s post How weird is this? then expands:-

But it gets better.

The CHP’s vote has doubled since April – and it is the only party to achieve that feat as well. [ Update: Not true, Act also did].

After some examination, he concludes

Update watch the Kiwi, Family, and United Future vote jump at the next big poll or the one after. If the former two get their act together and let everyone know who they are. Most people – even Christians – don’t know the difference between Kiwi and Family parties.

I’d agree that could happen. I’m just not sure that the little fighting factions will ever get onto a common message.

Comment readers here are probably aware that there is little I like about the art of public polling in New Zealand. The results are all over the place because the methodology is very suspect and not published. In particular they do not show the numbers of people who they were unable to contact (because of lack of landlines or busy lives), the number who refused to participate, and few show the number of undecided voters. It makes them effectively useless for anything except trend changes amongst the politically engaged.

Well almost – this set of observations highlights the other side of the polling problem. So far, voters just haven’t taken that much of an interest in politics so far for the upcoming election. So much so that a significant voting population hasn’t figured out that they are ‘voting’ in the polls for a defunct party.

Thanks to I/S and dave for brightening my morning.

10 comments on “The polls are weird”

  1. That three freaks answered CHP is a little disturbing, even if it is only a blip. They might have started thinking about religious parties after the recent right to hit your kids referendum debate. I’m happy though – every vote sent in that direction is one that doesn’t go to UF, NZF, ACT or National (I’m assuming that they don’t generally vote Labour or Green).

    How about lowering that anti-democratic threshold though? Lets take it down to 2.5 or 3%.

  2. lprent 2

    Had to be closer to 4 depending on the vagaries of the poll. Usually they’re between 870 and 1000. Not sure exactly what was in that poll. However this has been showing up in these polls for sometime. You can see it at curiablog (on the blogroll on the left).

    I like the threshold. It is just high enough to make it difficult to reach and low enough that it can be done with good organisation. In particular it makes it hard for the one person fiefdoms.

  3. Stephen 3

    Why should the threshold be difficult to reach?

  4. The sample was 775, which is on the low side for a nationwide poll.

    lprent, I think you underestimate how hard it is to get past the threshold. That “good organisation” has to be put up against the very real perception that a vote for a small party is a wasted vote.

    You need an electorate seat to get into Parliament – no party has done it without one. And that means you need to find a place in the country where a plurality of people support your party/candidate, or an incumbent in a strong position who is also radical enough to leave the safety of an established party. It’s a very big ask, and essentially thwarts the intent of MMP, and was recommended against by the commission that reviewed the system. Of course, it suits Labour and National to keep the status quo.

  5. lprent 5

    Well the history of the Knesset is a good example.
    Look at (for example) the ‘pure’ proportional system in Israel which has a not dissimilar sized population.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knesset#Knesset_Assemblies

    If you look at the composition of the current composition and previous compositions then you’ll notice that coalition building is pretty hard.

    What it doesn’t show there is that the number of times that parties fracture is immense. No threshold means that it is relatively costless.

    The Royal Commission in 1986 pretty well ruled out low threshold systems for exactly that reason. MMP was preferred because of the long-term stability with change that it displayed in Germany.

    BTW: Does anyone have a link for the RC’s report online. I don’t have the hard-copy at work and I wanted to quote from it. I’ll add it to the references.

  6. lprent 6

    George: I know that it is hard, but it isn’t as impossible as it was under FPP. For instance look at Values, Social Credit, and whatever the Bob Jones party was called under FPP.

    But as far as I’m concerned the critical attribute of a political party is that it requires many people to work together. That is also what is required of politicians. There has to be a penalty when they don’t – eg Alliance after 1999, NZF after 1996, etc. A higher threshold is a good incentive.

    I think that it could be dropped a percent at sometime. But I think that that it has to be high enough to get many people with reasonably disparate views having to work together. That to me is a criteria for a political party.

    The only real issue I have with MMP itself is with the list effect of winning a single seat.

    captcha: improving strike

  7. The Royal Commission recommended 4%, and

    “recommended against the adoption of a five percent party vote threshold on the basis that, as it
    represented almost 100,000 party votes, this would be too great an obstacle to the development of new
    and emerging political forces.”

    This might seem like the same thing, but the difference between 4% and 5% for a small party is huge. They also recommended against going lower than 4% for reasons of stability (which I think they overstate slightly – I think that a four person party in a 120 seat parliament is not going to increase instability, when smaller parties don’t have that effect – but the threshold as it stands is an almost insurmountable barrier.

  8. lprent 8

    I’d have been happy with 100k people. That was why I was hunting for the report. I couldn’t remember what they recommended. They worked off the 80k voter level.

    I seem to remember that the 5% was set to make it just over the 100k voter level.

    But since 1986 the size of the electorate has increased. The number of voters is about 2.9 million at present. 4% would give about 116,000 voters – higher than the RC looked at in the first place.

    I suspect that the level should actually be set to a minimum number of votes:-

    5% of 2.9M = 145,000
    4% of 2.9M = 116,000
    3% of 2.9M = 87,000
    2% of 2.9M = 58,000
    1% of 2.9M = 29,000

    I think that a party that cannot get 100k people to agree with it sounds like it isn’t viable. I’d also say that a party that doesn’t hit 100k people doesn’t get list vote at all regardless if they got an electorate seat for the same reason.

  9. Please tell me that the Greens arent over 5%.

  10. lprent 10

    BD: Ummm you can read right? They are consistently over 5% even in this rather strange poll.

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