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Is it a done deal? What the polls don’t tell us

Sep 19th, 2008 | By | Category: Featured Article, News

THE ELECTION could be a much closer race between National and Labour than recent polls show, if a survey of Wellingtonians this week is any indication.

Forty-four percent of about 600 people polled by NewsWire on Monday night say they don’t know which party to prefer.

Of those who have decided, 45% say they’ll vote National, 40% favour Labour, 10% will vote Greens, 2% for Act, and 1% each for the Maori Party, United Future and NZ First.

One thing seems clear – the undecideds are going to have their say. Some 94% of them say they will definitely be voting.

That’s a high proportion, given the average total voter turnout over the last seven elections is only 84%. The turnout has not hit 94% since the controversial snap election in 1984.

The full picture of what the electorate is thinking may be even more blurred than these numbers indicate.

Selecting random numbers from the Wellington phonebook and speaking to whoever answered the phone, 24 NewsWire reporters called 1147 residential numbers between 7pm and about 8.30pm on September 15.

It took that many calls to get answers from 770 people, with 200 of those who picked up the phone declining to participate.

Of the remaining 570 who agreed to take part, 251 (44%) said they are still making up their minds, leaving 319 (56%) who said they know now which party they want to vote for.

The party vote preference indicated by those who have decided seems to differ from some recent polls, which say National is well ahead. A Colmar Brunton poll of 1000 people taken a short time before NewsWire’s, said National had 53% and Labour 35% (wheras NewsWire’s shows 45% and 40% respectively).

TVNZ’s website story about that poll made no mention of undecided voters, or how many calls were made to get the sample of 1000. Also, as is customary with the reporting of most political polls, no total was given of those who declined to participate.

Our result (the margin of error was 3.5%) accords with the opinion of Dominion Post Friday columnist Chris Trotter, who wrote recently that while polls seem to be giving National a commanding lead, the exclusion from some results of the undecideds, as well as a suspicion that a significant proportion has little chance of being asked (because they have no land line, or are from lower socio-economic backgrounds, among other reasons) suggest the election is no one-horse race.

“Television networks and newspapers need to be very cautious about writing big headlines in relation to poll data,” he told NewsWire reporter Katrina King.

He considers the recent Colmar Brunton poll results to be unrealistic: “Historically, nobody has got over 50% in an election since the demise of the two-party system in 1951.”

Psephologists (election academics) say upwards of 40% of the population go into a campaign without a clear idea of which party they will support, and up to 15% decide on the day.

Our poll – in which our student reporters identified themselves by full name, and asked whether people had decided which party to vote for – generated brief comments about the election from participants:

  • “I only know what the polls tell me.”
  • “I’m not even registering – they are all scumbags.”
  • “It’s going to be a dirty race.”
  • “Until I find out what happened with Winston Peters, it’s all up in the air”
  • “I’ve had a gutsful of Labour. I hate Clark and Cullen. There’s too much legislation.”
  • “There is nobody I hate enough to vote out and nobody I like enough to keep in.”
  • “It’s getting pretty immature since MMP – people should stick to the issues.”
  • “Bit tired of Labour, but not that sure about National. I have voted for smaller parties but none of them stand out [this election].”
  • “She’s dug her own grave not getting rid of Winston Peters.”
  • “I’m terrified because the economy of our country’s in a bad state, and can’t see the National Party solving it any better than Labour can.”
  • “MMP – is the curse of this country – too many smaller groups get too much say.”
  • “I think Winston has been lying all the way through and Helen is supporting him. I’m tired of Helen, just tired of her.”
  • “I’ll be very glad when the eight weeks are over.”
  • “I can’t stand politicians, those who sling less mud will get my vote.”
  • “It’s time for change. I’m self-employed, and that’s hard under this lot. Going National is a no-brainer for me.”
  • “Labour. I’ve always voted Labour.”
  • “I don’t give a stuff about politics.” Click.

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is a multi-media journalist and Whitireia graduate specialising in video, audio, web 2.0, technology, photography, editing and Photoshop. After graduating from Whitireia, and a brief stint in teaching for the school, he moved on to working for Stuff.co.nz.
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11 comments
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  1. […] Newswire’s September election poll Jump to Comments NewsWire’s first ever political phone poll – a survey of voters in the Wellington area – has produced interesting results. […]

  2. Could the photo of Winston be considered advertising for him under the Electoral Finance Act?

  3. Great work, thanks so much for doing this and forwarding it to us.

    My Husband (Don Polly) and I are long-time journalists. We were both very impressed with your work and found your results telling. We will endeavour to run some of this in our next issue of Paekakariki Xpressed.

    Please keep us in the loop for your next exciting installment. You’re definitely on to something.

  4. Wellington- the city of leftists.

  5. […] at Newswire, the website for Whitireia Journalism School, a poll I took part in had very different results.  […]

  6. tks for this,

    there’ll be a wellington benchmark I guess.. also, say, an auckland or hamilton or.. or..

    anecdotal comments are useful, too, commonality evident..

    I’ll come by more often.

  7. […] have a new poll “Is it a done deal? What the polls don’t tell us” which makes for some interesting […]

  8. No.

  9. If you’re looking for further comment on the NewsWire poll, have a look at my blog yesterday:
    http://jimtucker.wordpress.com/2008/09/19/polls/

  10. […] story educated voters and exposed some of the risks of opinion polling methodology in New Zealand, says […]

  11. When I first heard the news of Nationals huge lead I received a great shock of dismay. I have to ask, what exactly are the great achievements of this government? One could only be joking to name education, helping beneficiaries and unemployed, mining away our parklands, about to undermine democracy.in the Auckland Super City, lack of consultation, suspect tax rebates, increased G.S.T., benifiting from Labour’s genius when visiting the United States (nuclear free). And I hardly need mention that nothing is taken from the powerful and rich.(The boss of the messed up Telecom earns over 5 million dollars a year!) Need I say more, for there is much more to say. I invite you to think hard about Nationals “virtues”, think very hard. And vote the bloody way you should!!

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