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Political polls – seems everyone’s got an opinion

Sep 13th, 2011 | By | Category: Front Page Layout, Latest News, News

Images sourced from The Dominion Post, Telegraph.co.nz, TV3, stuff.co.nz and NZ Fashion 2011

HELEN Clark once likened them to fairies at the bottom of the garden.
Winston Peters tried to have them banned.
John Key once said one was a good Christmas present.
Phil Goff is constantly beleaguered by them.

Polls. Given the variations on political poll results in the leadup to elections, it is little wonder politicians have such strong opinions on them.

On Monday, August 22, The Dominion Post reported the poll results of TV3’s Reid Research Poll and TVNZ’s Colmar Brunton poll (above).

Placed side by side, the results can appear confusing – Greens are up to 9.3% in Reid’s poll, but down to 6% in Colmar Brunton’s.

The polls are conducted by calling the landlines of 1000 eligible voters and both agencies admit that there is a +/-3.1% and +/-3.2% margin of error respectively.

As the conflicting figures can seem confusing, political analyst Colin James believes that a clearer image can be seen by looking at the bigger picture .

Taking an average of the five major polls (Reid Research, Colmar Brunton, UMR, Roy Morgan and NZ Herald’s Digipoll) gives a more accurate look as to how the country’s going to vote.

Mr James stressed that the polls should be viewed as indicating trends and not used as a snapshot of how the country’s going to vote.

Michael Pringle, the National Administrator for the Green Party reinforced Mr James’ analysis.

“We do give them some credence because it tells us broadly which way things are headed. They indicate trends.  As unfortunately polls now actually determine political direction of course a good poll is for us encouraging.”

Mr James said that the phone polls are more accurate than the internet based polls as online polls are usually conducted by people surfing the internet and therefore are not a truly random selection.

Although the phone polls only take a sample group of 1000, the results are stratified to give an accurate balance of demographics and social groups.

Some of New Zealand’s most prominent statisticians question the accuracy of the polls.

In a letter to the editor published in The Dominion Post on September 5, Stephen Haslett, Professor of Statistics at Massey University, questioned the prominence given to poll results in mainstream media.

“The reporting of the survey needs to recognise that if results or changes are within the margin of error, there is nothing to report,” said Mr Haslett.

“The reported accuracy is certainly an underestimate. For example, accounting properly for non-response is a difficult, unreported and unresolved problem.”

“The article (Poll casts pall over Labour’s prospects) overstates the conclusions that can be drawn and risks shaping the public opinion rather than commenting objectively on it.”

This reinforces the belief that polls can become a self-fulfilling prophecy as ‘swing voters’ follow trends and end up reinforcing them.

NZ First party leader Winston Peters does not think polls should even be allowed in the lead-up to an election.

“We do not pay attention to most of the polls for the simple reason that nearly all of them are; devoid of analysis, misleading in conclusions, mathematical impossibilities and are hopelessly inaccurate where NZ First is concerned, as we have proved in countless elections .”

In 2001 Mr Peters famously tried to ban opinion polls for the 28 days before general elections saying that they distract attention from important debates and distort the final result.

The proposal was not backed by any major parties, with the then Green Party leader Rod Donald calling the plan ridiculous.

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  1. “The article (Poll casts pall over Labour’s prospects) overstates the conclusions that can be drawn and risks shaping the public opinion rather than commenting objectively on it.”

    OH YES!!

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