On Q&A yesterday Steven Joyce made a questionable claim in relation to a Colmar poll about the possible influence of Judith Collins on voting intentions.
Politicians are frequently poor interpreters of poll results. Many journalists are poor at reporting polls too, due to ignorance or due to the pressures of making an interesting or headline grabbing story out of a few numbers. Politicians may also be ignorant of poll interpretation, or they may be deliberately misrepresenting polls to try and score political points.
Joyce is usually very well informed about issues he has prepared for. He may have been taking advantage of interviewer and public ignorance of polls, unless he just got it wrong.
The Q&A Colmar questions and results were:
Do you personally think Judith Collins should remain a minister?
- Yes 42%
- No 42%
- Don’t know 17%
Do you think her behaviour has been damaging to National’s level of public support, or do you think it will make no difference?
- Yes, it has been damaging 50%
- No it won’t make a difference 42%
- Don’t know 9%
On balance, how well do you think Prime Minister John Key has handled issues with Judith Collins and Maurice Williamson? Would you say…
- Well 46% (very well 11%, quite well 35%)
- Not well 42% (not that well 29%, not at all well 18%)
- Don’t know 11%
Which of these statements best describes how these issues will influence your vote in the upcoming election?
- These issues will be a factor in your decision 23%
- These issues will not have much influence 75%
(Sample size 500 eligible voters. The maximum sampling error is approximately ±4.4%-points at the 95% confidence level.)
Discussing the poll on Q&A Joyce said:
It’s the Labour-Greens voters that say, ironically, it would change their vote. I’m not sure where they would change them to.
Colmar pollster Andrew Robertson has commented on this.
Mr Joyce had clearly seen the report because he cited results that were in the body of it – results that had not yet been discussed by the Q+A panel.
Unfortunately, Mr Joyce either misread or misunderstood the results.
The question did not ask eligible voters if they’d change their vote. It asked whether these issues would be a factor in their voting decision. That’s a very different question. One is fairly blunt, and would need to be understood in the context what party people have changed their vote from and to. The other allows people to consider how important these issues are in relation to others.
When asked if these issues would be a factor in their own voting decision, most say the issues won’t have much influence.
Note that the question did not ask people if they would change their vote, it asked whether these issues would be one of the issues they would consider in their decision. There are many other issues, of course, such as education, jobs, housing, child poverty, crime, and the list goes on.
So Joyce was wrong. The poll didn’t ask anything about changing vote. And even if it caused a Labour voter to switch their party vote it could be to Greens, NZ First, Mana, Internet Party.
Or it could make it more likely they will vote, or more likely they won’t vote. These possibilities can all affect the outcome of an election.
The detailed report shows a breakdown of National and Labour & Green supporters.
In an election where a 2-3% swing could easily decide the outcome 23% of eligible voters is a significant number.
Even 8% of National Party supporters is notable. Analysis of the last election has shown that a significant number of potential National voters decided not to vote, which is a possible explanation for the drop-off in support for them from pre-election polls compared to the election itself.
If an issue like Collins/Oravida caused some national leaning voters to not vote or to switch to NZ First or Labour, and it encouraged more people to get out and vote, for Labour or Green or Mana or Internet Party or NZ First, it could have a major effect on the outcome.
What polling can’t do know is measure how much of an influence the Collins/Oravida issue will have in four months time.
The economy is expected to be a major decider, and associated with this jobs and perceptions of poverty.
Leaders’ personalities can also influence voters, and many people take little notice of politics until the campaign proper begins – this will be in August.
And the last election showed that a late and seemingly trivial issue can have a major effect. The Key/Banks cup of tea reshuffled a lot of tea leaves.
Colins/Oravida will have had some effect on an accumulation of voter perceptions but it’s impossible to tell whether it would decide the election.
It should be noted that there may be more yet to happen with Collins. She has obviously been under pressure and has acted irrationally. She could yet cause more problems for National, even to the extent of resigning.
Steven Joyce may have been trying to deflect from this.
For more details and discussions on this: