Hard News by Russell Brown


Where are all the polls at?

There has, for obvious and understandable reasons, been much talk about polls in this election campaign. But amid the hubbub, a few key questions have gone missing. Primarily: where are all the polls at?

Since the last general election in 2014, there have been, with the sole exception of a Herald Digipoll poll in December 2015, only three companies doing public national polling: Colmar Brunton for TVNZ, Reid Research for Newshub and Roy Morgan Research. By some lights that's only two credible polls: Roy Morgan isn't a member of the Research Association of New Zealand and thus isn't signed up to the industry Code of Practice.

We haven't seen a Digipoll poll for the Herald in this campaign, and Fairfax does not appear to have renewed its relationship with Ipsos. There's an obvious explanation for that: full-scale polling is really expensive. Perhaps both companies anticipated a dull campaign – didn't we all? – and concluded that the investment wasn't warranted.

Instead, we've seen a shift to online market market research panels, where political questions can be tacked on as required. The Herald has spun a series of stories out of surveys conducted by ConsumerLink on the 120,000-strong Fly Buys panel. Most recently, one on who respondents would trust to manage a coalition government – which reported the results without matching them against voting intentions. Last month, there was a report on a question about who would be a good coalition partner for National – which fully a third of people polled couldn't answer. It's quite a good illustration of the shortcomings of piggyback polling.

Another thing most people seem to have missed is that Newshub/Reid have gone partially online too, drawing 25% of  their sample from an online panel operated by Survey Sampling International (who were used by The Spinoff during last year's Auckland local body elections).

As Newshub's political editor Patrick Gower explains in this exclusive video, they originally explored mobile phone polling but concluded that it was expensive and impractical. Paddy kindly recorded seven minutes on-set for tonight's Media Take show, but we were only able to use 90 seconds in the end, so I've uploaded the whole thing. It's quite a good explanation of what they're doing. And he notes that TV3, also, considered not paying for polling this year.

There are other polls. Māori Television will again perform the useful service of polling the Māori electorates. TVNZ's Q+A got Colmar Brunton to poll the Ohariu electorate and the results were enough to convince Peter Dunne to take his leave. Horizon is tacking on political questions for someone at the moment. And of course, Curia (National) and UMR (Labour New Zealand First) are doing private research for political parties.

And then there's Community Engagement, which is behind a robopoll conducted last week. Community Engament was the company behind a mildly controversial (but ultimately accurate) poll last year on the Wellington mayoral election. Rob Salmond looked at that last year. The controversy was related to the background of the company principals, Ella Hardy and Eric Goddard, with the Labour Party.

The current call announces itself as "a Community Engagement poll" which will take only 90 seconds (this was mercifully accurate) and cycles through voting intentions, voting history and issues of most concern (health, the economy, etc.)

But depending on their responses, voters may be asked if they'd like to volunteer for the Labour Party's campaign. It's fairly jarring, given that the poll does not announce itself as being associated with the Labour Party.

I asked Labour's general secretary Andrew Kirton, who confirmed that it was part of Labour's campaign activity.

"In the past and even now we do a lot of volunteer phoning just to identify levels of support for local candidates and the party. It's kind of an informal survey. It gives us an sense of what the issues are locally and generally it helps our campaign targeting. Robopolling replaces some of that work. It's bread-and-butter stuff for campaigns really."

So it's less a poll than canvassing – digital doorknocking, you could say.

Kirton acknowledged "trialling" an offer for people to get involved in the campaign "but I don't know what the results of that are so far". Again, this is a pretty standard thing for someone who knocks on your door to do – but that someone will be wearing a party rosette. Shouldn't there be a promoter statement incorporated in the robocall script?

Kirton thought there was, but I don't recall hearing one, and neither did other respondents I heard from. And unfortunately, my VOIP service, which records voice calls, didn't identify this as a voice call and didn't record it. Labour might want to make absolutely sure that statement is there.

I gather that National and the Greens are using similar services in this campaign – and I'd be interested in hearing here from anyone who's fielded such calls.

There will be more korero on polling with Aimee Matiu and Richard Pamatatau in Media Take, at 10pm tonight on Māori Television – along with an at-times fiery sit-down with Te Tai Tokerau rivals Kelvin davis and Hone Harawira.

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