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Pre-election polls stacked up, the pundits not quite so much

Nov 27th, 2008 | By | Category: Featured Article, News

JIM Bolger’s oft-quoted “bugger the polls” flew out the window on election night as the pollsters’ claims of a swing to the right stacked up.

NewsWire‘s September poll highlighted the poor reporting of most major polls as they took only the views of voters who had made up their mind, to indicate the entire population, ignoring those who were undecided or did not know – quite rightly, as it turns out.

The Herald-DigiPoll was the pick of the pollsters with a mean variance of 0.9 percentage points from the final result.

Using blogger/pollster David Farrar’s method to average out the polls’ difference from the final result, the TVNZ Colmar Brunton and Fairfax Media Nielsen polls lagged behind the Herald‘s, each with a mean variance of 1.4 percentage points.

The breakdown of decided voters in NewsWire‘s poll had a mean variance of 2.1 percentage points from the final election results, well within an acceptable margin of error.

A Herald editorial lauded the polls’ accuracy, saying they reflected a lasting trend.

“The published polls were not deficient nor were they ‘rogue’, as the cliché would have it.”

When it came to picking the National-led Government’s Cabinet, however, the Herald did not fare as well.

Political editor Audrey Young staked a bigger claim than other pundits when picking a potential Cabinet and, of her 31 predictions, 14 were correct (half-marks were given for partially correct predictions).

Her early speculation that Peter Dunne would be offered the Speaker’s role was put to rest early when Mr Dunne ruled it out.

None of the pundits managed to select Paula Bennett and, to Ms Young’s surprise, Hekia Parata did not figure in Prime Minister John Key’s ministry.

However, there was a consensus among the pundits, including NewsWire, for Maori Party co-leaders Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples to pick up Maori affairs and the associate portfolios they accepted as part of their support agreement for the National-led Government.

Columnist for the Herald on Sunday, Matt McCarten, who made his predictions in September, earlier than any other punters, got eight out of 15 correct in his likely National Cabinet.

His (and NewsWire‘s) bolter, Rodney Hide as education minister, did not come through and he included Lockwood Smith and Maurice Williamson who not long after ruled themselves out with gaffes.

When it comes to picking a winner from the pundits, Trans Tasman takes it out with 15 correct picks out of 18.

Unlike other pundits, Trans Tasman did not make any bold predictions, and was the only one to pick Bill English taking the infrastructure portfolio, with everyone else speculating Steven Joyce would take that responsibility.

With 11 out of 24 correct predictions, NewsWire‘s forecast did not pan out as well as its poll did but, much like this assessment, NewsWire admits it was not a very scientific investigation.

With picks like these, it’s only a matter of time before we hear the call: “Bugger the pundits.”


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is a graduate of Whitireia NewsWire. He's a reporter for BusinessWire (yes - he does like the wire theme), where he writes daily stories updating currency movements. And he still spends far too much time reading blogs.
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